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 four categories of:

  1. Eligible Children
  2. Relevant Children
  3. Former Relevant Children
  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?

Eligible children are young people aged between 16 and 17 who have been looked after by the Local Authority (LA) for at least 13 weeks, since the age of 14 and are 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.

Caselaw 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
  • Needs Assessment
  • A Pathway Plan

What is a relevant child?

Relevant children are young people aged between 16 and 17 who have been looked after by the LA for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14 and who have been looked after at some time after their 16th birthday, and who have now left care. The young person can have entered care at any time in 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 then this may amount to the young person being classed as a relevant child; the LA's policy will need to be considered to determine this.

Relevant Children are entitled to the following services:

  • A Personal Advisor
  • Needs Assessment
  • A Pathway Plan
  • Accommodation and Maintenance

What is a former relevant child?

Former relevant children are young people aged between 18 and 21 who have been either eligible or relevant children or both.

If, at the age of 21, the young person is still being helped by the responsible authority with education or training, then he or she remains a former relevant child until a maximum age of 25, and the programme of education or training will be set out within the Pathway Plan.

Former relevant children are no longer dependent upon the LA 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 with the former relevant child it must re-establish contact
  • Provide assistance in general
  • Give assistance with employment, education and training
  • Provide suitable accommodation
  • 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 LA 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 also have a duty if a former relevant child is aged under 25, but does not have a pathway plan or personal advisor (due to them being over the age of 21) and if they wish to remain in further education or training. They will be entitled to the following;

  • A Personal Advisor
  • Needs Assessment
  • A Pathway Plan

What is a qualifying care leaver?

Qualifying care leavers are those who were in care after the age of 16 but who are not eligible or relevant because they do not fulfil the 13 week criteria. These care leavers must be under 21, (or 25 if they are in further education or training).

This also include care leavers who are 16-21 who are under a Special Guardianship Order or a Special Guardianship Order was in place when the person turned 18 and the person was looked after by the Local Authority immediately before the Special Guardianship Order was made.

They are entitled to the following;

  • Advice and assistance
  • Financial assistance
  • Where the person is in higher education or training, assistance in securing vacation accommodation

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
  • The young person's education or training
  • The young person's need for accommodation and financial help
  • The young person's family relationships and the need to maintain these
  • The young person's race, religion and culture.

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 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 being an eligible 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?

What does a Personal Advisor do?

A Personal Advisor (PA) 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 PA however 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 LA employs a team of people specially to do this job, or a PA could be someone already involved in the young person's care.

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

A Personal Advisor's role is:

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

Caselaw 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. A pathway includes 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
  • 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, the personal advisor thinks it is necessary or at least every 6 months.

When drafting the Pathway Plan the LA should have regard to the young person's views and wishes and they should be provided with a copy which is understandable to them. They should also consult the parents of the young person, the young person's current carer, the Independent Reviewing Officer, a 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 then you can submit a complaint to the LA . The LA 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 LA and you should 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 care - Flowchart

flowchart

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
  • 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

close


Children over 18 who have been in care - Flowchart

flowchart

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.

close