The government must provide adequate funding to make sure all young people leaving foster care can benefit from the safety and stability that Staying Put offers, Action for Children has said.
A report from the children’s charity reveals that the policy designed to allow care leavers to remain with their foster families, Staying Put, is being hampered by a lack of funding which means opportunities for young people to stay are being lost.
“With the pandemic exacerbating existing problems, young people leaving care are facing a move into a very uncertain future. Youth unemployment is rising fast, and digital poverty could leave young care leavers increasingly isolated. Staying Put offers young people the chance to stay in a loving and nurturing family environment for longer, giving them the stability they need when so much around them is changing,” said Melanie Armstrong Chief Executive, Action for Children.
In the UK, the average age for leaving home in the UK is 23. However, young people who are in care are expected to leave care at the much younger age of 18, despite the fact that care experienced young people have very often experienced childhood trauma, which can impact on their wellbeing, mental health, education, and future career opportunities.
Approximately 39% of care leavers aged 19, 20 and 21 in England are not in education, employment or training, compared to 11% of all young people across the UK. Youth unemployment has got worse during the coronavirus pandemic, the unemployment rate generally is at its highest level in two years, and young people have been hardest hit. According to the latest figures, those aged 16 to 24 have suffered the biggest drop in employment compared to other age groups and young care leavers will be a group at particularly high risk.
Care leavers are also at higher risk of becoming homeless than other young people. A 2017 survey of care leavers by Centrepoint found that 26% had sofa surfed, and 14% had slept rough since leaving care. The COVID-19 pandemic will only have increased the urgency of the situation. Since the onset of the coronavirus crisis, young people have had problems contacting children’s social care services.
Despite guidance suggesting local authorities use some of their additional £1.6 billion in emergency funding to provide discretionary payments to care leavers to cover essential outgoings – such as rent payments – it does not appear that all care leavers were able to access this funding through their local Leaving Care teams.
Action For Children says this is where Staying Put comes in. The policy was introduced in 2014 through the Children and Families Act and is now enshrined in the Children Act 1989. The policy empowers young people in foster care to continue to live with their former foster carers up until the age of 21, rather than having to move out when they turn 18.
However, six years on, and not all young people who want to stay put can. Research has found that many young people still have to move out of home before they are ready, with funding being the key issue. This is despite the evidence from the pilots showing that young people who stayed put were twice as likely to be in full time education at 19 than those who did not.
The Action for Children report shows that there will be a difference of £15.8 million – rising to more than £18.5 million – between what local authorities are likely to be paying their carers and the government funding local authorities receive for this.
There’s an even greater difference between the present funding levels and what we estimate is needed to comprehensively cover the costs of Staying Put, the report adds.
“The government has to provide adequate funding to make sure all young people leaving foster care can benefit from the safety and stability that Staying Put offers – particularly now, with the future looking so grim for youth unemployment,” the report concluded.
Giving care leavers the chance to stay: Staying put six years on