One of the biggest changes in my time in fostering came in less than a year ago.
It didn't get as much attention as it deserves, probably because it's good news and as we all know, it's bad news that makes the headlines.
The change was simple. Before 2014 children in England could be looked after only until they were 18.
Today they can stay until they are 21.
If you think about it, it was a remarkable and slightly surprising change in the law, especially in the current economic climate with a government hellbent on saving every tuppence.
It's called "Staying Put' and the changes are largely due to a well organised campaign by the Fostering Network.
I'm not entirely sure I understand the exact new status of a looked after child aged 18-21 and their foster parents, the new law says this;
A "staying put arrangement" is an arrangement under which -
a) A person who is a former relevant child by virtue of sections 23c (1) (b) and
b) a person (a "former foster parent")who was the former relevant child's local authority foster parent immediately before the former relevant child ceased to be looked after by the authority.
continue to live together after the former relevant child has ceased to be looked after.
I'm not much on the wordiness of legislation. It seems to be saying that when your foster child reaches age 18 they are no longer a foster child but they can stay put with you if both parties agree.
The next clause is easier to grasp;
Support provided to the former foster parent under subsection (3) (b) must include financial support.
Apparently the "Staying Put" arrangement came about because a series of pilots showed how well it worked. Mind you, they could have saved money on the pilots; all they had to do was to ask foster parents.
Nobody is ready for the big bad world aged 18.
Middle-class, well educated, emotionally sturdy children from solid backgrounds would fall flat on their face if you pushed them out onto the pavement with a suitcase.
Where the hell would they go? What would they do?
Close your eyes for a second and imagine it's you.
You'd probably knock on a mates front door and beg a sofa for the night, ask at the One Stop if there are any jobs going before joining the benefits queue and finding out you're not entitled to much now you 're grown-up.
Maybe you've got money in your pocket - Blue Sky has a practice of making sure their looked after children have some savings which come their way when their time in fostering is over.
Let's say you've got a couple of hundred quid; it's not going to last long especially now you're legally old enough for the pub...
It's ten times worse for looked-after children who've got fractured backgrounds and might be a lot less world-wise and connected than you would have been.
We had a lad stay with us before the change in the law, he was approaching 18. Nice lad, really lovely; a pleasure to have around. Troubled though; couldn't bear to go to bed, stayed up until dawn on the quiet. Spent his spare time in the park with some pals, we didn't know exactly who they were or what they did all day, but his hoodie used to smell of smoke and it wasn't Benson and Hedges, if you know what I mean.
He was a case in point this lad, because he had an inheritance that had been put in a trust fund for him. He was going to pick up a five figure sum every few years until he was age about 30. Not bad, and we all expressed our relief to the social worker when she told us about it. She said;
"Actually, it worries us. He's grown-up physically and mentally, but like many looked-after children he never had a proper childhood and we expect he might use everything he's got to experience one".
He'll buy man-toys; things like a motor bike and a keyboard synthesyser. He'll take some mates to Ibiza. He'll have sleep-overs where the party food and drink will be a bit more adult than cake and squash and the games a bit earthier than Blind Man's Buff*
He'll have spent his pocket money by the end of Saturday, as it were. Psychologically he'll be getting rid of it because having cash is a burden to looked-after children; a personal responsibility they don't want. They rather be proper children and have someone hold their hand. Ask persmission to buy something.
He's doing okay as far as I've heard, I'm glad to say, but thinking about him brings back the worry, it's a shame the change came to late for him.
Anyway, my point is this, especially if you're thinking about taking up fostering; it seems to be an area which governments respect and tend to support. Not always, but certainly on some big issues, and long may that be the case.
*Probably not called that anymore, probably should be called "Visually Impaired Person's Buff"
Not that anyone plays it these days unless there's an XBox version with zombies.