If you are aged 16 or 17, were in care for more than 13 weeks after your 14th birthday and left care on or after your 16th birthday, the law says you are a relevant child. Children’s services are required to support you and you should have a Personal Adviser (PA). Your PA or social worker must complete an assessment of your needs, in areas such as housing, education and finances. When this has been agreed, with your input, they must write a Pathway Plan with you, setting out how you will receive the support. See below for more on Pathway Plans.
If you are aged 18 to 25 and were in care for more than 13 weeks after your 14th birthday, and you were still in care on your 16th birthday, the law says you are a former relevant child. You should have a Personal Adviser (PA) and Pathway Plan, and receive support with your housing, education, and related expenses.
If you are aged 18 to 25 and spent time in care after your 16th birthday, but have been in care for less than 13 weeks in total since your 14th birthday, the law says you are a qualifying care leaver. You will not have a Pathway Plan or Personal Adviser, but you are entitled to advice and assistance from the local authority’s Leaving Care Service. They can support you with your education, such as study expenses and accommodation during the holidays, and can help you with your housing and health in exceptional circumstances.
Coram Voice has a very useful tool for working out if you are a care leaver, and what support you are entitled to:
Before you leave care, your social worker should complete a needs assessment with you. This should happen sometime after your 15th birthday and should consider things such as when you will be ready to leave care, what support you’ll need, your independent living skills, education and what kind of accommodation is suitable for you. It should also include your views and wishes about these things, so you should have the chance to discuss it with your social worker. You should also be given a copy of the finished assessment.
After the needs assessment, your social worker should complete a Pathway Plan with you. This is based on the needs assessment and should make clear what support you will get when preparing to leave care and after you have left. The Pathway Plan should describe how your local authority will help you get the things you want, such as accommodation, education, training, financial support, or a job.
You should have a Personal Adviser until you are 25. This could be your current social worker or a worker from the Leaving Care Team. It is their job to keep in touch with you, check that you are well and help you to get what you need. To do this they must make sure your Pathway Plan is followed and reviewed with you at least every six months.
Children’s services must support you financially until you are 18. Once you are 18, if you are not in employment or full-time education, you can claim benefits. However, your local authority should continue to give you financial help, for example towards the costs of your education and training, if that is what they have agreed to do in your Pathway Plan.
Your local authority must make sure that you have somewhere suitable to live. This means that it needs to be right for you and, above all, safe. It is important that your Pathway Plan includes details of where you prefer to live and how this will be arranged. You can decide to return home if this is what you and your family wish. If you have problems with your accommodation, including damage or trouble paying rent, the local authority must advise you on how to sort this out.
When you are moving into your own place, you can ask your local authority for the Setting Up Home Allowance, which is normally £2,000. This is to help you buy essentials for your new home, such as furniture or appliances.
If you are staying in full-time further education and are 16-19, you are entitled to the 16-19 Higher Education Bursary of up to £1,200. If you go to university, you are entitled to the Higher Education Bursary of £2,000. You can get in touch with your school or college to find out how to claim the bursary.
If you are attending university, your local authority should provide accommodation and financial support during the holidays. You can also get help with study costs, such as materials and transport.
Every local authority needs to provide a local offer for care leavers that sets out exactly what support and resources you are entitled to. You can ask your Personal Adviser for a copy of this, and it should be available on the local authority’s website.
If you think you aren’t getting the support you’re entitled to as a care leaver you can contact Help at Hand. You can also make a formal complaint [link to question on making complaints below] and ask for an advocate to help you with this.
You have a right to be involved in all major decisions about your life, including when you leave care, where you live and what support you receive. Decisions should be made with you, giving you enough time to have your say. Your views should be taken seriously and evidence should be given where something you ask for is not possible.
You have the right to an independent advocate who can help you to make sure your voice is heard. Advocates can also support you to make a formal complaint (see below). Every local authority has an advocacy service for children in care and care leavers. You can ask your social worker or Personal Advisor for details. You can also find details through the website for the national advocacy charity, Coram Voice.
If you’re unhappy about a decision about your care, or the support or treatment you’re receiving, you can ask your social worker, Independent Reviewing Officer, or another professional working with you about how to make a complaint. They can help you to contact your local authority’s children’s services complaints team. These details should also be on the local authority’s website, along with information about how to complain.
Most complaints are dealt with in three stages. If you are not happy with the result at the end of each stage, you can ask to progress to the next stage:
At Stage 1, a manager will look into your complaint and write a response, outlining how they would like to move forwards to support you.
At Stage 2, if the manager’s response was not satisfactory, an independent person can be brought in to investigate.
At Stage 3, if the independent investigator did not address all your concerns or their decision worries you, a review panel of at least three people will need to reconsider your case.
If you remain unhappy after stage 3, you can ask for the Local Government and Social Care Ombudsman to look into your complaint further.
Help at Hand is the Children’s Commissioner’s advice and assistance service for children in care, children who have a social worker or are working with social services, children living away from home and care leavers.
Children, young people, or their advocates can get in touch with Help at Hand for free by phone, website or email.
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Before you decide to contact us, you might find the answer to your question is already here in our most frequently asked questions. Pick the option that applies to you for more information.