Leaving foster care
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When a young person reaches the age of 18, any Care Order is automatically revoked, and they are no longer considered to be “looked after”. However, foster carers play an important part in ensuring that young people are prepared for the move to independence or by continuing to support them after the age of 18 through supported lodgings and other schemes, such as Shared Lives and Staying Put.
Arrangements for young people leaving care at the age of 18 vary according to where they live in the UK and it is important to be aware of the guidance and policies that apply to them. It is also important that foster carers understand the implications of changes to their financial arrangements if they continue to care for a young person after the age of 18.
Some young people prefer to move to independent living and foster carers play an important role in supporting young people as they begin this transition. Other schemes are briefly discussed below, with links to organisations that can provide further information and support.
The age of leaving home among the population as a whole is rising and the transition to adulthood is becoming increasingly complex. Children looked after often leave care to become independent before the age of 18. Research and evidence highlights that where children in care experience an extended transition more akin to their peers, outcomes improve and the experience is more normative.
The Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers Regulations and Guidance 2010 and the Fostering Regulations and Guidance 2011 (Children Act 1989) both require local authorities to have a Staying Put policy. The Staying Put policy should set out the practical, financial, tax and benefit issues (for both the foster carer and the child) which impact on the decision to extend foster care as Staying Put care when a looked after child reaches the age of 18 years.
New guidance isued by the DfE sets out the Department for Education, HM Revenue and Customs and the Department for Work and Pensions (DfE, HMRC and DWP) frameworks that local authorities must be aware of, and take account of, when developing a local Staying Put policy.
The work undertaken across the DfE, HMRC and DWP to produce the guidance has enabled changes to be made within HMRC that has aligned the tax rules across foster carer and Staying Put carer. Work with DWP has ensured that the local authority payments (Section 23) made to Staying Put carers are disregarded when calculating a carer’s entitlement to benefit. Other elements of the work, which have been included in the guidance, have been to clarify the complex benefit and tax rules in regard to Staying Put arrangements. The final element of the work and guidance has been to set out the different safeguarding frameworks in regard to Staying Put young people remaining in arrangements where foster children live, and in situations where the Staying Put young person is the only young person living with their carer.
The primary aim of the guidance, and the requirement for local authorities to develop a local Staying Put policy, is to ensure arrangements are in place that can enable a young person’s foster care placement to be extended beyond their 18th birthday. Staying Put will enable young people to experience a transition from care to independence and adulthood that is similar to that which most young people experience, is based on need and not on age alone.
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Supported Lodgings provide vulnerable young people with places to live in the homes of local people. These might be the same people who fostered the young person when they were “looked after” or they might have been specifically recruited to be Supported Lodgings carers. These hosts/carers are assessed, vetted and trained for the role.
Most of the young people are aged 16 to 21, but exceptionally some may need support up to 24. Young people generally spend a maximum of two years living with their hosts/carers, from whom they receive significant practical and emotional support. Supported Lodgings schemes provide family-based support to young people to help them to develop the confidence and capability to live independently.
Currently there are 113 schemes registered in the database of the Supported Lodgings Project in England.
Whilst such Supported Lodgings schemes provide substantial individual support, young people who require a higher degree of support and possibly personal care (perhaps due to medical conditions or disabilities which will prevent them from becoming fully independent in the longer term) may be eligible for Shared Lives (formerly adult placement) schemes.
Supported Lodgings have been developed as an accommodation option in recognition of the evidence that, when an alternative to foster care is needed, a supportive domestic environment is more suitable for some young people than other forms of accommodation such as foyers, hostels and rented housing.
Payments to hosts/carers
The payments received by Supported Lodgings hosts/carers constitute a combination of rent and payment for the provision of support. These can be broken down into rent, service charges, support costs and food/meals. Payments to Supported Lodgings hosts/carers may be derived from Supported Lodgings schemes, from Children’s Services Departments or from Supporting People.
In addition it is common practice that young people contribute to the cost of their Supported Lodgings including payment of housing benefit.
For further information about Supported Lodgings visit: www.leavingcare.org.
The website of the National Care Advisory Service, which is a national advice, support and development service focusing on young people’s transition from care. NCAS is supported by national charity Catch22.