by Kate Sewel
Earlier this month, a ComRes poll showed almost half of 150 MPs back raising the age children leave residential care to 21. At the moment, in England, a young person in foster care can stay put with their carers until the age of 21, but those in residential care still have to leave at 18.
If the law does change, local authorities are going to have to find a place to house these young people, fast.
However, not all young people will be able to remain in residential care. In some cases it’s not what young people want, and in other cases it’s just not practical. What is needed is a variety of ‘staying put’ and support options that meet the individual needs of the young person. This package of support needs to be guaranteed up till the age of 21 with personal advisors supporting young people leaving care up to the age of 25.
A service that shows positive outcomes for young people leaving care is supported lodgings. This offers young people leaving care an opportunity to live with a host, or host family, before putting what they have learnt into practice when they move into their own tenancy.
Crucially, living a fulfilling and independent adult life depends on making choices. But in residential care, many decisions, even ones as simple as what to have for dinner, where to buy the ingredients and what time to eat it, are made for young people.
By living with a host or host family, young people get the chance to make decisions and learn the responsibilities of adulthood; being a good tenant, cleaning, cooking, and behaving appropriately, much like a young person living in their own family home.
The setup of supported lodgings gives young people the stability they so desperately want and need, alongside the support of someone to help guide them into independence.
A recent study by Barnardo’s into supported lodgings found what about it worked well for young people.
For some young people, learning vital practical life skills was most important. For others, the emotional support they received gave them more confidence, self-worth, determination, and, a belief in their own ability to succeed. Hosts can provide a reliable presence, constant encouragement, and a listening ear, similar to how any parent might support a young person towards independent adulthood.
As one young person said in comparing and contrasting his experience of the care system with his time with a host family:
“It’s more chilled, there’s not as many set rules. You don’t get independence when you’re in care. There’s more rules. You have a set time to come in, you don’t get to make your own food and things, your meals are already cooked for you, stuff like that. [In supported lodgings] it’s different…. you’ve got to buy your own clothes, when you have haircuts and things like that, you’ve got to buy it all yourself.”
This young person went on to describe how the one-to-one relationship he had formed with his host was important:
“You get to know [your host provider] in person, like ‘cos when you went into a care home you just get a file with a load of stuff in it but like here…. It’s like a family [in supported lodgings]…. I can sit down and speak to people that will help me out…. If I wasn’t here, I’d probably still be in care. I think I would still have my anger and behaviour issues.”
I’ve been concerned to find many local authorities don’t provide supported lodgings. It is overlooked possibly in favour of more readily available options, such as hostels, or for unsuitable bed and breakfasts.
As the Government looks at giving care leavers in residential settings the chance to stay put until the age of 21, it’s important supported lodgings is on its agenda. Young people say having the chance to live with a host family is a good way to bridge the gap to independent living. It’s important they learn to look after themselves, not just to have a roof over their head.
Kate Sewel wrote the evaluation of Barnardo’s supported lodgings services