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Who are care leavers?

Care leavers are young people aged over 16 leaving local authority care. According to the Department for Education, in 2021/22 there were 45,940 care leavers in England now aged 17 to 21.

The Department for Education’s Keep on Caring policy paper (2016) said care leavers generally experience worse outcomes than their peers across a number of areas. The National Audit Office’s report, Care leavers’ transition to adulthood (2015), identified poorer life outcomes for care leavers as a “longstanding problem” with a likely high public cost, including in mental health, employment, education, policing and justice services.

This briefing covers the UK Government’s policies to support care leavers in key areas. It primarily focuses on England but includes some information on devolved policies.

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.

What is UK Government policy?

The Coalition Government’s Care leaver strategy, published in 2013, 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 (PDF), which set out additional commitments to “put care leavers first”.

Current programmes include:

  • Social Impact Bonds which provide funding for projects to support care leavers in education, employment and training. These are focused in Bristol, Sheffield and Lewisham.
  • The Care Leavers’ Apprenticeship Bursary where care leavers starting apprenticeships in England may be entitled to £1,000 during the first year of training.
  • An ‘Ending rough sleeping for good’ strategy which commits £2 billion in funding from 2022 to 2025 “so that nobody leaves a public institution, such as prison or care, to the streets”.

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

The Care Leaver Covenant

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.

Independent review of children’s social care

Following a 2019 manifesto commitment, in January 2021 the Government launched an independent review of children’s social care. The final report of the independent review was published on 23 May 2022.

The report described the disadvantage faced by the care experienced community as “the civil rights issue of our time”. It recommended the government make care experience a protected characteristic in equalities legislation. It also recommended the corporate parenting responsibility that applies to local authorities should be extended to all public bodies for children in care and care experienced adults.

On 2 February 2023, as its response to the independent review, the Government published an implementation strategy and consultation on children’s social care reform, Stable Homes, Built on Love. In the response to the consultation, the Government set out additional funding and plans to expand existing programmes, such as the Staying Close programme.

What support is there 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 bursary of up to £2,000 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.

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