Becoming ‘independent’

Across the UK, there has been an increased recognition that young people should not have to leave care at the age of 18. The average age of young people leaving home is increasing. While most young people can leave home when they feel ready and prepared to do so, often young people in care feel a pressure to become ‘independent’ much sooner than their peers. The ‘cliff-edge’ for young people in care seems increasingly unfair.

Schemes across the UK to support care-experienced young people

Different schemes across the UK aim to allow young people in care to remain at home after 18. They have key differences, and all have caveats. 

In Northern Ireland, the ‘Going the Extra Mile’ was formally launched in 2010. This scheme allows young people to stay with their carer until the age of 21, if they are in education, training or employment. As a non-statutory provision, it is not clear how it works in different areas, or to what extent it is accessed. 

In Scotland, the ‘Continuing Care’ programme offers a range of support for young people including supporting them to stay in their home up to the age of 21. This is the only such scheme in the UK that allows young people to stay in their home no matter the type of residence – it can be a ‘family foster home’, a kinship arrangement or residential care.  

In England, the ‘Staying Put’ scheme can apply to young people up to the age of 25 if they remain in education and training. This only applies to young people in foster care. However, there are some trails of a scheme called ‘Staying Close’ which offers semi-independent accommodation for young people in residential care which is close to their care home. 

A blog this week outlines the details of the Welsh scheme When I’m Ready.

Uncertainties and differences

The ‘Continuing Care’ programme states that if an arrangement breaks down, a new arrangement should be sought for a young person. In Wales, there is a 28 day ‘cooling off’ period recommended so that a young person can decide to return to their home. However, there is nothing to say that a young person could not return to a ‘When I’m Ready’ arrangement after a longer period of time if the carer and young person wanted this. 

Although all of the schemes state that the carer and the young person must want to enter into the arrangement, the ‘When I’m Ready’ guidance notes that, where a young person wants the arrangement, but the carer is unsure, further discussions will be necessary with the carer to see if their concerns can be overcome. 

While only the ‘Continuing Care’ programme specifically allows young people to remain in residential care, the ‘When I’m Ready’ guidance specifies that ‘When I’m Ready’ should be an option for young people in residential care, but that this would involve a young person moving to a foster placement in time to enter an arrangement when they turn 18, rather than staying in their residential care home. 

Aims vs reality

While these schemes aim to support young people to stay at home until they feel ready to be independent, the reality is that not many young people are entering into these arrangements. And, we don’t know how long they last, or how happy young people and carers are about them. There are also still ‘cliff-edge’ points – the arrangements often have to end on birthdays, or when a course ends. 

Conversations and reflections are helpful to improve the offer for young people. However, data is needed to understand more what is happening for young people when they turn 16 or 18 and have to decide where they want to live. 

Written by Lorna Stabler