Statement 8: Care leavers move to independence at their own pace

Key messages

The majority of looked-after young people move to independent living between the ages of 16 –18 years. Their journey to adulthood is much earlier than their peers, who tend to remain at home into their 20s. Young people who have been in care are at higher risk of social exclusion than their peers who have not been in care. They are also at risk of low educational attainment, unemployment, poverty, mental health problems, social isolation, homelessness and involvement in crime.[11]

In recent years there has been a drive in policy and practice for care leavers with the aim of delaying their transitions and ensuring that they are provided with personal support to help them achieve their potential as they move from care towards independence. The Planning Transition to Adulthood for Care Leavers Regulations and Guidance 2010 and the Fostering Regulations and Guidance 2011 (Children Act 1989) require local authorities to have a Staying Put policy, which sets out the practical, financial, tax and benefit issues (for both the foster carer and the child) which impact on the decision to extend foster care to Staying Put care when a looked after child reaches the age of 18 years. Local authorities have an obligation to support any young person over the age of 16 who is or has been a looked after child until they are 21 (or 25 if engaged in a programme of education or training).

Staying Put care enables young people to experience a transition from care to independence and adulthood that is similar to that which most young people experience, based on need and not on age alone. There are a number of benefits to young people being able to stay with their foster carer after the age of 18: it gives them greater control of the timing of their transition from care to independent living; they are offered the chance to experience transitions that are akin to their peers and it offers continuity and stability in a nurturing family environment.

Social workers need to carry out an assessment of young people’s needs to determine what advice, assistance and support they require. As part of this assessment they need to listen to the young person's views. This forms the basis of the pathway plan, which maps out the young person's needs and ambitions and the route to independence. It covers the young person's accommodation, practical life skills, education and training, employment, financial support, specific support needs and contingency plans if independent living breaks down. It should also include their social and emotional needs to ensure that they have the skills to live independently. Care leavers have a personal adviser, who acts as a 'go-between' between the young person and the local authority. Personal advisers coordinate the provision of support and assistance and participate in reviews of the pathway plan.

Local authorities need to ensure that there are a range of independent and semi-independent living options available and that the homes are suitable for the young person's needs. They should also ensure that ‘setting up home allowances’ are provided at a sufficient level for care leavers to have what they need to set up safe, secure and stable accommodation. Care leavers should be made aware of their entitlements and the support that they can receive.

[1] Schofield, G. and Simmonds, J. (Eds) (2009) The Child Placement Handbook. Research, policy and practice. BAAF.

Links to Ofsted Judgements

This statement links to the following Ofsted judgements:

'Care leavers develop the skills and confidence they need to maximise their chances of successful maturity to adulthood, including parenthood. This includes learning to budget, to live independently and to manage safe relationships and behaviour. Care leavers form and maintain relationships with carers and staff from the local authority and develop supportive relationships within the community, including where appropriate contact with family and friends. They are confident that the local authority will act as a reasonable parent in supporting their transition into adulthood and providing practical, emotional and financial support until they are at least 21 and, where necessary, until they are 25. This will include the availability of a trusted and known adult (for example, the allocated personal adviser or their social worker) to support them.'

'Care leavers succeed in their transition to greater independence and adulthood at a time that is right for them. Young people aged 16 and 17 are encouraged to remain looked after until their 18th birthday where (and this will usually be the case) this is in their best interest. They can remain in placements beyond their 18th birthday or, where more appropriate, live in permanent and affordable accommodation that meets their needs and those of their children, where relevant.'

'Care leavers are helped to find housing solutions that best meet their needs. Risks of tenancy breakdown are identified and alternative plans are in place.'

'Accommodation for care leavers is appropriate for each young person to safely develop their independence skills. Houses of multiple occupancy are only used when it is a young person’s preferred option and it can demonstrably be shown to be in their best interests.'

'Care leavers are provided with information (including through the care leaver’s pledge) about their legal entitlements such as access to their records, assistance to find employment (including work experience), training, financial support and how to complain where necessary supported by an advocate.' 

Tips, tools and practice examples

Suggestions for evidence that could be collected to assess performance against this quality statement include:

  • evidence of a planned and staged approach to independent living
  • care leavers' satisfaction with their care experience
  • evidence of signposting to other services
  • how the local authority monitors and reviews the quality of pathway plans
  • how services respond if accommodation arrangements break down.

Evidence should always include feedback from children and young people. 

Useful resources

Children leaving care

The Department for Education has information about children leaving care including regulations and guidance on Transitions to Adulthood for Care Leavers: Volume 3: Planning transition to adulthood for care leavers;  a resource guide for people working with disabled care leavers: Future positive; a good practice guide for local authorities and their partners on accommodation for young people from and in care: Journeys to home - care leavers successful transition to independent accommodation; information on care leavers and the welfare benefits system: What could make the difference - care leavers and benefits; the Charter for care leavers:  and care leavers data pack: Charter for care leavers and care leavers data pack. It also includes links to a training presentation on Leaving care – planning the transition to adulthood.

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Leaving care entitlements

Rights4Me have produced information for care leavers on leaving care entitlements.

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Care Leavers’ Association

The Care Leavers’ Association website provides a range of information for young people who have been looked after, including signposting to other services to get advice. It includes articles and blogs.

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SCIE Social Care TV

SCIE has produced a number of videos of care leavers talking about their journey through the care system and their reflections on being in care.

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