‘The joy we share for young people in foster care masks another reality’

Who will amend the children's bill so that young people can stay in their children's home until 21? asks Jonathan Stanley

It’s great news that young people will now be able to stay with foster parents with whom they have a positive relationship until 21.

The government has announced £40m funding to help local authorities put support arrangements in place. But £40m is not a lot of money. Will it cover all the costs? It seems not. The children’s minister has said the money is going ‘towards the costs’ and local authorities say they are cash-strapped. It’s highly likely this new legal duty will require at least some money from another budget.

There are no pots of gold stashed away in children’s homes. Most children’s homes owners have one home, maybe a few more. Big companies are rare. National and local government know that children’s homes now have no reserves to withstand the year-on-year driving down of costs by councils. The parlous state into which the sector has been placed in is well known by politicians and officials.

So, the joy we are sharing for young people in foster care masks another reality. Government figures tell us children’s homes take young people who have been serially let down by local authorities. They tell us that 29% of young people will have had five or more placements before arriving at a children’s home, while only 21% stay in a home longer than a year.

Having made this breakthrough for fostering, who will amend the Children and Families Bill so that young people can stay in their children’s home until they are 21? The care system structurally ruptures relationships for young people in residential care. Frequently they must leave their children’s home, not at 18, but at 16.

Children’s homes are registered as ‘wholly or mainly’ for young people beneath 18, so the system may work for a single young person in a three-bed home.

But if another young person happens to turn 18 then the registration of the home would need to be with the Care Quality Commission, responsible for regulating adult care.

That brings a new set of costs, and the manager needs to register again too. Then a young person leaves and it reverts back to the previous system, with new registrations and costs.

So, anyone championing an amendment to the bill for residential care will need to know the law as it relates to children and adults. They will need to talk to both the Department for Education and the Department of Health.

It is much easier to bring about these changes for young people in fostering where the actual placements, unlike the services, are registered and regulated in a different way.

  • Jonathan Stanley is chief executive of the Independent Children’s Homes Association

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