Unfortunately, a lot of children in foster care have experienced disrupted and extremely hard childhoods. Most of them will have faced some form of trauma or abuse and, as a result, find it extremely difficult to trust the adults in their lives. For this reason, leaving care can be a rather difficult topic to approach with a child in foster care, as they may already have issues with abandonment.
For this reason, there are a number of things in place to make the transition into leaving foster care a lot easier; so, can a foster child leave at 16? What precautions, plans and measures are put in place to ensure the child is as prepared for adulthood as possible? There are many questions to ask as you prepare your foster child for independence.
What age does foster care stop?
In England and Wales, the age children leave care is 18, although it is possible for young people to also leave care at age 16. When a child turns 18, their care order will end, and the local authority is no longer considered to be their ‘corporate parent.’ However, this isn’t to say they are completely abandoned – all statutory support from their local authority won’t end right away, but it will end by the time the young person is 25.
In some cases, a child will make the personal decision to leave care at the age of 16, while they are still legally considered a child. Some make this decision because they feel as though they are ready and excited to start a life completely independently. However, each child needs to understand the reality of making this decision, as it isn’t always as fun or as easy as they initially expect it to be.
Many young people do not feel ready to leave their foster carers, or residential foster homes at the age of 16, 17 or even 18. Usually, given their circumstances, they are afraid of being alone and worry that they will have nobody to turn to, should things go wrong.
How does a child prepare to leave care?
Preparing to leave care can be overwhelming, so everyone involved should be preparing for this well before the young person turns 18. Foster children don’t want to be suddenly surprised when they are told about leaving care, it needs to be a sensitive discussion, with no surprises and the opportunity for them to ask questions. As a good parent will help their child transition into adulthood, gain independence and learn to hold their own, everyone involved in a foster child’s life also needs to be prepared to do this.
A foster parent should help their foster child (or children) to develop the practical skills they need to live independently; from cooking and cleaning, to managing their own money and applying for jobs. The job of the foster parent is to help their foster children to transition into adulthood and give them the best chance possible.
When the leaving process formally starts, typically when they young person reaches 16 years of age, they are assigned a personal advisor, which is someone who will support them up until the age of 25 – although, some young people choose to say goodbye to their assigned personal advisor much sooner than this. From here, the child will have the help of their social worker and personal advisor as they begin to navigate their way into early adulthood independently and safely – this is known as putting together a ‘pathway plan.’
This ‘pathway plan’ should help to set goals that both the young person and their local authority can refer to during this transition. A pathway plan might include things such as educational goals or career ambitions, where they would like to live or any financial help they may require. This plan is expected to be updated every six months and is a way of helping the young person feel as prepared as possible when facing the realities of adulthood.
Approaching adulthood as a child in care can feel uncertain and scary. A lot of the time, children in care will feel as though they are going to be abandoned – which is usually as a result of being left by their biological parent or being transferred between foster families. As a foster parent, it would be your job to help this transition be as pain-free as possible. Every child should feel as though they have a good chance at achieving what they want in life, and foster parents could be the reason a foster child feels less scared and alone during this transition into adulthood.
If you think you could offer this sort of support to a child or young person, you can find out more about the process of becoming a foster parent and request a digital brochure today. If you have more questions about fostering a child then give us a call 0800 566 8317 and our friendly team will answer any you may have.