Staying put is an arrangement where young people remain with their foster carers following their 18th birthday, and was endorsed by government and formalised in the Children and Families Act 2014. Informal arrangements had been in place for many years, but the legislation brought with it extra funding and a renewed national drive to do better for young people leaving care.
The following tips highlight good practice in staying put arrangements – the legislation and guidance, what works for young people and carers, and how carers can best be supported:
- The local authority has a duty to consider staying put for all eligible care leavers, but the arrangement does not suit every young person. The Children Act 1989 states that local authorities must support care leavers whether or not they stay put. This support may continue until their 25th birthday if they remain in education or training. Therefore, staying put is one option in the planning process for leaving care. Support may also be offered beyond 21 once the staying put arrangement has ended.
- Staying put should be considered as an option in the young person’s care plan and pathway plan. There is no separate, distinct staying put assessment process. As such, staying put must be on the agenda from age 14 as part of a needs-based assessment. The pathway plan must be in place within three months of the young person’s 16th birthday – if a staying put arrangement is assessed as meeting the needs of the young person, this must be included (The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000).
- The young person must be empowered to participate fully in the decision. Their wishes and feelings must be considered in any decision (Statutory Guidance 7.29). In order to make an informed choice, the young person needs information about all the elements of a staying put arrangement, including finance, support, what is expected of them in the home, boundaries and house rules etc. They should have access to advocacy and independent advice, and any decision should not be rushed.
- Carers also need to make an informed choice. Looking after a young person until they are 21 requires different skills – new boundaries, growing independence, developing life skills – which should be recognised in training and support. Then there is the question of the allowance carers receive. The staying put allowance, plus other benefits, is typically lower than the fostering allowance. Finally, any staying put arrangement will affect carers’ fostering approval. The number of bedrooms available for fostering will be reduced. The nature and extent of the young person’s needs may limit placement choices.
- The duties under the Fostering Regulations and the National Minimum Standards do not apply to staying put arrangements. It is not a requirement that the fostering service supervises these placements, or that the carer remains an approved foster carer. That said, the fostering service should seriously consider using the Regulations and Standards as incorporated in their existing policy and procedures manual as a basis for good practice. If the carer is an approved foster carer, these conditions must be adhered to, to ensure their continued approval.
- The role of the social worker is significant in maintaining the continuity at the heart of staying put. If the social worker and the young person have a good relationship, this should be continued if at all possible. A young person turning 18 loses their social work links too if, for example, their worker’s team does not have responsibility for post-18 care. A sound relationship should not be broken up at this crucial moment in the life of the young person.