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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 2020/21 there were 44,590 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 as a “longstanding problem” with a likely high public cost, including 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:

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.

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

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 £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.

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