William Eichler 11 March 2024

Ending the ‘care cliff’

Ending the ‘care cliff’ image
Image: Chanintorn.v / Shutterstock.com.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, CEO of Become, explains what local authorities can do to prevent young people leaving care from experiencing the ‘care cliff'.

Each year thousands of young people leave care, often on their eighteenth birthday, or sometimes even earlier, at 16. They are expected to move out of their foster home or children’s home, end relationships with those people who’ve been supporting them and become independent overnight.

Young people we work with have described this time as a ‘cliff edge’ or ‘like being on death row, counting down the days’ until their eighteenth birthday?when they’re thrown into adulthood, often before they’re ready.

They’re then faced with an endless series of challenges – trying to find somewhere to live, understanding bills, how to cook and budget, while all the time trying to keep on top of college or university work or their job. There’s also the loneliness. An 18-year-old should be out enjoying themselves with friends, especially when they’re living alone, but having bills to pay and minimal income means that rarely happens.

Support is meant to come from the young person’s Personal Advisor (PA), one of the local authority’s Leaving Care Team, but we hear time and again of calls not being returned or young people never having even met their PA. With no one to turn to and no financial safety net, it’s no wonder that many of those leaving care start their young adult life in poverty, with worsening mental health and at risk of losing their home. Shockingly, it is estimated that a third of care leavers become homeless within two years of them leaving care.

At Become, we’ve been campaigning to #EndtheCareCliff,?urging the Government to ensure no young person leaves care before they are ready and when they do, are given the support they need to be happy, healthy and to fulfil their potential. That means guaranteeing all young people receive care up to the age of 18 and making Staying Put/Staying Close, the schemes which enable young people to stay in their homes or connected to support, an opt out legal entitlement up to 25.

We want to see homelessness tackled in a meaningful way, by making all care leavers up to 25 ‘priority need’ for social housing and to remove the local connection and homelessness intentionality rules for care leavers. We also want to see improved financial support by extending the over-25 rate of universal credit to care leavers – young care leavers have the same costs as older adults – and widening corporate parenting responsibilities to more public bodies.

At present, local authorities in England are their corporate parent, who must act in the best interests of care-experienced children and young people. Extending corporate parenting duties to organisations such as the police, DWP and NHS could increase understanding and ensure better support to ultimately help improve the life chances of care-experienced young people.

These recommendations require legislation, but there are also many things local authorities can do right now that would make such a difference for young people leaving care:

• Make sure young people don’t have to leave care before they are ready. Local authorities could encourage more foster carers to provide care past the age of 18 under the Staying Put scheme, and pay them accordingly.

• Have conversations with young people about where they want to live at 18 earlier and give them all the information they need about options available.

• Provide the right advice and guidance on budgeting, finance and cooking, so young people can develop the right skills to make a positive start to adulthood.

• Ensure young people are aware of and understand their rights and entitlements and that they are upheld. These include supporting young people to submit their housing benefit applications on time and making sure they receive all of their care grant allowance of £3,000.

• Act as rent guarantor and offer a tenancy deposit scheme to increase access to the private rental sector.

• Advise on how to furnish a flat on a budget and provide tools – and help – to put furniture together.

• Make care leavers exempt from paying council tax and provide free bus travel and a pass to leisure centres.

Young people say to us of their local authority, ‘they’re meant to be my parent’. They want you to continue to care for them as parents do of their own children past the age of 18 and to not feel abandoned. Please be there for them and continue to provide the kind of support all young people need, that you needed when you were 18. Care-experienced young people are no different. 

The new Centre for Young Lives image

The new Centre for Young Lives

Anne Longfield CBE, the chair of the Commission on Young Lives, discusses the launch of the Centre for Young Lives this month.
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