The government is “carefully” considering a report backing children to remain in residential care until they turn 21, at an annual cost of £76m.
The research – backed by the Department for Education – explored extending Staying Put laws for children in residential care. A collaboration of charities and Loughborough University produced the report.
Last year, legislation was passed allowing children to remain in their foster homes until 21, which many campaigners argued discriminated against young people living in children’s homes who, currently, can only stay until 18.
Speaking this week in a Commons debate about the education committee report, Into Independence: Not Out of Care, children’s minister Edward Timpson referenced the research, pledging to consider it carefully despite the potentially high costs.
“I will of course consider carefully the scoping study and its recommendations. I have only just received that advice and cannot comment further at this stage. We commissioned that important work and I look forward to considering it in the next few weeks,” he said.
Experts involved in the research identified four Staying Put options for children in residential care. The potential costs of each option was then estimated. The popularity of each option was drawn from the responses of care leavers involved in the research.
These figures, based on the latest data for care leavers aged 19, 20 and 21 and the percentage of the care population in children’s homes, should be treated with caution, the report stated. “With a lack of comprehensive evidence base it has been necessary to base these costs on a series of assumptions,” the report stated.
However, the report also noted: “Any exploration of the costs associated with extending Staying Put to young people in residential care, and the national cost implications, need to be considered within the context of the longer term, lifetime costs of not providing support to vulnerable care leavers.”
One option isn’t right for everyone
The likelihood of young people moving between options must also be considered in a further cost analysis, the report stated.
Choice is a key issue for young people leaving care, who stressed in the consultation that no single option is right for everyone. Therefore, a range of options need to be available for care leavers, the report found.
It recommended the Department for Education develops plans for a new overarching duty of continuing support and accommodation up to the age of 21 for all young people leaving care.
Ofsted was urged to work with stakeholders and clarify homes’ ability to maintain registration when they cater for young people over 18, and how provision of accommodation for those over 18 will impact on inspections.