Young people leaving care are right to fear homelessness - homelessness charity Crisis estimate that between 25 - 30% of homeless people have been in the care system. For the majority who do stay housed, there's the challenge of balancing college or work with the need to be completely self-reliant.
'At eighteen that’s it – that’s really it. And they’re still kids. You don’t think you are – you have no perception of yourself as that, but the choices you make and the way that you’re doing things – you’re an evolved child, but you’re still a child.'
Care leaver Oliver, reflecting on leaving his foster home.
'What happens to those care leavers who don’t get the support I received from my carers? The ones who haven’t saved for their future, who don’t have the skills to cope? They are the ones I’m most concerned about.'
Milly, who moved from a stable foster home to an unsuitable, dirty flat on leaving care.
The risk of homelessness
Without family support the margin for error is very small: an unexpected water bill, a wild night on the town and a young person can find themselves facing eviction for insolvency. Milly's story illustrates that even a mature young person with strong support can find moving traumatic. Once an older teenager has made themselves ‘intentionally homeless’, the ‘corporate parent’ no longer has any responsibility for them.
Support for longer
Since April 2014, a policy called Staying Put has meant that young people in foster care have had the opportunity to stay in their foster care placement until the age of 21, if they want to and if their foster carers agree. Local authorities have a statutory duty to 'monitor and support' Staying Put arrangements enabling a young person to stay in their foster placement for up to three years after they leave care at 18, provided that both they and their foster carer want this.
However, the Staying Put policy does not apply to the 9 per cent of young people who are in residential care. In 2014, The Who Cares? Trust, Action for Children, Barnardo’s, the National Children’s Bureau, residential provider the Together Trust and the Centre for Child and Family Research at Loughborough University collaborated on a project to explore the potential models, challenges and costs of providing an equivalent of Staying Put for young people in residential care and a scoping report was published with the findings.
Returning to birth parents
Some children return to their birth parents at 16. For some, this is a good outcome – they have the maturity to deal with the problems that led them to be taken into care in the first place. Many will ‘vote with their feet’ and spontaneously return home. Others who spoke to The Who Cares? Trust for our research on reunification saw returning to their parents as inevitable, but not always well planned.
Legislation usually works on a yes/no principle, outlining what should or shouldn’t happen. For many care leavers a more natural supported transition is what works the best. Many young people who leave home will return to their parents for Sunday lunch, the loan of fifty quid, or a bit of advice. Leaving care, a young person should look back to see a door to support still left ajar – not slammed shut, leaving them alone in the wilds of adult life.