A MUCH-FETED Cameron-era policy designed to keep foster children in stable homes until the age of 21 is failing, charities have said, after figures showed the number of children “staying put” has dropped to its lowest level since it was introduced in 2014.
The Staying Put programme requires local authorities to support arrangements for fostered young people to stay with their foster carers beyond their 18th birthday and until the age of 21.
However, analysis of the most recent Government figures by the charity Action for Children, on behalf of The Yorkshire Post ahead of the start of Fostering Fortnight on Monday, shows that the number of young people who still lived with their foster carers after turning 18 fell by almost 10 per cent in 2016/17 to just 46 per cent nationally – its lowest level since the plan was introduced in 2014.
In Yorkshire, the level fell to 56 per cent, four per cent less than it was in 2015/16.
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Action for Children said the figures were in line with the education select committee’s finding that many young people were still missing out of Staying Put due to a “lack of clarity and consistency” around its implementation.
The charity said a foster carer’s income could drop from about £500 a week to about £120 under a Staying Put arrangement – a fall of 70 per cent.
The charity’s fostering services manager in the North Paul Goodwin said: “These are young people who are vulnerable – and that vulnerability does not switch off when they become 18 years of age.
“Carers are often keen to support their foster child, but it is often not financially viable for them to consider Staying Put.
“Staying Put is vitally important. For many young people, they will have experienced the most stable parts of their lives running up to their 18th birthday.
“Having a supportive foster family is critical in giving the confidence to move forward and succeed in life.”
Campaigns manager at the Fostering Network Vicki Swain said the figures were “hugely disappointing”. Its campaigning led to David Cameron introducing the policy in May 2014.
“Staying Put was one of the biggest changes in legislation in recent years, which had a huge potential to make a massive difference to children and young people who have been through the care system,” she said.
“It should be the expectation that all of these young people should be with foster carers past 18 – it’s simply not good enough.”
A survey by the charity of foster carers who were not able to offer a Staying Put arrangement to a young person when they turned 18 showed that a third were unable to do so because they could not afford the drop in income.
It is calling on the Government to introduce minimum set allowances to support foster carers.
“Too many children are not Staying Put for financial reasons,” Ms Swain said.
“Staying Put has not been properly funded and these vulnerable children are missing out on crucial care at the time in their lives that can impact their future outcomes as an adult the most.
“Remaining in a stable home, with your foster family, should be supported at all costs.”
A Department for Education spokesperson said the Government was providing £23.3m to local authorities in 2018/19 to enable care leavers to remain with their former foster carers after they turn 18.
She added: “Our guidance is clear that local authorities should pay former foster carers an allowance that will cover all reasonable costs of supporting the care leaver to remain living with them.”
- North Yorkshire was involved as a pilot authority in a three-year government scheme called Staying Put, which offered young people the opportunity to remain with their carers until they reach 21.
The scheme ended in 2011, but North Yorkshire continued with it, a decision highlighted as good practice.
Fostering Fortnight, which starts on Monday, has showcased the commitment and work of foster carers across the country over the last two decades.