Some of you in the UK might have seen the piece on BBC breakfast this morning, or the article in the Guardian newspaper online (link below) about Children’s Minister Edward Timpson’s proposed amendment to the Children and Families bill, which will extend payment to foster carers so they can support the children in their care till they are 21.
As a foster carer, I really can’t support this enough. Those of us with children of our own know all too well that they don’t stop needing your love, support and guidance just because they’ve reached the age where they can go into the local pub, do they? And with foster children, often with so many additional challenges – both emotional and practical – it’s no wonder that being ‘abandoned’ by the state at such a watershed time in their lives leads so often to poor outcomes, both in terms of their education and career prospects, and their often fragile emotional wellbeing.
I can’t be too specific, because it’s vital that I protect his privacy, always, but our first foster child, Justin, had some traumatic experiences when first living independently as a young adult. And, sad to say, though it was distressing, it wasn’t so surprising; without the support network of a loving family, these youngsters are incredibly vulnerable. Where most kids are able to stay at home, supported by family till they are comfortably into their twenties (the average age of leaving home in the UK is currently 24) kids who’ve been in care have no such safety net. And as they are often housed in areas considered unsuitable for people with families, they can easily fall victim to the sort of influences we wouldn’t wish on anyone – drugs and crime being obvious examples. They can also become prey for drugs dealers and other criminals needing funds.
In Justin’s case, it was addressed because we were there to support him – though our responsibility for him had officially ended many years previously (he came to us aged 11, until considered suitable for mainstream foster care) he knew he could come to us for help, even if, with no official role, I had to fight hard to get it for him. And I know of several other foster carers who would love to have continued to care full time for teenagers beyond aged 18, but who simply couldn’t afford to. Here is also the issue of location – many foster carers would love to maintain their support of the children they’ve fostered, but many young adults are fostered a long way from where they eventually end up living, cutting off that support at a stroke.
This amendment could make a huge difference to a large number of young people. Yes, it will cost money, but compared to the cost to society when children who have been in care grow up and lose their way – as they so often do – it’s not a huge one, is it? I hope you’ll also support it too.