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.”
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