Part One – Uncertainty after foster care. What was it like for young people before Staying Put?

6 May, 2015

After years of pressure and pilot programmes trialling ‘Staying Put’, young people in foster care are no longer forced to leave their foster homes at 18.

Before the Staying Put legislation came into force, young people in foster care were required to leave the comfort of the foster homes that they had been placed in, long before the average age a young person is ready to leave. The run-up to their 18th birthdays would be filled with uncertainty and anxiety, as they drew closer to the day that they would have to make the transition from living in a secure family environment where they felt safe and had built strong, supportive relationships, to living independently; something that the average young person would not contemplate until they are aged between 24 and 27 years old.

Talking about life for a foster child before the Staying Put legislation came into effect, Deborah Southwick, Registered Manager for Staffordshire at Orange Grove Fostercare, said: ”Prior to staying put young people were expected to leave their long term placement and move to independence at the age of 18.  Foster carers and professional all agreed that if this was a birth child you would not be expecting them to leave home to live independently if they were not ready so why would we expect a vulnerable young person who has been looked after to be forced to do this when they want to remain.”

Many young people at such a vulnerable time in their lives, turned to alcohol and drugs or even found themselves ending up in the criminal justice system. Government statistics from 2010 showed that 33% of care leavers were not in education, employment or training – compared to 13% of all young people – and 25% of young women leaving care were pregnant or already mothers.

Eric Mole who was part of the Staying put pilot programme told the Guardian in 2012, “When a young person is 16, they’re already aware that in 2 short years, they will be making this transition. They need to control what happens and the only way they can do it is to destroy it completely”. He saw the ability of offering a young person the chance to stay put as “crucial to maintaining their sense of belonging and allowing them to build the security on which a healthy future depends”. Edward Timpson, Children and Families Minister said that “the momentous change will help the 10,000 young people leaving care each year to make the transition where they’re ready – rather than when others tell them to”.

The legislation has been recognised as the most significant reform for young people in care for a generation and aims to eradicate any uncertainty that young people were subjected to and to give them a better start to adult life with healthier chances of succeeding in the future.

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