If you are preparing to leave care, you may be feeling a little daunted by what lies ahead. Making decisions about your housing, finances and your future can be difficult, so finding the right support is essential.
Here are some helpful things to consider which will hopefully make your journey a little easier to navigate.
When can I leave care?
You can leave at 18, which is when your time in care officially ends. There is an option to leave care earlier (from when you turn 16) but leaving care is a big decision so it is important to take some time to think about what is best for you and consider seeking some advice.
Who can I go to for help?
If you are aged between 16 and 17 years old, you will probably still be working with a social worker.
When you turn 16, you will also be allocated a Personal Advisor (PA). If you are 18 or over, you will be provided with support from your PA, and support from your social worker will end. The PA support can continue until you are 25 years old.
Your pathway plan
When you turn 16, your social Worker and personal advisor will help you put together your Pathway Plan, which is like an agreement between you and Children’s Services that maps out your journey of leaving care. This should also be an opportunity to discuss your options and what support you might need to live independently.
The Care Leaver Covenant is a national inclusion programme that supports care leavers aged 16-25 to live independently. They create meaningful opportunities for Care Leavers in five key areas and support them to access those opportunities. It was set up as the result of a promise made by private, public or voluntary organisations to provide support for Care Leavers aged 16 to 25 to help them to live independently.
You should be involved in the creation of the plan as it is a chance for you to say what support you want to leave care. We have outlined some areas to consider in your Pathway Plan and resources that you can access if you would like to know more.
Can I get support with my housing?
To find out if you can get housing support as a Care Leaver, you should start by checking two things:
- Have you spent a total of 13 weeks in care since the age of 14?
- Did you also spend at least one day in care when you were 16 or 17?
If you answered yes to both questions, you are what is called a ‘Relevant Child’ – this is simply a legal term to say that you have been in care and that you are entitled to extra support. You can get support with your housing from the day you turn 16 up to age 25.
If you are still unsure if you are a Care Leaver, take this easy quiz from Coram Voice.
I have met the criteria to be a ‘Relevant Child’, so what are my housing options at this stage?
There are a range of options that might be available to you. Remember that if you are aged between 16 and 17, Children’s Services have a duty under the Children Act 1989 to work with you and find you somewhere safe to live. Whatever you choose, it should be written into your Pathway Plan so you can refer back to it. If you are 18, your PA and Social Worker should help you with a plan before your eighteenth birthday.
‘Staying Put’ means staying with former foster carers until you are 21. Local Authorities have a duty to support you with this if both you and your foster carers have agreed to it.
Social Housing can be an option for many Care Leavers, so this is an avenue worth exploring with your PA. If you don’t feel ready to live on your own, schemes such as The House Project offer the option of social housing with support to set up your own tenancy. The benefit of this is that you would have support staff available to help you prepare for independent living.
Supported Lodgings can mean moving into someone’s home, where you would have a room of your own. One adult in the household will be trained to provide you with emotional and practical support to help you get better prepared for independent living. Young people usually stay in the household for about two or three years.
Renting privately might be the path you choose. It is important to remember that this can be difficult as you may not be able to hold a tenancy until you are 18. But if this is something you would like to plan towards, speak to your PA or Social Worker who can help you take the steps to prepare you for this and discuss whether it is a possibility.
Supported Accommodation, a hostel or a foyer might be an option for you. This accommodation often has a large age range of residents with different support needs. You will have your own room and support from a keyworker. Due to the support provided, the rent can be high if you start working. It could be worth speaking to your PA about this to see if it is the right option for you and if you are old enough to access it.
Finally, returning home or to live with your family or friends is an option for some Care Leavers. You might want to discuss this as part of your Pathway Plan and explore if it the right choice for you.
Why not take a look at this report by Barnardo’s called No Place Like Home, where Care Leavers talk about their experience of staying in some of the types of accommodation we have just mentioned. Whatever you choose, try to learn about your options and find the best route for you!
What if I become homeless or I am at risk of losing my home?
If you have lost your home, you feel like your accommodation is at risk or if you don’t feel safe where you are living, you should speak to someone as soon as possible. Shelter have provided some information on who to contact depending on your age or student status, which you can access here.
You can also make a referral to akt or use our live chat service for advice from 10am to 5pm, Monday to Friday. Outside of office hours, contact the local emergency duty team (EDT) at your local authority to get advice and support.
Identity is something that everyone explores as they grow up, taking time to think about who you are. You might be thinking about who you are attracted to, how you feel about your gender and how you express this. Identity should be included as part of your Pathway Plan to help you think about how your identity might link into the support you need when leaving care. Maybe you would like to use certain pronouns, or you would like to change your name by Deed Poll.
Talking about your identity to professionals is not always easy and it is acknowledged that professionals sometimes lack training and awareness around LGBTQ+ issues. If you are nervous about discussing this with your PA, Social Worker or any other professionals you meet, there are lots of resources that can help them understand how to discuss identity with you. Proud Trust have some training for professionals, while Three Circles fostering have developed a toolkit for professionals and foster carers working with trans youth in care, as well as a short video to explain the concept of identity to professionals.
If this is the first time you have spoken to anyone about your identity, you might want some advice about coming out. LGBT Youth Scotland have a list of things to consider when planning to come out. Remember, it should always be a time and place that is safe and right for you.
This is a chance to consider what aspects of your health you might want support with once you leave care. This can focus on your physical health but can also include your mental health and wellbeing. Maybe you would like some information on sexual health, how to find your local clinic or accessing testing. Or you might want support to pay for a gym membership or to join a dance or sports club. This is a chance to chat about it and find out what support you can get.
If you are considering accessing a Gender Identity Clinic (GIC), you might want to consider what support you need. The NHS have some information on what gender dysphoria is and they have created a list of gender identity clinics across the UK. If your Social Worker or PA are unsure about how to support you, Mermaids or Gendered Intelligencecan help you think about the support you might need going forward. If you are already attending a GIC, you might want to consider that once you turn 18 you will have to move over to the adult service. Again, if you are unsure about what support you might need at this time contact the organisations we have mentioned to help you navigate the transition to adult services.
Your support network
One of the most challenging things about moving can be leaving your support network behind or meeting new people. It can be important to have people around you that you can trust and who accept you for who you are.
Many Care Leavers say they experience feelings of loneliness and isolation when they leave care. Consider looking into LGBTQ+ social groups wherever you are moving to, this can be a great way to meet new, like-minded friends. The Proud Trust website has a search function that helps you find LGBTQ+ social groups across the UK. Or you could join our Youth Engagement Programme, who can help you find events and social groups in your area. Drop them an email to find out what’s happening at the moment!
All Care Leavers will receive a local authority ‘setting up home allowance’. This should be for at least £2000, to help you buy what you need for your new home. You might spend it on carpets or furniture to help make your new space feel like home.
If you are not working or are on a low income, you should also consider applying for Universal Credit. This will give you a regular income to help you meet any monthly payments including rent and bills. Turn2Us have a guide on benefits for Care Leavers who are under 18.
Managing your money and budgeting can be difficult if you have never done it before. Ask your PA to help you with a budget plan so you can make your money stretch to the end of the month.
If you are worried about budgeting or getting into financial difficulty, you can contact Step Changewho offer budgeting and money management advice. The Mix and MyBnk have also created a useful money management guide for Care Leavers.
Education, employment and training
As part of your Pathway Plan you might want to consider whether you would like to start working, apply for university or maybe start an apprenticeship.
University: You might be thinking about going into third level education and applying to study at university. As a Care Leaver you can access a range of support. When you make your UCAS application, tick the care leavers box so any universities you apply to can help you access any extra support they provide. UCAS website outlines the type of support you might be able to access as a care leaver, such as free or discounted accommodation or starter packs with the essentials for moving into a new home.
The Unite Foundation provide scholarships for care experienced young people and have also created an online community, This is Us, for all care experienced and estranged students. Current Estranged and Care Experienced Students (EaCES) have a handbook for anyone thinking about going to uni, including useful information on Student Finance, as well as a section for LGBTQ+ people.
Most universities will have a designated ‘Care Leaver Contact’. Some have reported that the first time they hear from a care experienced student is when things have gotten really bad. They advise that you get in touch with them before you leave for university, let them know when you are planning to arrive and they can help you plan. They can also offer financial support if you are struggling, so try not to leave it too late to find out who and where they are.
Freshers’ Week is a great time to meet people and make new connections. You will be able to join societies and explore new hobbies. Most universities, such as the University of Bristol and the University of Manchester, have an LGBTQ+ Society that you can get involved with to meet like-minded people. Check out the akt resource on Student Life.
It’s important to remember that you may not get your Student Loan until after Freshers’ Week, so speak about this in your Pathway Plan to see how you can get support to enjoy this week without financial worries. Make sure you keep a copy of any decisions in case your PA changes between creating the plan and starting university.
If you’re worried about where you will live during the holidays, or when you leave uni, speak to your PA. We have also got a resource on moving out of student accommodation.
Employment: Maybe you would like to get a job once you leave care. A good place to start is by going to your local Job Centre Plus Office to find out what opportunities they have. You could also start by registering on a job search site or with an employment agency, such as Proud Employersand Consortium, who publish jobs advertised by inclusive workplaces. Why not check out Stonewall Young Futures for information about training, education and employment options for LGBTQ+ young people.
You might be interested in an apprenticeship, which lets you get hands-on experience and training while you earn. The Government offers bursaries of £1,000 to Care Leavers who decide to do an apprenticeship. You can find more information about how to apply on the Learning and Work Institutewebsite.
The Care Leaver Covenant also advertises a wide range of opportunities for Care Leavers, from work placements to paid jobs.
Preparing a Pathway Plan is not always easy; you might not have the words to explain what you want, or you might feel that the professionals around you do not fully understand what you are trying to say. If you would like extra support, you can ask for an advocate.
An advocate is someone who will make sure you know your rights and can speak for you if things get confusing or are not going to plan. Organisations like Coram Voice and NYAS provide an advocacy service to Care Leavers.
If you would like specific support around gender and identity, Mind has an advocacy service run by trans advocates for trans, non-binary people or anyone who would like support in relation to gender identity or gender expression. This advocacy service can help with support related to the trans care pathway, as well as concerns about social transition and mental health.
We are committed to ensuring that all young LGBTQ+ people have safe homes and brighter futures. If you are worried about leaving care or your housing situation please contact us via the live chat on our website or by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org.