Government considers extending children’s home leaving age to 21

Government considers extending children’s home leaving age to 21

The government is to explore the possibility of allowing young people to stay in residential care up to the age of 21, children’s minister Edward Timpson has announced. Edward Timpson said potential barriers to extending staying-put arrangements to children’s homes should not be seen as “insurmountable barriers”

Department for Education officials have been asked to work alongside the National Children’s Bureau, the Who Cares Trust, and Catch 22 to “look at the practical issues of introducing staying-put arrangements in children’s homes over the coming year”, Timpson revealed in parliament.

The news follows a government announcement in early December that a new legal requirement will be placed on local authorities requiring them to allow young people to stay in foster care up to the age of 21, referred to as “staying-put arrangements”.

Timpson said there are “a number of practical and legal issues to consider” before a duty could be placed on local authorities to provide staying-put arrangements in children’s homes.

“A key barrier would be having vulnerable adults living alongside much younger vulnerable children,” he said. He added that, in law, children’s homes are establishments that are “wholly or mainly” for children and are registered as such by Ofsted.

“Given that most children’s homes are now very small – typically two, three, or four beds – extending staying-put could result, for example, in a home accommodating two or three care leavers and one child,” he said.

“In this case it could not be registered as a ‘children’s home’, as it would mainly be an establishment accommodating young adults, which could cause difficulties for the only child living there.

“For the same reason, Ofsted would not have any legal scope to regulate and inspect this service.”
But Timpson went on to say that these should not be seen as “insurmountable barriers”.

“It is right that we consider them carefully and understand the consequences more widely across the residential care sector before taking any further steps.”

Timpson was speaking in parliament during an adjournment debate on Tuesday (21 January). His announcement appears to represent a change of heart by the DfE.

Only last month, Education Secretary Michael Gove told the education select committee that the government would not consider raising the leaving age for children in residential care to 21 until standards have improved.

The government is currently pushing through a range of measures to improve the quality and safety of children’s homes. Measures that have come into force this month include requiring homes to tell councils when children move in and out of the area; requiring staff and managers in homes to be suitably qualified; and putting more information on the quality and location of children’s homes into the public domain.

Natasha Finlayson, chief executive of The Who Cares? Trust, said young people who live in children’s homes deserve the same level of support as those in foster care.

“We need to find ways for them to be offered greater stability, security and a sense of belonging as they become young adults, rather than being encouraged to leave before they are ready,” she said.

“Finding the right way to achieve this will not be straightforward, however much we wish it could be, but we believe the barriers can be overcome.

“We look forward to working with the Department for Education and others to explore how young people in residential care can be supported in stable arrangements until they are 21.”