An alliance of 40 charity chiefs and experts is today urging members of the Lords to seize a “once-in-a-generation” opportunity to change the law to give young people in foster care the same start in adult life as their peers.
The chief executives of the NSPCC, Barnardo’s and the Children’s Society are among dozens of prominent figures supporting a move to stop teenagers being forced out of their foster families when they turn 18.
In an impassioned letter to The Daily Telegraph they argue that the state is currently scoring an “own goal” by effectively condemning some of Britain’s most vulnerable young people to a higher risk of unemployment, homelessness, addiction and crime.
They insist that the “financial and moral” case for changing the law is overwhelming.
It follows a string of reports showing that the so-called “boomerang generation” of young people who continue living with their parents after finishing university because of the cost of living is growing.
The average age for a young person to leave home in the UK is now around 24.
But all but a tiny handful of those in foster care have to move out before their 18th birthday.
The most recent Government figures show that more than a third of 19-year-olds who recently left care are not in work or training.
Only one in 20 of them go on to higher education - a proportion which is decreasing.
Foster carers can choose to allow teenagers to continue living with them after they turn 18 but all practical and financial support stops and they often come under pressure from councils to make way for another child in need of a home.
The signatories, led by Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network , are urging peers to support an amendment to the Children and Families Bill, being considered by the Lords today, tabled by a cross-party group of backbenchers, to enable young people to stay with their foster families until they are at least 21.
Based on a pilot scheme, it is estimated that implementing the change across England would cost taxpayers £2.6 million a year. But supporters say it would more than pay for itself by saving housing and benefits costs.
“Those who get to stay past their 18th birthday are either the lucky few funded by their local authority or fortunate enough to have foster carers who can afford to offer them a home for free, and support them out of their own pockets,” the letter says.
“This makes no sense.
“It is an own goal to force them out at 17 - savings now are outweighed by state spending on these young adults in the future.”
It adds: "We urge peers to support this once-a-generation opportunity to ensure that care leavers get a better start to adult life."
Vicki Swain, campaigns manager for the Fostering network, said: “These are the most vulnerable children in society, they have been through traumatic experiences that most of us couldn’t even contemplate, this means they need the emotional support of being able to stay with a family.”
The Children’s Minister, Edward Timpson, grew up alongside scores of foster siblings, is a strong supporter of encouraging ties into adult life.
Last year he wrote to councils urging them to enable young people to stay with foster families beyond their 18th birthday but has stopped short of supporting legislation unless there is no improvement.
But the most recent figures showed that only 330 out of almost 7,000 youn people in England were able to stay on with foster families last year.
A Department for Education spokeswoman said: “Many councils are already extending foster care placements beyond a child’s 18th birthday - allowing young people to move from care to independence based on choice, not age.
“We wrote to all councils last year setting out our expectation that care leavers are given this option. We expect to see further progress in the future.”
Forty charities, other organisations and academics have joined together to call on the House of Lords to support a once-a-generation chance to change the law so that fostered young people in England can stay with their foster carers until the age of 21.
Currently most young people are forced to leave their foster homes at the age of 17. In contrast, the average age for leaving home across England is 24.
Only around 7 per cent of care leavers go into higher education compared with 40 per cent of the general population. Care leavers are overrepresented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families.
Yet "Staying Put" – a scheme that gives young people the option to stay until 21 – has been piloted in 11 English local authorities with great success. It showed that young people who stayed with foster carers were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 compared with those that did not. In addition, studies have shown that allowing young people to remain in care until age 21 is associated with increased post-secondary educational attainment, delayed pregnancy, and higher earnings.
Now an amendment to the Children and Families Bill provides an opportunity to change this for future generations, by giving young people who live with foster carers the chance to stay until they are 21, if both parties agree. But in order to have any chance of success, the amendment needs widespread support in the House of Lords, where the Bill is about to enter committee stage.
When the Bill was in the House of Commons, children's minister Edward Timpson MP, himself the son of foster carers, said that he would consider legislation if the voluntary approach was shown not be working. Latest statistics released by the Department for Education showed that only 10 more young people stayed with their foster carers in 2012-13 than in 2011-12. In total, just 5 per cent of all care leavers were still with their foster carers by the age of 19.
In the letter to peers, the organisations and academics said: "Many children in foster care - arguably among the most vulnerable in society - are required to leave their foster home aged just 17. Those who get to stay past their 18th birthday are either the lucky few funded by their local authority or fortunate enough to have foster carers who can afford to offer them a home for free, and support them out of their own pockets.
"This makes no sense. Care leavers are sadly more likely to be unemployed, young single parents, mental health service users, homeless or in prison than those who grew up within their own families.
"Research shows that the longer a young person can stay with a foster family, the more successful they are in later life. It is an own goal to force them out at 17 - savings now are outweighed by state spending on these young adults in the future.
"But there is a chance for change. An amendment to the Children and Families Bill, currently in the House of Lords, would ensure that all young people can stay with their foster carers until the age of 21, if both parties agree. At an estimated national cost of £2.7 million, this makes financial and moral sense."
The open letter to peers was signed by: Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network; Peter Wanless, chief executive of NSPCC; Peter Brook, chief executive of Barnardo's; Matthew Downie, head of campaigns and public affairs at Action for Children; Matthew Reed, chief executive of the Children’s Society; Dr Hilary Emery, chief executive of National Children’s Bureau; Dr Carol Homden CBE, chief executive of Coram; Cathy Ashley, chief executive of Family Rights Group; Andrew Radford, chief executive of Voice; Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers; Sue Kent, professional officer at BASW; Dez Holmes, director of Research in Practice; Hugh Thornbery, chief executive of Adoption UK; Chris Wright, chief executive of Catch22; Janet Rich, trustee of The Care Leavers’ Foundation; Christine Renouf, chief executive officer at the National Youth Advocacy Service; David Graham, national director of The Care Leavers' Association; Delma Hughes, director of Siblings Together; John Simmonds, director of policy, research and development of British Association for Adoption and Fostering; Christine Renouf, chief executive of NYAS; Deborah Cowley, director of Action for Prisoners' Families; Jon Fayle, chair of National Association of Independent Reviewing Officers; Sally Bartolo, founder of the Tope Project; Lynn Chesterman, chief executive of the Grandparents' Association; Tor Docherty, director of New Family Social; Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust; David Bradley, interim chief executive officer, TACT; Dr Samantha Callan, associate director for families and mental health, Centre for Social Justice; John Hemming MP, executive of Care Leavers Voice; Marion Layberry, managing director of Safehouses; Linda Croft, managing director of Moments Fostering Agency; Debi Atkin, registered manager of Ethelbert Fostering Services; Gregory Nicholls, managing director & responsible individual of Credo Care Ltd; Alan Fisher, chair of Fostering Through Social Enterprise; Mark Lee, chief executive of the Together Trust; Professor Ian Sinclair, Social Work Research and Development Unit, York University; Professor Judy Sebba, director, Rees Centre for Research on Fostering and Education, University of Oxford Department of Education; Professor Harriet Ward CBE, director of Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University; Lisa Holmes, assistant director of Centre for Child and Family Research, Loughborough University; Professor Brigid Featherstone, Social Care Faculty of Health and Social Care Research, The Open University.
Top politicians are discussing whether foster children should be able to stay with their carers until they feel ready to leave.
At the moment most foster kids in England have to leave home by their eighteenth birthday, but a group of charities want change to that law.
They say many young people aren't ready to leave home until they're much older.
If the change were to happen it would mean foster kids can stay with their families until they're 21.
At the moment the average age for leaving home in England is 24, according to the charity The Fostering Network.
Most foster families look after kids until they are 17. They can stay longer but the money foster parents get from the government to care for the children does not cover them after they turn 18.
A trial study to change the age to 21 took place in 11 areas across England. The study found that young people who stayed with foster carers were twice as likely to be in higher education at the age of 19 than those who did not.
St Christopher’s focus on the needs of its children and young people has been praised in an independent inspection.
Customer Service Excellence inspectors awarded St Christopher’s 100 per cent compliance in each of their required standards for the second year running.
They said: “St Christopher’s reputation among local authority commissioners is one of uncompromising commitment to the needs of young people.”
The inspectors also praised the new trainee programme, the Wrap series of films made by young people on the issues they face, and the way children’s home managers maintained excellent relationship with neighbours.
Phil Townsend, Deputy Director of UK Operations, said: “This is a great credit to the fantastic work we do and to the emphasis and importance we place on customer care.”
FtSE Member News: Barnardo's Vice President writes letter in The Star asking readers to consider foster care
I am vice-president of Barnardo’s and I’m hoping to highlight the urgent need for more foster carers across the UK.
Loving, stable homes are needed for over 7,000 children in England – particularly in Sheffield, Doncaster and Rotherham.
As someone who grew up in the care system, I know the difference a happy childhood makes and having someone who believes in you when you’re starting out in the world. The longer children are without the stability of a permanent family, the more damage is done. I am therefore delighted to lend my support to Barnardo’s this September.
I was brought up by my foster mother, Violet. She was a feisty woman who convinced me I could achieve anything if I set my mind to it. Violet was a seamstress and through watching her at work I developed a keen interest in fashion and design.
The care system has changed since I was a boy. Today the support and training available for foster carers is excellent. As a fostering agency, it is Barnardo’s aim to recruit suitable carers to provide safe and reliable homes for the most vulnerable children in our society.
The charity does not exclude on the grounds of marital status, sexual orientation, disability or employment status. There is no upper age limit. Please take a moment and think about whether you could foster.
Visit www.barnardos.org.uk/fosteringandadoption or call 0870 2408342.
A gay couple have said they went to England to adopt because of confusion over the law in Northern Ireland.
The Court of Appeal ruled that legislation which prevented gay, lesbian and unmarried couples from adopting children in NI was unlawful.
It was the only part of the UK where the policy existed.
However, Stormont's health minister plans to go to the Supreme Court to try to overturn that decision and get the ban reinstated.
John Davis and Jason Scorer, who live in County Antrim, had hoped to adopt children from Northern Ireland, but with uncertainty over the legal position they were advised to consider other options.
"We were very lucky that our original social worker in Northern Ireland had done a lot of homework before she came, to say that we could not move things any further forward," said John, who has lived in Northern Ireland for 20 years.
"The problem is a lot of people may not be aware there is another option."
They contacted adoption and fostering charity PACT (Parents and Children Together).
It helped the couple, who are in a civil partnership, go through the process in England with the aim of giving children from there a home in Northern Ireland.
John Davis said he and his partner were giving the children love and care:
"There are children waiting in the system (in Northern Ireland) to find families but, unfortunately, we were not allowed to go down that route," said Jason.
"And that is to the hardship of the children who are here."
They adopted two boys at the start of the summer and they started primary school last month.
"They are getting loved, they are getting looked after and they are getting cared for," said John.
They say they know of other gay couples from Northern Ireland who are now considering going through the adoption process elsewhere in the UK, because the issue is still being debated in the courts.
The Department of Health at Stormont confirmed that Health Minister Edwin Poots has now applied to the Supreme Court for leave to appeal against the Court of Appeal's decision that the ban was discriminatory.
And he insisted the issue was about stability not sexuality.
"Unlike other parts of the UK... we have a strong list of adoptive parents who want to take on adopted children," said Mr Poots.
"I think we should be cautious about changing the system which actually provides the stability those children need.
"It is not a human right to adopt a child for either a mixed-sex couple or a same-sex couple."
Gay and lesbian groups, as well as organisations like BAAF (British Association for Adoption and Fostering), have criticised the minister's decision to continue fighting the issue in the courts.
But he said surveys had shown support for his position.
"What I look at it is where the Northern Ireland public are on these issues and what is in the best interests of the children," he said.
"There is a lot of public opposition to it."
In Belfast, there were people with strong views on both sides of the argument.
Those against gay couples having the right to adopt argued that children needed both male and female role models and some claimed it was against their religious beliefs.
However, many said that the only important thing was providing a stable home for a child, irrespective of whether the couple were married or their sexuality.
"You could argue all day about the gay thing - whether it is right that someone who is gay should be gay," says John Davis.
"But I believe it goes back to the loving, caring environment and stability that you can give these children, that they have not had up to this point."
The Welsh Government has announced rates for fostering allowances from 2014-15 to 2016-17.
Minimum fostering allowances paid to foster carers in Wales will increase by £4 a week for fostered children aged 0-4, £3 for fostered children aged 5-15 and £5 for fostered young people aged 16 or over.
The national minimum allowance is applied to all foster carers approved by a fostering service registered in Wales who are caring for a looked-after child. This includes approved foster carers who are friends or family of the child and short break or respite carers.
The Fostering Network encourages all fostering services to pay their foster carers a fee, in recognition of their time, skills and experience, in addition to the allowances which are designed to cover the costs of fostering.
FtSE Member News: Community Foster Care leads the way with revolutionary new training for foster carers
Community Foster Care's Chief Executive, Becky Pearson, is leading the way in adopting a revolutionary new training scheme for her staff and foster carers.
The KEEP curriculum focuses on supporting carers and helping them to develop new ways of addressing the challenging behaviour of young people aged between five and 12.
The technique, developed in the United States and accredited by the Department for Education in the UK , has shown that foster parents feel more supported and disruption levels in the home are greatly reduced.
“It’s about helping foster carers to relate better to their cared-for child, so they can help improve the child’s pro-social behaviours,” said Becky Pearson.
CFC is the first independent agency in the UK to take up KEEP (Keeping Foster and Kinship Parents Supported and Trained).
Ten members of staff in Gloucestershire and Lancashire are taking part in a 16-week training programme, beginning this month (September 2013). They will then train the agency’s registered foster carers and offer training to other organisations, including local authorities.
“All the evidence shows that when foster carers are on the KEEP course, disruption rates decrease so the home is much more stable,” said Becky.
“KEEP is very supportive of the staff and carers. There is no negativity. Solutions are offered to daily problems and there are very good outcomes for children.
“The training is not a lot of theory, but a lot of rehearsing so that when they go home, carers have the confidence to use their new techniques.
“It reinforces everything we have always done at Community Foster Care to promote positive parenting. It never focuses on the negative. It’s about looking for improvements and it definitely works. The research outcomes are very good.”
KEEP was devised in the USA in 2008 and was introduced to the UK via the Dept for Education which funded the first training for local authorities.
Its founder, Dr Patricia Chamberlain at the Oregon Social Learning Centre, was aware that the demand for foster carers far outstripped supply and that, whilst the number of cared-for children kept rising, the number of carers was sliding. The result was increased disruption, poor outcomes for young people, and a rising drop-out rate by foster families.
The Fostering Network Wales is calling on fostering services across the country to renew their efforts to give more authority to foster carers as new statistics, released by the Welsh Government this week, reveal the ongoing importance of foster care in Wales.
The figures show that 85 per cent of children in care and living away from home in Wales are in foster homes, the highest proportion in the UK.
Freda Lewis, director of the Fostering Network Wales, said of the latest figures: “The number of children in care in Wales has risen every year for at least the past 10 years. These new figures confirm the crucial role that foster care plays in offering homes to the vast majority of these children.
“We would like to see local authorities reinvigorating their efforts to delegate authority for day-to-day decisions about the care of these children to foster carers, to help make their fostering experience as positive as possible.
“We want children in care to be able to grow up with safety, security and stability and by ensuring that foster carers can make basic decisions, fostering services can improve their retention of the foster carer workforce and meet the needs of children in their care.'
The Fostering Network Wales examined the state of foster care in 2012 with Fostering: 10 years on. It outlined how foster care has changed in the past decade and the challenges it faces to continue to meet the needs of Wales’s most vulnerable children.
Lewis continued: “Our research shows us that foster carers across Wales do, and have consistently done, a great job in meeting the needs of vulnerable children and could do more with a greater level of authority given to them. So rather than preventing foster carers from doing their job, let’s give them the recognition and support they deserve as a core part of team working with a child.”
You can find the latest statistics on children in care in Wales on the Welsh Government website.
Amanda Cumberland, TACT’s parliamentary and policy officer, reflects on her recent trip to the House of Lords with TACT young people
On 27 September three young people and one foster carer from TACT visited the House of Lords to meet with the Earl of Lisotwel and Baroness Hamwee to discuss their experiences of Staying Put. Staying Put is a scheme that allows foster children to stay with their foster carer after the age of 18, with the aim of smoothing the transition from care to adulthood and improving outcomes for care leavers. TACT is supporting an amendment to the Children and Families Bill that would require every local authority to offer a Staying Put scheme.
In comparison to the rising age of young people leaving home – which at 24 is the highest it has ever been – children in care face being forced into independence at 18. Care leavers often find themselves having to embark on landmark stages in their lives, such as their first home or job, at a far earlier age than many of their peers and without the support network and safety net of a family. The first few years after leaving care can be extremely problematic for many young people. The costs to society and to the young person of such an accelerated and compressed rush to independence are devastating: care leavers are disproportionately disadvantaged, including experiencing homelessness, poor education and employment outcomes, mental health problems, early parenting and contact with the criminal justice system. And the impact of knowing you may have to leave home at 18 can impact earlier than this too: imagine trying to cope with the additional stress and uncertainty of moving out of home while studying at college and sitting exams.
The Department for Education ran Staying Put pilots in 11 local authorities from July 2008 to March 2011. The evaluation of the pilots showed that, contrary to the negative media image of children languishing the care system, foster care provides a warm, nurturing family environment and a secure base for adolescents. The government’s own evaluation showed that young people who ‘stayed put’ were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 years compared to those who didn’t.
TACT responded to the pilots by introducing its own Staying Put policy, and has supported 16 young people to remain living with their foster carer after the age of 18. The three young people who came to the House of Lords shared their own experiences. All three spoke eloquently and passionately about their achievements and plans for their future, and about how being forced to move out at 18 would have disrupted their education, or left them living in unsuitable and unsafe accommodation.
They also spoke about some of the practical problems they encountered, particularly with getting clear answers on financial and benefits issues. The foster carer spoke about the financial impact of the reduced fees Staying Put carers receive, at a time when the young person arguably needs more financial support for education costs. He is using his savings to pay for computer software and study trips that the young person cannot afford to pay for from their student bursary and loans, because part of the funding for Staying Put comes from the benefits the young person is able to claim.
I am incredibly proud of each of the young people who came and told their stories. And I am proud to be part of an organisation that is campaigning for more young people to have the opportunity to access Staying Put schemes.
No reasonable parent would leave their child to fend for themselves at 18, and nor should the state. Neither should the state rely on the goodwill of foster carers who develop caring, family relationships with the children they look after and would not dream of abandoning them to fend for themselves at 18. Foster carers who are willing to continue to support a young person after the age of 18 should be recognised and supported adequately. There is a need for a clear, consistent approach to Staying Put across the country, with better information and support for carers and young people. Thanks to the stories the young people and carer from TACT shared, Parliament will hear this message loud and clear.
News & Jobs
News stories and job vacancies from our member agencies, the fostering sector and the world of child protection and safeguarding as a whole.
Browse News Archives