BASW is a member of the Alliance for Children in Care and Care Leavers and along with 39 other organisations supported a letter to the children's minister asking for young people to have the choice of staying with their carers beyond the age of 18.
BASW Professional Officer Sue Kent welcomes the news that looked after children can stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21 years rather than be forced to become independent at the age of 18 but queries why young people in residential care have been left out. She writes:
The average age of a child leaving home in England is 24 years old. For too long we have expected old heads on young shoulders as far as our young people in care are concerned. They are just as vulnerable as any teenager and need just as much support and protection.
Hearing that looked after children can stay with their foster carers up to the age of 21 years if they so wish has proved that the government will listen to the collective voice and as a consequence change can be achieved.
However there are concerns and it is hoped by BASW that this decision with lead to more government action to support other children in residential care to have the same options.
At present, the 9% of looked after children living in residential homes will be expected to become independent by 18, leaving their home to be supported only by already stretched Local Authority ‘leaving care’ teams.
There seems to be a general perception of residential care being the bottom rung of provision, housing the most troubled young people when it should instead be a positive option for those young people who cannot stay with their families.
The foster system will also have to adapt to this change in policy. Many foster carers may have decided to house another child once their foster child had left home at 18. This will no longer be possible and pressure on the fostering agencies will increase as they try to recruit and retain more foster carers, a task we know is always demanding.
There are also concerns demands on social workers will increase with further assessments of young people’s needs and clarification that a continued placement is justified. We hope too that the new policy will be properly implemented across the country and not subject young people to a further ‘postcode lottery’ for services.
Concerns aside, the initial idea reflects what should be basic good practice, namely that young people in care's needs be recognised.
The fact remains that most looked after young people will now have continued support and be treated far more like to any other young person, able to concentrate on milestones like getting a driving licence or getting through university rather than worrying about having a roof over their heads.