A fostering recruitment agency boss who was fostered herself has welcomed the news that children will be able to stay with their families until they are 21, rather than 18.
The Department of Education has announced that a legal duty will be imposed on councils to provide financial support for those who want to stay longer with foster carers as part of the Children’s and Families Bill next year.
Children and Families Minister Edward Timpson has pledged £40m over the next three years to fund the plan.
Sarah Robertshaw, who runs Worksop-based agency Prepare to Foster, said the announcement was good news but long overdue.
She said: “The most vulnerable children are expected to become independent at 18. The fostering network has been campaigning for this for a long time. I can’t believe it’s taken this long to get there. Young people going into care at 14 or 15 who have suffered emotional, physical or sexual abuse are told, ‘Off you go again’ at 18. You haven’t learned how to cope emotionally.
“These are society’s most vulnerable children and we’re forcing them out into social housing when they’re not equipped to face the world practically or emotionally. It’s welcome that this will change eventually.”
Sarah, who grew up in Rotherham but now lives in Worksop, has personal experience of staying with her foster family for longer.
She said: “I stayed with my foster carers until I married my husband at 22. Those last few years were critical.
“I was able to come out into the world when I was emotionally ready.”
She said her foster parents were always ready to advise her in the decisions she took about moving into adult life.
Often 18-year-olds will just have a social worker to help them, she said, only available during office hours and having to cope with a heavy caseload. Sarah, now aged 35, was fostered by a member of staff from the children’s home she was living in when she was 11. She said that “it just so happened that it worked amazingly well” and she came to regard them as her mum and dad.
She said: “Because I was in foster care, I thought what made it work? When I was a child, everything was taken care of. When you get to 18 you start making critical decisions about your future. This can be about your emotional life and about employment and training or education.
“Not having someone to give you that adult perspective or support would have been difficult.
”I got the emotional support forever and ever, so I was able to build relationships and develop.”
She added: “We talk about children learning how to cook before they leave their foster families. That isn’t going to keep you safe.
“Kids need help to develop mentally and emotionally and form relationships with people and get along with people. When they’re not emotionally well, that should be the priority.”
Sarah, who has also worked as a social worker supervising foster placements, said: “It’s always going to be a young person’s choice if they want to stay but there is a choice for the foster carer as well.
“They may say, ‘I believe I’ve got you ready for adulthood and all the rest of it’. Although it isn’t a normal job, it is a job. That’s how people pay their mortgage.”
She added: “As a carer you’d have to recognise the fact that they’re adults and they’ve still got to respect that it’s your home.”