When I am Ready
Leaving home is a big deal for anyone and the chances are that for those lucky enough to have grown up in a stable and loving environment, the transition to adult life is usually gradual and staged. This is because even the most confident young person needs to go on being supported and go on being nurtured well past the age at which society believes them to have ‘come of age’. This could be partly the reason why the average age of a young person leaving home is now 24 years old.
For many young people in looked after care, however, making the transition towards independent life has to happen when they are 18, whether they feel ready or not to embark on living alone. For some this upheaval can come too soon and they lack the practical and emotional skills needed to deal effectively with the challenges of adult life.
That is why last year I worked with an inspiring group of young people approaching the end of, or in some instances having left care, to propose a Private Member’s Bill in the Assembly to look at creating new opportunities for these young people to stay with their foster families beyond the age of 18 if that was what both parties wanted. The debate we had in the Assembly on the issue received wide, cross-party backing.
As a result of this, the Deputy Minister for Children and Social Services, Gwenda Thomas, offered her support to develop a new government-led scheme to help achieve this goal. The result is the proposed ‘When I Am Ready’ scheme which I’m delighted the Welsh Government is now beginning a wide-ranging consultation on.
Under the new scheme it is proposed that the responsible local authority will have an ongoing duty to support eligible children to remain with their foster carer beyond the age of 18, where the young person has requested this support. It recognises that not all young people are ready for the move to independent living at 18 and the new arrangements will offer a more gradual approach to planning the transition to adulthood within a supportive family and household environment. Importantly, it recognises the vital role we all have, at a local and national level, in fulfilling our duties as responsible corporate parents to children in looked after care.
The ‘When I am ready’ scheme is not a magic fix for the challenges of being in, or leaving care, but it is designed to provide a more consistent approach across the whole of Wales to the process of leaving care and to improve the life chances of looked after young people. As corporate parents, local authorities play an active role in the transition of young people from care and the ‘When I Am ready’ scheme is designed to help better manage this process.
The scheme, alongside the new Social Services Bill being developed by the Welsh Government, is a chance to turn the national debate about the wellbeing, attainment and life quality of our looked-after children into comprehensive and concerted action and ensure that the approach and obligations to young care leavers is consistent across Wales. The Welsh Government’s own recent figures show how important this agenda is. There has been a 6% rise in the numbers of young people in looked after care in the last year and a 24% rise over the last five years.
Young people in care have the same abilities as their peers not in care but unfortunately, sometimes, they don’t get the same platform from which to achieve that success as others do. For me, the very definition of social justice is providing a helping hand to all young people and offering them a chance to build their own great future. This scheme is designed to help them do that.
Ken Skates is Assembly Member for Clwyd South
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