As you will be aware, the Department for Education in England has announced that it is looking to impose a legal duty on councils to provide financial support for those who want to stay longer with foster carers.
Children in care in England will now be able to stay with their foster families until their 21st birthday, rather than having to leave at 18, and the UK Government has pledged £40 million over the next three years to fund the plan.
The Children and Young People Bill is currently progressing through the Scottish Parliament and allows for those up to the age of 26 who have been in care to be assessed and provided with advice, guidance or assistance from the local authority.
This, of course, is to be welcomed but the bill could be strengthened further to achieve so much more at little significant cost, making Scotland a world leader in how it looks after care leavers.
What we want to see in the bill as a coalition is that young people up to the age of 26 who still need help get the support they require as part of a continuing care relationship, regardless of where they are in Scotland and what kind of care placement they had.
Children must have the legal right to remain in care up to the age of 18, rather than 16, and for those who do leave at 16 there should be the opportunity for them to return to care until they turn 19.
We see this as a major way in which to properly tackle and redress the ridiculously poor outcomes which the 1,300 care leavers each year across Scotland experience.
Research suggests that for every £1 spent on continuing care to the age of 26, £6 is saved in costs in other areas such as homelessness housing and we estimate the cost of continuing to provide care to the age of 26 would be about £2m a year.
It therefore makes simple economic sense to support such a move.
With the Scottish Government set to benefit from Barnett consequential in the UK government’s Autumn Statement, amounting to £24.3m outlined in last year’s statement, one can see that a tiny proportion of this funding can be used to address the issues we have outlined above and give young care leavers the solid foundations and better opportunity for the future they deserve.
It is therefore not a case of being unable to afford such measures, as a society we simply cannot afford not to.
The Scottish Children’s Services Coalition comprising:
Spark of Genius
Who Cares? Scotland
Falkland House School