Leaving Care and the Children and Families Bill

UntitledToday as I work through my case load at Stowe Family Law LLP I read an interesting article by Family Law Weekly: Charities call on Lords to ensure homes for care leavers. The article covers the call for an amendment to the current Children and Families Bill by forty charities, numerous other organizations and academics. The proposed amendment would give children who live with foster carers the right to stay until the age of 21 years, if both parties agree.

The Department of Education’s statistic currently show that most children within the foster care system leave home at that age of 17 years in comparison to children outside of the foster care system who on average don’t leave home until the age of 24 years. According to the Fostering Network “over 59,000 children live with 45,000 foster families across the UK each day”, with only 2% of those over ten years of age and less than 1% of those over sixteen years of age being adopted in the year ending 31st of March 2013. It is becoming an ever increasing issue that children within the foster care system leave home 7 years before their peers.

The question arises as to what effect this has upon those children? A report on Children in Foster Care published by A Family for Every Child in November 2011 stated that ‘a disproportionate number of foster youth who “age out” of the system (meaning a youth leaves foster care because he or she has reached the age at which he or she is no longer legally in the care of the state) go on to have problems in school, to be unemployed or homeless, and/or to use drugs or commit crimes. In a sample of male and female foster youth who were not adopted, but who “aged out” of care Zill (2011) found the following:

  • In the general population only 17% of males and 4% of females were arrested at some point during their life time, however in comparison 81% of males and 57% of females who aged out of the foster care system were arrested at some point in their lives.
  • In the general population only 10% of males and 2% of females had at least one conviction; however 59% of males and 28% of females who aged out of the foster care system had at least one conviction.”

Further to this Angles Foster Family Network states that:

  • 54 % earn a high school diploma
  • 2% earn a Bachelor’s degree or higher
  • 84% become parents too soon, exposing their children to a repeated cycle of neglect and abuse
  • 51% are unemployed
  • 30% have no health insurance
  • 25% experience homelessness
  • 30% receive public assistance

These statistics are worrying. The introduction of this amendment could tackle this problem. Personally, I know I relied on my parents heavily after the age of 17 years to support me throughout university and so the idea that I would be left virtually homeless with no support at this age is unimaginable to me. The “staying put” scheme has been rolled out on an experimental basis in 11 English local authorities and the success rate is undeniable with “the young people opting to stay being twice as likely to be in full-time education at 19 in comparison to those who left”.

Can we really expect children to fend for themselves with little to no support at the age of 17 years? I would argue that the statistics speak for themselves. The Bill is currently entering the committee stage at the House of Lords and it will be interesting to see the outcome.

If you want to find out more about the current issues surrounding children in foster care or the Children and Families Bill please visit: http://www.familylawweek.co.uk/site.aspx?i=ed118261; http://www.fostering.net/about-fostering/statistics-children-in-care#.UlV-nhAySW8; and http://services.parliament.uk/bills/2012-13/childrenandfamilies.html where you can access a comprehensive information on the subject.

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