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The leaving care age in England and Wales is 18 years (although some young people leave care at 16 or 17). After 18, a young person is no longer legally in care or looked after. Children’s services no longer have a duty to provide them with a social worker.
However, there is still a duty to provide care leavers with continuing support up to the age of 25. Under the Children and Social Work Act 2017, children’s services must publish a ‘local offer’ for care leavers. This should set out what local services are available to help care leavers make the transition to adulthood and independent living.
Eligible child: This is someone who is:
- 16 or 17 years old and is still looked after AND
- Has been looked after for a total of 13 weeks or more (these do not have to be consecutive) since they turned age 14.
They are entitled to support from children’s services to help them get ready to leave care and prepare for independent living. This includes an assessment of their needs and the development of a pathway plan (which should be in place by the time they turn 16 and should include the care plan). Children’s services must also appoint a personal adviser. If the young person is in foster care, the pathway plan should consider the possibility of Staying Put (i.e. staying with their foster carers) after age 18.
Relevant child: This is someone who is:
- 16 or 17 years old and has already left care AND
- Was looked after for a total of 13 weeks or more (these do not have to be consecutive) since they turned age 14. This must include having spent at least some time being looked after beyond age 16.
Children’s services has a duty to ensure a relevant child has a pathway plan, which is kept under review. They must appoint a personal adviser. Children’s services must also ensure the young person has suitable housing. The young person must be supported to receive education, training or gain employment. This information should be covered in the pathway plan.
Former relevant child: This is someone who is:
- 18 to 25 years old AND
- Was previously an eligible child or a relevant child.
Children’s services’ duties include keeping in touch with the young person. If contact is lost, efforts must be made to re-establish contact. Children’s services must provide continuing help, advice and support through a personal adviser up to age 25. This includes help with living expenses and financial help with education or training. The young person does not have to accept this help, but it must be on offer to them.
Qualifying care leaver: This is someone who is:
- Between 16 and 21 years old, and who was looked after at age 16 but is not an eligible child or relevant child. This is because they were not looked after for a total of 13 weeks or more, OR
- Between 16 and 21 years old and under a special guardianship order (or a special guardianship order was in place when the young person turned 18). And the young person had been looked after immediately before the special guardianship order was made.
The young person is entitled to ongoing advice and assistance, including financial help.