FOR 20-year-old Jess Atkinson, staying at her foster family’s home after her 18th birthday was never an issue - it was her home, her family, and she was welcome to stay “as long as she liked”.
But she knows that for many young people who have spent time in the care system, that is not always the case.
Read more: Promise of ‘staying put’ in loving home broken for fostered young
Jess, from Huby in Harrogate, said Staying Put arrangements were “really important” and that in the third of cases were they are not possible due to financial pressures, funding should be re-evaluated to ensure that young people can continue to stay where they feel supported.
Miss Atkinson was seven years old when she came to live with her foster family, who have two birth children and two other long-term foster placements.
She said: “From when I was born I had social workers involved in my life, as my mum and dad couldn’t really cope. “My dad died when I was a lot younger, having been ill for most of his life. Social services tried to keep me at home but this didn’t prove possible and things were very difficult, as after my dad died, mum re-married and we both suffered abuse from her new partner.
“During this time, I spent time in respite care, part of the week staying with my foster family and the rest of the time with my mum.”
Eventually the decision was made for Jess to move in with her foster family full-time, though she kept in contact with her birth mother.
“My foster family - mum, dad, and sisters, and their extended family, have always treated me the same as their birth children - no difference at all – I’ve always been told ‘you are part of our family’,” she said.
“You do feel different when you are in care because there are reviews and social work visits and so on, but my family treating me the same really helped and made me feel better about it…it just feels natural.”
A couple of months before her 18th birthday, Miss Atkinson met with her new support worker, who would take over from her social worker as a point of contact when she turned 18.
“We talked about the next steps, and different options, whether I wanted support in finding my own place, or if I wanted to stay,” she said.
“My foster family always said I could stay there as long as I wanted, no time limits, it was entirely up to me. I always felt so comfortable and safe there, I had no reason to want to go. Financially, and everything else, it would have been so stressful having to move out.
“That’s why I think Staying Put is so important. When you’re in care, you already feel different. You build up a relationship with your foster parents. To have to move on when you’re 18, that’s a big step for anyone at any age.
“It would make you feel alienated, for them to be your family for long then, and then to turn 18 and that’s it, you have to go.”
Miss Atkinson, who describes herself as an advocate for fostering and volunteers to meet potential foster caring to show how beneficial it can be, said extra support should be given to foster carers why are reliant on the income they get from fostering to support Staying Put arrangements.
“With that financial support they could change a child’s life,” she said. “Financial support should be evaluated on a individual basis so that payments could be extended to a certain age - otherwise the work that has been done to build that child up could be knocked down again.”