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Wales proposes extending foster care until the age of 21

Young people in Wales living with foster carers beyond the age of 18 will be able to stay until they are 21, in the hopes that this will set them up for a more successful adult life.

The leaving age of young people staying in foster care could be raised from 18 to 21 if both parties wish to participate in a ‘post-18 living arrangement’ scheme. The National Assembly for Wales added the amendments to the Social Services and Wellbeing (Wales) Bill on 4 February.

The arrangements are made for better continuity and stability of care for looked after children during their transition to independent living.

Foster-carers are allowed to continue providing advice, financial support and accommodation to their former foster child until they turn 21. Young people currently being fostered in Wales have to leave their carers’ families when they are at the age of 18.

Local children’s care and foster charities believe raising this leaving age would make a big difference to the young people who are being looked after. Young people can leave the foster homes when they are more confident and ready.

Training officer of Children in Wales Claire Sharp said: “It is to raise the stability until they are much more mature and can get settled.”

“The reality is many of the looked after young people who leaves foster carer earlier often go into hustles, have difficulties in their negotiating boundaries and unable to manage their communications well with the new people they are living with.”

If the young people leave their foster families at 21, they could be more mature and capable of coping with their properties, Mrs. Sharp said.

For the support workers, the raising the leaving age can release their working burden as well. Less support is needed from them when young people are over 18.

“The earlier they leave foster care, the more likely social workers are to find a series of problems,” Mrs Sharp added.

By the end of March last year, 4,440 children were living in the care of local authorities in approximately 3,500 foster families in Wales. Wales is in further need of 550 foster carers in 2014, but the recruitment process is still very rigid.

Pilot works have already been done by the Welsh government in the “When I am Ready” scheme in 2013.

The United States Foster Care Organization Jim Casey Initiative launched a similar scheme, Success Beyond 18, in May 2013. The national campaign aimed to create a better path for young people who are aging out of the foster care system to be supported longer until at least 21 years old.

A growing number of states in the U.S. are launching campaigns that advocate the extension foster care to age 21. Twenty-five states plus the District of Columbia have programs to stretch foster care to age 21 for youths who want to keep being supported as they work toward independence.

The Fostering Connections Act of 2008 released by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services allows states to use federal foster-care money for eligible youths up to age 21, rather than 18. But the federal government and local governments still pay a share of the cost.

By Chenxi Li

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