TACT welcomes the announcement of a £10m boost for the Staying Put Scheme made by the Department for Education this morning. This announcement reflects a long-expected recognition by the government of the scheme’s funding pressures since it was introduced in 2014.
Despite this announcement, we feel that Staying Put’s future continues to be in a precarious situation with this funding only being agreed up to 2021. Under-funding and not giving guarantees of continuation to the scheme that supports young people to stay with their former foster carers can leave these carers unable to offer continued support for our young people. In this respect, we agree with the Fostering Network that a Staying Put minimum allowance to carers should be introduced as a mean to guarantee discrepancies and inequalities based on regional differences and local levels.
For some foster carers, fostering fees are their only income and the loss of it can be a major barrier to offering a post-18 arrangement. 18-year-olds are no cheaper to look after than 17-year-olds. There should also be no housing benefit element to staying put. The Department for Education should access Department for Work & Pensions money centrally if they believe that DWP should contribute, the onus should not be on the young person and the foster carer. The message that they should be dependent on benefits is not one we should be giving to care experienced adults as they turn 18.
With regards the extensions of the Pupil Premium Plus to all 16-18-year-old care leavers, a commitment should be made for this financial support provided to be devolved to foster family so that the foster carers and the young person, with the involvement of the social worker, school and the virtual head can decide how it should be used to maximize educational success.
The announcement also fails to address other needs of care experienced young people accessing higher education. Conversations among children in care and care experienced young people about choosing a university typically focus not on their educational needs of the reputation of the institution but on the support and financial help that universities have in place. Young people should not be making such as important choice just based on what it is financially sustainable for them but on what their educational aspirations are.
The Government should also work alongside Universities to guarantee undergraduate places for care experienced young people regardless of their age and provide financial support in the form of free tuition and a maintenance grant should be in place to secure appropriate and decent accommodation during term time and outside of it and to cover living expenses.