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The Importance of Preparing Looked After Children for Independence

For all young people their 18 th birthday is a significant point of change – the move to legally being an
adult instead of a child with all the responsibilities and shift in resources. Many young people
experience little change as their family still offer them support and they may well continue to live at
home. Young people who turn 18 while in the Care System, however, often experience ‘jarring’
differences in many areas of their lives.
At 18 young people are no longer deemed to be Looked After and many will not remain in foster
care or residential settings but will be expected to live in their own accommodation and manage
their own affairs. The level of support available to them will vary due to resources available and the
perception of how able the young person is to manage independently. People who had previously
been involved in supporting them, their Social Worker (SW) and Independent Reviewing Officer
(IRO) will no longer be involved, in most cases and they will be expected to work with the Leaving
Care Team for their designated Local Authority. For some young people this may mean a move from
an area they are familiar with, leaving behind friends, leisure activities, and networks they have
developed over years.
Children who turn 18 whilst living with their birth families will not experience such a shift in
relationships and may well continue to live in the family home with minimal changes to routines and
expectations. Children who have been in foster care will need to manage their finances, including
applying for benefits, without the ‘safety net’ of the Bank of Mum and Dad. Where previously they
were offered allowances for clothing, phone, leisure etc, they are now expected to manage on a very
tight budget, including paying rent and utilities. Even if a young person remains in the foster carers’
household under what is called a ‘Staying Put’ Arrangement, financial responsibilities with be
significantly changed.
Many young people will have experienced changes of carers during their journey through the Care
System and there may be gaps in how well they are prepared to tackle the responsibilities of
budgeting, cooking, cleaning, and organising their lives. Often there is a great variation in what a
young person can manage; they may be very good at managing the transport system but find
managing their diary for appointments and work/education overwhelming. Imagine the anxiety of
facing bills, rent and providing everything for yourself without anyone you can refer to for support!
Children who have been in foster care are often vulnerable to those who would prey on
inexperienced and naïve young people. Frequently they have had difficulties in establishing and
maintaining friendships with peers but may find themselves incredibly ‘popular’ when it becomes
known that they are living independently – their new ‘friends’ may well use the accommodation for
anti-social or criminal acts, resulting in a loss of tenancy for the young person.
Foster carers hold a responsibility for guiding and educating young people in the life skills needed to
manage in society. This is not a one-off conversation nor should it be packed into the last few weeks
before someone’s 18 th birthday. Learning to care for yourself and your environment is a gradual,
progressive experience and should start as early as possible; moving from the simple task of
emptying your bedroom rubbish bin once a week to being able to competently sort the recycling and
remember which days the outside bins are collected would be an example. Many adults will
remember the anxiety and confusion encountered when first managing a budget or completing
forms to register with healthcare providers; most will have had a trusted adult to advise them.

There are many responsibilities to consider and prioritise and living independently can by
overwhelming. Foster Carers are key to helping young people face their adult future with
confidence, resilience and knowledge.

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