This week’s GCSE results day and last week’s A-Level results day can be, for many young people in the UK, the start of new and exciting life changes. Some young people may decide to start applying for jobs, others may be encouraged by their parents/caregivers to continue into further education; for most young people, the secure base of a family home remains to be their’s until they feel ready to fly the nest. However, for many young people in care, this may not be as straightforward.
The ‘Staying Put’ arrangement was recommended in the recent ‘Care Matters’ government white paper. It states that from the age of eighteen, young people are no longer legally ‘in care’ or ‘looked after’, and therefore fostering arrangements and legislation relating to children placed with foster carers no longer applies. In circumstances where a young person remains with their former foster carer/s after their eighteenth birthday, the arrangement should therefore be deemed a ‘Staying Put’ arrangement.
To meet the commitments in the white paper and the new duties towards care leavers in the Children and Young Persons Act 2008, this arrangement emphasise a more graduated approach to planning transition to adulthood. The average age of leaving home is rising and the transition to adulthood is increasingly becoming more complex and elongated. The ‘Staying Put’ initiative looks at ways to extend children/young people’s transition to adulthood within a family and household supported environment. The intention being to ensure young people can remain with their former foster carers until they are prepared for adulthood, can experience a transition akin to their peers, avoid social exclusion and be more likely to avert a subsequent housing and tenancy breakdown.
However, Mark Kerr (Community Care, 2014) criticises ‘Staying Put’ for being both confusing and discriminatory to young people in care, foster carers and professionals:
‘It is confusing because there is very little evidence to indicate the policy in its current form will actually improve outcomes. Further, despite all of the rhetoric, it is misleading to say that all young people in foster care who wish to stay in care will be offered this choice.
The reality is this will only be feasible if carers are able to afford the significant drop in income. Many professional carers – although not necessarily fostering for the money – cannot afford this, a key message from the evaluation of the Staying Put pilot.
Further, young people placed with independent providers (approximately 33%) are also unlikely to be able to stay put because no provision has been made for agency fees – again a key finding from the evaluation that has not been addressed.
I wholeheartedly support the spirit of Staying Put, but believe this is a missed opportunity to improve outcomes for all children in care. It is likely to only benefit a select few – those in stable placements whose carers can afford to lose the fostering allowance. In reality there will be very few who can, and it’s contrary to the drive to professionalise foster care: Professionals want to be paid.’ (Kerr, 2014)
In order to meet the commitments made in ‘Care Matters’, more needs to be done to ensure that all young people in care benefit from the Staying Put initiative.
Department for Education. (2014). Staying Put: Arrangements for Care Leavers aged 18 and above to stay on with their former foster carers. HM Government. Available at: https://www.gov.uk/government/uploads/system/uploads/attachment_data/file/201015/Staying_Put_Guidance.pdf. [Accessed 20th August 2015]
Kerr, M. (2014). Law allowing children to stay with foster carers until 21 is confusing and discriminatory. Community Care. Available at: http://www.communitycare.co.uk/2014/04/16/law-allowing-children-stay-foster-carers-21-confusing-discriminatory/ [Accessed 20th August 2015]