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Who are care leavers?

Care leavers are young people aged over 16 leaving authority care. Support for younger children moving into and out of care, or leaving care through adoption or other routes, is not considered in detail in this briefing.

As noted in the Department for Education’s Keep on Caring, care leavers generally experience worse outcomes than their peers across a number of indicators. The National Audit Office’s Care leavers’ transition to adulthood (2015) identified poorer life outcomes as a “longstanding problem” and one whose “public cost […] is likely to be high”, giving rise to additional costs in mental health, employment, education, policing and justice services.

UK Government policy

The Coalition Government published its Care leaver strategy in 2013 which identified education, employment, financial support, health, housing, the justice system, and ongoing support as areas where care leavers needed greater provision. In 2016, the UK Government published Keep on caring; Supporting Young People from Care to Independence, which set out additional commitments to “put care leavers first”.

Specific programmes include the funding for Social Impact Bond-backed projects for care leavers, targeted at Bristol, Sheffield and Lewisham, the Care Leavers’ Apprenticeship Bursary to provide financial support, and support to prevent rough sleeping.

In October 2018, the UK Government launched the Care Leaver Covenant for England. This allows public, private and voluntary sector organisations to pledge support, through work experience, apprenticeships and free or discounted goods and services.

A ministerial Care Leaver Covenant Board was established in October 2019 to address key barriers facing care leavers and to encourage joint working across the UK Government.

Summary of support for care leavers in England

When a young person leaves care, a local authority must appoint a Personal Adviser (PA) to help them plan for their futures. PA support is available for all care leavers to age 25. Local authorities must also publish a “local offer” for care leavers, which sets out their legal entitlements, as well as any discretionary support the authority provides.

Authorities since 2014 have been required to provide financial support to enable young people in foster care to remain living with their former foster family to age 21 in a “Staying Put” arrangement.

Authorities should also provide a £2,000 bursary to care leavers who attend university and are required to provide financial support to help care leavers engage in education, employment and training; and a leaving care grant (£2,000) to help the young person furnish their first home.

Care leaver policy is devolved

The paper primarily focuses on England but includes some information on devolved policies. The British Academy paper, Young People leaving care: A four nations perspective (November 2019), provides a short comparative overview of policy across the UK.

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