A change in UK law announced this week will allow foster children to stay with their carers until they’re 21.
Over forty charities successfully pushed the government for the amendment to the current system, which forces foster children into independence around 16 or 17 years of age. Once left to cope on their own, care leavers can become isolated.
Some local councils have the funds for children to stay in foster care until they are 18. Now the Department for Education is imposing a legal duty on all councils to provide financial support for foster families who wish to stay together longer.
The government has pledged £40m over the next three years to fund the plan and the act will be introduced into the House of Lords at the third reading of the Children and Families Bill next year.
The news comes in time for Christmas, a special day on which most care-leavers spend alone.
The Topé Project , set up last year to give care leavers a happy Christmas, was named in memory of Topé, a 23-year-old care leaver who sadly took his own life. Last year, the charity gave over 70 young people an amazing Christmas time – meeting each other, playing games, eating, getting presents, sharing pain and promoting positivity.
There is a massive need for this event, just check out the response to their work on their Just Giving page where you can of course donate for this year’s Christmas day for care leavers.
Tope’s friend, Jerome Harvey Agyei, told Ruth Stivey in an article for the Guardian last year:
As well as our pioneering and fun Christmas Day event – which aims to bring together care leavers, create positive memories and inspire them – we want Topé’s legacy to be promoting more emotional support for children in care and care leavers.
It was reported last year by the Young Minds charity that 60% of care leavers have mental health problems and suicide rates for care-leavers are almost five times higher than for their peers.
The concerns for those in care
The news of the proposed £40m budget over the next three years has fuelled a lot of questions.
Will councils have to make cuts from other vital services to fulfill their new legal duty and will the new law apply to foster children in England or the entire United Kingdom?
Surely, all children should be treated equally, which is why these questions must be addressed.
Plus there are concerns about supporting children in residential homes as well as foster care under this amendment.
Children’s charities have always asserted it is a moral obligation that the children of the state, who are taken away out of bad environments, should flourish in their substitute situation.
These children need more than a place of shelter. They need emotional security, even when they leave their foster home. It can be deemed unethical for carers to keep in touch with the children they fostered.
This is why the change in the law is important. Most parents don’t throw their children out when they turn 16, they nurture them until they are secure enough for independence.
Nor do they cut ties once their children leave home. If foster parents can keep in touch with children they cared for, it would mean care leavers have the emotional building blocks of a family to return to and a place to call home.
Follow The Topé’ Project:
- Time to give a new meaning to ‘Take Care’ (the Independent)
- Christmas is the day when care leavers are reminded they don’t have a family (the Guardian)
- Why I’m holding a Manchester Christmas dinner for 45 people who were in care (theguardian.com)
- APPG – ‘How do we make residential children homes a safe, loving and stable place to live?’ (livingacarelesslife.wordpress.com)