North Yorkshire County Council’s support for young people leaving care to stay with their foster carers into adulthood has been recognised as a beacon of good practice by the Scottish Government.
Representatives from the Children’s Office for Scotland have visited the county recently to look at the way that North Yorkshire supports looked after young people in foster care as they move on into adulthood, enabling them to achieve with their education, training or employment.
Many young people in care will have experienced difficult and often traumatic childhoods and many of them will have been abused or neglected. So that when the relationship between a young person in care and the state ends abruptly at the age of 18, as it does in so many authorities, the outcomes for care leavers can be very poor.
Latest figures from 2012 show that North Yorkshire accounted for 10 per cent of the entire population of young people who remain in the care system beyond the age of 18. A significant number of the county’s looked after young people go on to university – double the national average.
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 pilot came to an end in 2011, but North Yorkshire continued with the scheme.
This means that young people in the care system across the county continue to have the option to remain with their foster carers until they are 21 years old, giving them stability at what is often a critical time in their development. Young people leaving care who are in education or training are also entitled to support from North Yorkshire’s leaving care team and a “virtual school” until they are aged 25.
- 23 per cent of the adult prison population has spent some time in care
- Around a quarter of those living on the street have a background in care
- Care leavers more than four times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood
- in 2011 just 12.8 per cent of children who had been in care for a minimum of one year obtained five good grade GCSEs, including English and maths; for other children the figure was 57.9 per cent
One care leaver is currently studying for a postgraduate degree at Oxford University and 21 are students at other universities and higher education establishments. The county council currently supports 247 care leavers and 21 of these remain with foster families beyond the age of 18.
Seven national charities are lobbying for an amendment to be incorporated into the Children and Families Bill currently going through Parliament that would require all local authorities to allow young people to remain with their foster carers.
Howard Smith, North Yorkshire’s manager for the leaving care team said:
Enabling young people to stay with their foster families beyond the age of 18 provides continuity and stability at a time when they are often still in education and training.
I have a wonderfully committed leaving care team that makes a huge effort to ensure that young people are given the support they need to make that very difficult transition to independence. It is also a tribute to our foster carers that they want to carry on looking after those young people so they have the chance to achieve to the best of their ability and go on to acquire the qualifications and skills that will help towards a fulfilling future.
Through the Leaving Care team the county council has established the offer for young people of employment and work experience with the authority itself. Some now actually work with children’s social care as young inspectors, making invaluable use of their own experiences. One care leaver who was previously employed by the leaving care team and who is now being supported through employment with the county council to qualify as a social worker, went on to become director of “A National Voice”, a campaign group that advises government on care policy issues.
County councillor Tony Hall, North Yorkshire’s Executive Member for Schools said:
It is a priority for the county council to support our most vulnerable young people and we are very proud that our support for young people in care beyond the age of 18 means they have a much better chance to go on and make a success of their lives.
How people have been helped
Andy is approaching his 21st birthday and has remained with his foster carer under a Staying Put arrangement. Andy is getting ready to move in to accommodation that will be adapted to meet his specific needs arising from a disability. Staying Put has given Andy the strength, maturity and confidence to secure and maintain employment and has enabled him to plan for the future and for the move to independent living in a way that reflects his wishes. Andy feels that he has been listened to and the positive relationship he has built up with his foster carer throughout his placement will be crucial in the successful transition to independence.
Alice is 19 years old. She was looked after by local authority foster carers for 5 years and was able to remain with them through a Staying Put arrangement. Alice’s foster placement was close to her family and friends and meant she was able to continue with her education in the school she had attended prior to becoming ‘looked after’. Alice gained her GCSEs and then went to college and was successful in gaining full time employment in her chosen field. Alice eventually moved out of her foster placement to live with her long term partner but she remains in touch with her foster parents and stays with them on a regular basis, going back for important events such as Christmas and birthdays. She said that Staying Put “gives young people the opportunity to be with people they want to be with post 18 and provides a stable and secure family unit for them to prosper in”
Mark is an 18 year old young man, who has had social care involvement for most of his life and who was living in a residential children’s home. Mark has experienced many changes of placement but was settled in the children’s home and was therefore anxious about having to make a move to independent living. Mark was introduced to his personal assistant (PA?) from North Yorkshire’s leaving care team when he was 16 years old and at first struggled to engage and was abusive. However the leaving care assistant persevered with Mark, visiting him regularly and spending much time with him discussing the future. Together they worked to find Mark suitable supported accommodation for him to move onto shortly before his 18th birthday. Mark was very anxious but with on-going support from the leaving care assistant and the children’s home staff he has made a successful move.