The Children and Families Bill reaches its report stage in Parliament next week. And with it comes the rare opportunity to make a real and lasting difference for young people in care in England, who too often find themselves having to live alone and with very little support by the time they reach 18.
The Fostering Network has worked with Paul Goggins MP to table an amendment, Continuing support for former foster children which would allow all fostered young people in England the chance to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21 (if both parties were in agreement). If this amendment is debated, and passed, it will change the lives for thousands of our country's most vulnerable young people.
Ahead of the report stage, the Fostering Network's Don't Move Me campaign is calling on people to contact their MPs asking them to sign up to the amendment to encourage its debate, so that it can be enshrined in law.
Currently, all children in care leave care on or before their 18th birthday. What happens next is at the local authority's discretion, and can vary greatly from one authority to the next. Some local authorities continue to fund their foster placement, others rely on the goodwill and financial ability of their foster carer to provide them a home for free, but far too many are in effect being kicked out of home as soon as they reach 18 - if not before - despite the average age for leaving home across the UK being 24.
Glynis, an ex-foster carer, said: "I had fostered 'K' since she was 11. When she took her GCSEs at 16, she was informed that she would have to move into a hostel, but she wanted to stay with me, take her A-levels and go to University. She was not ready for independent living, but what 16 year old girl is? I fought the local authority with support and won the right for K to stay with me until she was 18.
"On K's 18th birthday, just after she had achieved three great A-levels, they stopped my fostering allowance. So I was faced with a choice, do I evict the girl who only wanted a stable home so that she could complete her education and go to university, or do I quit fostering? I loved fostering, but there was no way I could let her down, so I quit.
"K is now going into her third year of university and I couldn't be more proud. The local authority should have been proud of her too, and should have supported me to support her. We need a change in the law to ensure that all young people in care get a home for as long as they need it, and it not just come down to luck of the draw."
Research shows that the longer a young person can stay with a foster family, the more successful they are later on, but in 2011-12 only 320 (5%) of young people remained with their foster carers after they reached 18.
Many young adults who have left the care system struggle to reach the same levels of educational attainment as their peers. They are over represented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families.
We currently expect some of our most vulnerable children to make the transition to independence many years before their peers. A birth parent would instinctively approach their own child's move to independence according to their need, rather than their age. Children in care should be treated no differently and should enjoy a similar approach to their transition to adulthood: they should be allowed to stay with their foster carers until they are ready to leave.
Next Tuesday provides a once-a-generation opportunity for MPs to make this a reality.Suggest a correction