Information

Services for children leaving care

This page explains the duties of the local authority to provide services and support for children who have been looked after once they reach the age of 16.

The Children Act 1989 places duties on Local Authorities towards ‘looked after’ children as they exit the care system.

All children who are over 16 and leaving care fall within one of the following categories:

  1. eligible children;
  2. relevant children
  3. former relevant children; or
  4. other qualifying care leavers.

The Children Act 1989 places duties on Local Authorities towards ‘looked after’ children as they exit the care system. Particular duties will be placed on the Local Authority if the child meets certain criteria.

What is an eligible child?

An ‘eligible child’ is a young person aged between 16 and 17 who has been ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14, and is still being looked after. The period of 13 weeks does not need to be continuous and the young person can have entered care at any time in between the ages of 14 and 18.

Case law confirms that a young person will be eligible if they were provided with accommodation under section 17 or section 20, if the common sense result suggests that they were ‘looked after’.

Eligible children are entitled to the following services:

  • a Personal Advisor;
  • a Needs Assessment; and
  • a Pathway Plan.

What is a relevant child?

A ‘relevant child’ is a young person aged between 16 and 17 who has been ‘looked after’ by the Local Authority for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14, has been ‘looked after’ at some time after their 16th birthday, and who has now left care. The young person can have entered care at any time between the ages of 14 and 18.

A ‘relevant child’ can include those who have been detained through the criminal justice system, or were in hospital on their 16th birthday.

If a ‘relevant child’ has returned home to their parents, they cease to be a relevant child after being at home for 6 months. However, if this arrangement later breaks down before their 18th birthday, they return to being a ‘relevant child’.

If a young person has experienced a series of pre-planned respite arrangements, not lasting longer than 4 weeks, each of these will not be considered as qualifying towards ‘relevant child’ status. However, if a young person receives respite care on a regular basis, this may amount to the young person being classed as a ‘relevant child’; the Local Authority’s policy will need to be considered to determine this.

Relevant Children are entitled to the following services:

  • a Personal Advisor;
  • a Needs Assessment;
  • a Pathway Plan;
  • accommodation; and
  • maintenance.

What is a former relevant child?

A ‘former relevant child’ is a young person aged between 18 and 21 who has been an ‘eligible child’, a ‘relevant child’, or both.

If, at the age of 21, the young person is still being helped by the responsible Authority with education or training, then they remain a ‘former relevant child’ until a maximum age of 25. Their programme of education or training will be set out within their Pathway Plan.

Former relevant children are no longer dependent upon the Local Authority for income and housing costs. They can obtain benefits in their own right. If they become homeless at the age of 18, 19 or 20, they will automatically be seen as being a priority need. If they become homeless at the age of 21 or over, they will need to be assessed to establish whether they are vulnerable.

Former relevant children are entitled to the following services:

  • a Personal Advisor;
  • a Pathway Plan, kept under regular review.

The LA must also:

  • keep in touch with a ‘former relevant child’ (whether they are in the area or not) and if it loses touch, it must re-establish contact;
  • provide general assistance;
  • give assistance with employment, education and training;
  • provide suitable accommodation; and
  • help with living costs.

What if a young person wishes to remain with their foster carers beyond the age of 18?

The Local Authority also has a duty towards a ‘former relevant child’ if the foster carer and the child agree that the child should remain living with them past the age of 18. This is known as a ‘staying put’ arrangement.

The Local Authority has a duty to monitor the arrangement and to provide advice, assistance and support to the ‘former relevant child’, with the view to maintaining the ‘staying put’ arrangement until the care leaver reaches the age of 21. This includes financial support. This duty however will not apply if the Local Authority feels that the ‘staying put’ arrangement is inconsistent with their welfare.

This will enable the care leaver to remain in a secure and stable home while they make the transition into adulthood.

Every Local Authority should have their own ‘staying put’ arrangements policy.

If a care leaver feels their views are not being listened to in relation to a ‘staying put’ arrangement, they should raise this with their Independent Reviewing Officer.

Former relevant children are no longer dependent upon the Local Authority for income and housing costs. They can obtain benefits in their own right.

Can a ‘former relevant child’ get support for further education or training?

The Local Authority may continue to have a duty to a ‘former relevant child’ aged under 25 if they wish to remain in further education or training. They will be entitled to the following;

  • a Personal Advisor;
  • a Needs Assessment; and
  • a Pathway Plan.

What is a qualifying care leaver?

A ‘qualifying care leaver’ is someone who was in care after the age of 16 but doesn’t qualify as an ‘eligible child’ or a ‘relevant child’ because they do not fulfil the 13 week criteria. They must be under 21 (or 25 if they are in further education or training).

This category also includes previously ‘looked after’ children aged 16 to 20, who ceased to be ‘looked after’ on the making of a Special Guardianship Order, AND:

  • are either still being cared for under the Special Guardianship Order (16 or 17 year olds);
  • or the Order remained in force until they reached 18.

They are entitled to the following;

  • advice and assistance;
  • financial assistance;
  • where the person is in higher education or training, assistance in securing accommodation during holidays.

How will my needs be assessed?

Care leavers should expect to receive the same level of care and support as others would receive from a reasonable parent. The Social Worker should consider what advice, assistance and support is appropriate taking into account the young person’s:

  • health needs;
  • education or training;
  • need for accommodation and financial help;
  • race, religion and culture; and
  • family relationships (including the need to maintain these).

The young person must be fully involved in discussions and plans for their future, and the social worker must also consider the views of any person with Parental Responsibility.

The young person must be provided with a written statement containing details of the Needs Assessment such as the expected timetable, the other parties involved in the Assessment and the procedure to follow in the event of disagreement.

The Assessment must be completed within 3 months of becoming an ‘eligible child’ or ‘relevant child’. The time runs from the date that Children’s Services were made aware of the young person and not the date that the assessments began.

The young person must be fully involved in discussions about their future and plans for their transition to independence and adulthood.

What support is there for care leavers?

Local offer for care leavers

Section 2 Children and Social Work Act 2017 instituted a requirement for each Local Authority in England to publish a ‘Local Offer for Care Leavers’. The Local Offer must contain information about services offered by the Local Authority for care leavers:

  • as a result of its functions under the Children Act 1989; and/or
  • made available to assist in or prepare for adulthood and independent living.

What does a Personal Advisor do?

Section 3 Children and Social Work Act 2017 requires Local Authorities to provide personal advisors to care leavers up until they reach the age of 25. 

A Personal Advisor acts as a focal point to ensure a care leaver is provided with the correct level of support. There is no prescribed professional qualification required of a Personal Advisor, but they should have a working knowledge of the issues a care leaver might face as they make their transition into adulthood, and the legal framework in relation to this.

There are lots of different people who could be a Personal Adviser. It could be that the Local Authority employs a team of people specially to do this job, or a Personal Advisor could be someone already involved in the young person’s care.

The young person should have a choice of Personal Advisor and their wishes should be carefully considered. However, the final decision will be made by the Local Authority, which must make sure that whoever it is has the right qualifications and can give the necessary time to support the care leaver properly.

A Personal Advisor’s role is to:

  • provide advice (including practical advice) and support to the young person;
  • participate in reviews of the young person’s case;
  • liaise with the responsible authority in the implementation of the pathway plan;
  • co-ordinate the provision of services and take reasonable steps to ensure the young person makes use of such services;
  • remain informed about the young person’s progress and wellbeing;
  • keep full, accurate and up to date records of contacts with the young person and services provided;
  • provide information about financial capability-how to manage day to day finances;
  • provide housing options available to the care leaver;
  • support in finding further education, employment or training;
  • keep in touch with the young person.

Case law has held that the Personal Advisor should not be involved in the statutory assessment or in preparing the young person’s Pathway Plan.

What is a Pathway Plan?

All eligible, relevant and former relevant children should have a Pathway Plan, which will set out the support that will be provided to the care leaver once they have left care. This must be based on the Needs Assessment carried out. The Plan should be prepared before the young person leaves care.

The Pathway Plan should include:

  • the nature of and level of contact and personal support to be provided;
  • the young person’s health needs and how these should be met;
  • arrangements to support the young person in further education or employment;
  • arrangements to support the young person in sustaining and developing family relationships;
  • arrangements to ensure the young person is properly equipped for taking greater responsibility towards their independence;
  • an assessment of the young person’s financial needs and capacity and any financial assistance provided;
  • arrangements to ensure the young person is living in suitable accommodation; and
  • any ‘Staying Put’ arrangements.

The Pathway Plan should set objectives and include how and when these should be achieved. It should be reviewed when a young person requests this and/or the Personal Advisor thinks it is necessary or at least every 6 months.

When drafting the Pathway Plan, the Local Authority should have regard to the young person’s views, wishes and feelings, and should provide them with a copy which is understandable to them. They should also consult the parents of the young person’s parents, their current carer, the Independent Reviewing Officer, the Personal Advisor (if already appointed) and an advocate (if the young person has one).

Pathway plans should be reviewed every 6 months. However the young person or Personal Advisor can request a review at any time. A review of the Pathway Plan should continue to take place until the young person turns 21 years of age, or beyond if they remain in education.

What can I do if I am unhappy with the assessment process or support provided?

If you are a young person and you feel that the assessment has not been properly followed, you can submit a complaint to the Local Authority . The Local Authority should inform you how to do this. It is advisable that you have an advocate to help you, please see our information page on Advocacy for further information.

Coram Voice has produced a resource to guide children in care and leaving care in making a complaint which can be accessed here

If there is a clear failure to follow the regulations, it is possible to bring a Judicial Review against the Local Authority – we advise you to contact a solicitor.

The young person is entitled to make a complaint about the way they have been assessed or the support listed in the Pathway Plan.

Children aged 16-17 who have been in careFlowchart

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  • Have you been in care for at least 13 weeks since you were 14 (even if not continuous)?
    • NO
    • YES
  • If you were in care after the age of 16 you may still be entitled to services by being a Qualified Care Leaver including:
    • Financial assistance
    • Advice and assistance from the Local Authority
    • Where the person is in higher education or training, assistance in securing vacation accommodation
  • Are you still in care?
    • NO
    • YES
  • Were you in care on or after your 16th Birthday?
    • YES
    • NO
  • You may be considered to be a Relevant Child and you should be entitled to the following services from Children’s Services:
    • Financial assistance
    • Advice and assistance from the Local Authority
    • Where the person is in higher education or training, assistance in securing vacation accommodation
  • You might not be eligible for care leaver support. See above for more details.
  • You may be considered to be an Eligible Child and you should be entitled to the following services from Children’s Services:
    • A Personal Advisor
    • Needs Assessment
    • A Pathway Plan

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Children over 18 who have been in careFlowchart

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open


  • Have you been in care for at least 13 weeks since you were 14 (even if not continuous)?
    • NO
    • YES
  • If you were in care after the age of 16 you may still be entitled to services by being a Qualified Care Leaver including:
    • Financial assistance
    • Advice and assistance from the Local Authority
    • Where the person is in higher education or training, assistance in securing vacation accommodation
  • Were you in care on or after your 18th birthday?
    • YES
    • NO
  • Are you over 21?
    • NO
    • YES
  • You may be considered to be a Former Relevant Child and you are entitled to the following services from Children’s Services:
    • A Personal Advisor
    • A Pathway Plan

    Children’s Services must also:

    • Provide Assistance with employment, education and training
    • Provide suitable accommodation
    • Help with living costs
    • Keep in touch with the child in the future
  • Are you under 25 and in further education or training?
    • YES
    • NO
  • As you are still in further education or training, you may be entitled to the following services:
    • A Personal Advisor
    • Needs Assessment
    • A Pathway Plan
  • You might not be eligible for care leaver support. See above for more details.

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