Page last updated at 09:53 GMT, Monday, 16 June 2008 10:53 UK

Extend foster care, say charities

A group of charities are calling on the government to extend the time foster children in England can remain in care from 18 years of age to 21.

In an open letter to the Children's Secretary, Ed Balls, 12 charities say forcing children to "go it alone" too early can lead to a life of poverty.

The letter, from The Fostering Network, coincides with the second reading of the Children and Young Persons Bill.

The government says it will give money to pilot schemes to tackle this issue.

Family in silhouette
More than 42,000 children live with foster families in England.

More than 190 MPs have signed an early day motion calling on the government to ensure young people in care are offered support, including the chance to remain in care, until they are 21.

Currently, English local authorities have a duty of care until the child is 18.

The average age for leaving home for young people who live with their own families is 24.

Currently, some 42,000 children live with around 37,000 foster families in England on any one day.

Andrew Mulley, a teenager who's been in foster care for four years, told BBC News: "I have quite high ambition in life and I need the education to excel where I want to be.

"And the funding is the key part of getting that education and as soon as that stops I may have to come out of education and work full-time to make ends meet."

This government cannot condemn another generation of care leavers to a lifetime of poverty and underachievement
Robert Tapsfield ,
Fostering Network

Some foster carers allow young people to stay with them beyond the age of 18 but they often do so without financial support from their local authority.

The charities claim care leavers do worse at school that their peers and find it difficult to make a successful transition to adulthood.

Research shows that children who grew up in care are, later in life, overrepresented in prisons and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents and have mental health problems than those who grew up in their own families.

The chief executive of The Fostering Network, Robert Tapsfield, says: "Research and experience show that the longer young people stay with their foster carers, the better they do later on.

"This government cannot condemn another generation of care leavers to a lifetime of poverty and underachievement."

The government will finance pilot schemes in 10 areas to test out allowing young people to stay with foster families beyond the age of 18.

A statement by the Children's Minister, Kevin Brennan, says: "We need to pilot this in order to identify any practical or financial barriers and find ways to remove them.

"Our Children and Young Person's Bill will be debated in the House and we hope to get cross party support for all the measures that are designed to make life better for children in or leaving care."

Country needs 450 more fosterers
12 May 08 |  Scotland

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