There was a warm welcome from everyone involved in fostering when government announced its intention to enable young people to stay with their (former) foster carers after they had left care. Given everything we know about the kind of support young people living at home need to help them make a positive transition to independence, this seemed an eminently sensible statement of principle that any corporate parent would be delighted to back up on the ground. It had already been tested out in the Staying Put pilots, so the mechanism was proven, though these had a fairly low take up following the pilots, something which was a cause for concern.
It's worth noting that for young people leaving residential care in England, the same does not apply. And it’s difficult to understand why not, or agree with the reasons that have been put forward. Some of it looks like, dare I say it, poorly informed political ideology?
But neither is this where the difficulties for young people leaving foster care end. In a context of savage cuts to local authority budgets, how might central government expect local government to respond to this new commitment to remaining with foster carers? The answer, so far, seems to be by using the benefits system and dedicating very few resources to making those arrangements work.
Recently, I was told of a disabled young person who has lived with her foster carer for several years and is now in full time college. The carer is approved for one placement and has expressed a wish to continue to care for the young person. The local authority have offered the carer a 50% reduction on her current payment and no support from her current provider, but they have yet to provide a pathway plan for the young person. It is the stability of this placement that has been so helpful for this young person, but that is the very thing that is being threatened. This current situation has created a good deal of emotional turmoil for the young person who now has an advocate supporting her.
It's obvious that the day a young person turns 18, their needs are the same as they were the day before. So, how can we now expect their (former) foster carer to become their landlord, take an income cut and lose all their support? Would any of us agree to work for less money and with less support? Is that what young people need or deserve?
And are we happy that the corporate parents of young people are letting them make the transition to adulthood by living on benefits? Or by living with their former foster carer who now has to claim benefits to make it viable (and don't get me started on the bedroom tax!)?
More than anything, I don't want to see a generation of care leavers have their hopes raised only to have them dashed by the reality. We should invest in the placements we offer our young people – it's not a lot of money in the scheme of things and it will cost all of us, not least the young people themselves, a lot more when we get it wrong. And there's plenty of evidence to persuade you of that fact, if you still need convincing.