Leaving home can be a daunting experience. Sadness, excitement, doubt and the gnawing fear that you don’t know how to iron properly are all common emotions.
For Mark Moorhouse, the idea of seeing Luke leave his home “really panicked” him, and the idea of living independently now “scares the pants” off of Luke.
Luke is Mark’s foster child. Now 18 years old, Luke has been with his foster family since he was 16 and, luckily, was eligible for Staying Put, the policy that means a local authority has to support young people in foster care from the age of 18 until they are 21, rather than them having to leave their foster families.
Mark says it was always their intention to allow Luke to stay past 18, because they didn’t feel he was ready, and the fact they qualified for Staying Put was a bonus.
“It’s a great idea, a brilliant plan, it gives you that security that you know you can still look after them, with that little bit of financial support, and you can still give them what [they] need,” Mark says.
Bernadette Moylon, a foster carer, agrees. Her daughter has been with her since she was 9. “[She] calls me mum, I would have found it very difficult at … 18 to say ‘No, you can’t stay here’.”
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Like Mark, Bernadette always intended to house her daughter past 18 – “how could I turn her out?” – but she admits she was lucky.
“I had a large house so I did have room for her to stay and she’s lucky as well. That’s really what I object to,” Bernadette says.
When her daughter was 17 years old, Bernadette was paid £400 a week – £200 as a fee and £200 for keep. When this became a Staying Put arrangement, this became a flat rate of £120.
“What gets me is, if I was relying on the income, I wouldn’t be able to keep her, and I would have found that incredibly difficult to keep her. A lot of foster carers do rely on the income because it’s very difficult. I do work part time, but it is very difficult for some carers to find work outside of fostering and it just seems unfair it’s not funded properly,” Bernadette says.
This is her home
There is an expectation, Bernadette explains, that if the young person receives benefits or is – as is the case here – in full-time work, they pay their foster carer.
“You’re in the situation where she thinks of me as a mother, and I’m trying to get £120 a week off her… this is her home.”
Mark says the money is a big thing carers notice when a placement becomes a Staying Put arrangement. He fostered through a private agency, and said when Luke reached 18 the agency “washed its hands of him”, and then it was up to the authority to handle the arrangements.
“We were prepared for it, but it was the local authority we found that weren’t prepared for it because it is such a grey area. There are certain grey areas local authorities are not even aware of until it’s brought to their attention,” Mark explains.
These grey areas are reflective of a bedding in period as local authorities develop their policies, he thinks. An example of a practice he finds confusing is that his local authority insists on taking the arrangement to a review panel every three to four months. As a result, Luke “never feels settled”.
“What frustrates me is when we were looking after Luke they were saying to us all the way through his care, ‘he might be 17 but he’s got delayed learning and will only act like a 15/16-year-old’. But as soon as he turns 18 they say ‘he’s 18, he’s an adult he can do this for himself’.”
But it’s through staying that the benefits come: “He’s doing so well at college and when he first started he had no aspirations of college or anything – Now he’s got a career ahead of him.”
Bernadette agrees: “If I was in that position where I didn’t have room, and didn’t have capacity to take a drop in income, and she was moved in to independent living – she would not be in full-time work now, she would be one of our unemployed.”
Zoe Witherington is probably one of the best early examples of what Staying Put can do.
Currently in her third year at university, Zoe was an early adopter of the arrangement, so much so that the official Staying Put policy wasn’t in place when her and her family decided she should ‘stay put’.
“I was fostered out of the borough, I was in Essex and my local borough was in London, so they wanted me to go back to London and just leave the rest of my exams,” Zoe says.
She says a friend of hers went through the same thing as he approached 18: “He didn’t finish his A Levels or university because he was made to go in to a supportive lodgings place away from where he was studying. He really did struggle with the lack of support.”
Several years later Zoe still has a good relationship with her foster carers, and was part of the campaign to make the Staying Put policy exist.
“At that age the support they gave me was fundamental really. I was coming to the end of my A Levels, there was a lot of stress that you get through education and making your future plans for university, and I think the Staying Put programme really does help children implement the plans they make for their future,” Zoe says.