Due to new Legislation children who are in the care of the Local Authority in Scotland can now be supported until they reach the age of 21 whether they are living with foster parents or in a residential care home.
In 2014, similar changes were introduced in England and Wales that would allow the continuation of Local Authority support (including financial support) to continue up to 21, however this only applies for foster placements and not for residential care homes.
This is somewhat of a significant imbalance between the responsibilities of Local Authorities for young adults in care between Scotland and the rest of the UK.
Children are placed in the care of a Local Authority and in long term foster placements as a last resort. If placement in care happens, particularly when at a very young age, children are often confused by what is happening to them. A child can be unaware of their situation, and the situation of their parent(s).
It’s often the case that it has been the inability of parental care that has resorted to a child being placed in the care of our Local Authorities. They may have been extracted from a family situation that was harmful to them in one way or another, and many children in care sadly regard themselves as “second class citizens”.
Those of us who are parents know only too well that the inclination to help one’s own children doesn’t have an expiration date, it doesn’t have an automatic cut off age of 18 or even 21, and I wonder whether it ever does.
Children in care are already entering their adult lives in somewhat of a vacuum without the network of support that they might otherwise have had from their own parents and extended family.
The nurturing process does not stop at 18. It’s hard to imagine how an 18 year old can leave a care home and immediately live independently without little, or no, advice and support.
A recent radio interview focused on a variety of “care leavers” and I was struck by the very different experiences each of them had. From the determined and self reliant individuals who had risen above the disadvantages of their position and were now running successful businesses or campaigning on behalf of children who were still in care, to others who clearly felt unsupported and adrift.
As a society we need to realise that if children are to be taken into the care of the Local Authority to avoid the consequences of neglect or physical harm then the responsibilities of society goes beyond a “rescue mission”. Care for these young adults as they become independent is critical.