One in four care leavers opted to stay with their foster families past their 18th birthdays in the year after government reforms required councils to offer extended support.
The ‘Staying Put’ reforms came into force in April 2014. The policy gave councils a legal requirement to support young people to remain with their foster families until they turn 21, if they wish to do so.
Figures released by the Department for Education show that 1,370 of 5,490 young people who left care last year remained with their former foster carers past 18. The DfE says that the total number of children helped by the ‘Staying Put’ reforms is now 2,300.
In 2010, there were 230 children who stayed with their foster family after their 18th birthday. However, this could be an underestimate as councils were not required to record the information until April 2014 when the reforms came into force.
Children’s minister Edward Timpson said supporting young people to remain with their family until they are ready to leave home gives them the same opportunities as their friends.
The ‘Staying Put’ initiative was launched with a £44m investment from government. However, local councils warned they faced a £13m funding shortfall in the first six months of implementing the policy and expect the gap to widen.
David Simmonds, deputy chairman of the Local Government Association, said that the government has “significantly underestimated” the cost to councils of supporting young people post-17.
“In the light of 40 per cent reductions to their budgets over the last Parliament, and a growing demand for children’s services, councils are having to make some difficult decisions about the services they can continue to offer. Any further unfunded pressures could threaten to impact on our ability to keep children safe and happy,” Simmonds said.
Foster carers not being supported
Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network, also warned that foster carers are not being adequately supported with post-17 care for young people.
“Anecdotally we are hearing of far too many instances where foster carers are not being supported sufficiently in caring for a young person post-17 and so the placement is forced to break down,” Williams said.
Williams said the news was good for young people continuing to live with their foster families but urged the government to ensure financial support is provided so that foster carers aren’t “out of pocket” for keeping the door open to a young person.