Leaving care can be a scary as well as an exciting time; it’s important you get the help and support necessary to make sure you know what happens next, to know who will help you and exactly what you are entitled to.
The Handbook (click on the picture to read it) has been developed with the help of Slough Children’s Services Trust care leavers to help navigate our way through the big transitions in your life as you move into adulthood.
We hope that it will help you deal with any worries you may have about leaving care by providing you with information on practical help you will get with accommodation, education, training and employment, money matters, health and other like skills needed as you prepare for independence. It will also point you in the right direction for advice and support outside the Trust, as well as how you can make sure you are listened to and have a say in what happens.
The legal stuff - who are care leavers?
The law defines four categories of care leavers and the help and support you get will depend on where you are in your journey leaving care.
There are 4 key words you need to look out for:
‘Eligible’ young people are 16 or 17 year olds who are still looked after (in care), and have been looked after for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14.
‘Relevant’ young people are 16 or 17 year olds who are no longer looked after, but have been looked after for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14.
‘Former Relevant’ young people are 18-21 year olds who were previously an ‘eligible’ or ‘relevant’ child. You can continue to be a former relevant young person up to the age of 25 if you are continuing on an education or training course.
‘Qualifying’ young people are aged between 16-21 and were looked after on or after their 16th birthday and are no longer looked after, but had spent less than 13 weeks being looked after since the age of 14. You can remain a qualifying young person when aged 21-24 if you continue on an education or training course.
So, I’m a care leaver – what are my entitlements?
You can expect the following:
Involvement in the decisions that will affect your future – you will be given the information and support required to help you make informed decisions about where you are going to live in the future, what you are going to do and how you are going to support yourself.
This means we will:
- Allocate a personal advisor
- Develop an individual pathway plan
- Support you to find somewhere suitable to live
- Offer you financial support
- Support you with education, training and employment
- Help you stay fit and healthy
- Ensure we listen to you and know what to do if you are not happy about something
- Help you with contact with your family – if you want to and it is safe for you to do so.
- Give you access to your files – when you are 18 you can ask to see your children’s services’ files. These will be edited because we can only share the things about you and not somebody else. Sometimes, this can be a very emotional and difficult process and we advise you not to do it on your own. Your personal advisor can help you with this.
Your support team
Slough Children’s Services Trust Looked After and Care Leavers, Team is here to help support you as you learn to live more independently.
We can help you:
- Make plans for the future
- Have somewhere safe and secure to live
- Keep yourself fit and healthy, and feel good about yourself
- Make sure that you have enough money to live on
- Stay in education for as long as you want to
- Find the training course or career that you really want
- Stay in touch with people who are important to you
- Deal with difficulties and negotiate solutions to problems
- Find out about your rights
When you reach 16, we will decide with you who is the best person to be your personal advisor. This will normally be your social worker but it might be someone else who is important in your life. When you reach 18 you might stop having a social worker but you will still have a personal advisor.
Your personal advisor will:
- Listen to your views and ideas about your life and help you use these to inform your Pathway Plan
- Work with you and your carers and others to put your Pathway Plan into practice
- Attend your looked after review meeting every 6 months while you are still in care
- Organise a Pathway Plan review every 6 months after you have left care
- Support you in looking after your health, including arranging regular health assessments and dental checks, and making sure that you have all the immunisations that you need
- Encourage and support you to go as far as you can with your education
- Make sure you receive advice and guidance with jobs, careers and training
- Help you develop the skills and knowledge that you need to live independently
- Help you stay in touch with your family
- Support you to find somewhere suitable to live
Your Pathway Plan will set out your plans for the future. This is your document and your views and aspirations must be at the centre of it!
As you approach 16 your social worker will work with you to complete a needs assessment report setting out your abilities, your achievements and your needs now and in the future. You will then work together to create your Pathway Plan.
The Pathway Plan will set out how you will be supported to achieve the things that you want for yourself in your life, and who is going to provide the help you need.
It will be important that your Pathway Plan accurately sets out what is important to you, and what you want to achieve in the future. In order to do this your social worker/personal advisor will also talk with your parents or carers and other important people in your life – and you should tell them who the important people are.
Your Pathway Plan is a ‘live’ document and you will continue to have reviews every 6 months to add to or revise the Plan as your aspirations develop and change.
Your social worker or personal advisor will continue to meet with you and review the Pathway Plan.
When you stay in care after you reach 16, you will continue to have looked after reviews chaired by an Independent Reviewing Officer. The Pathway Plan will replace the Care Plan and this will be reviewed at your Statutory Looked After Review.
If there are parts of your Pathway Plan that you do not want shared at a review, you can agree with your social worker what doesn’t need to be discussed.
If you are one of the small number of 16 and 17 year olds who choose not to remain looked after then the social worker will continue to visit you regularly and will review the Pathway Plan with you every 6 months.
The Pathway Plan will need to grow and change as you approach adulthood and as your situation changes.
When you reach 18 you will no longer be looked after but your Personal Advisor will continue to meet with you and work on your Pathway Plan to ensure plans are put in place to support you even when you are a young adult.
Where will I live?
One of the most important decisions we have to agree with you as a Care Leaver is where you are going to live. It is very important that wherever you live, it is suitable for your needs and that we plan ahead to make sure we find the right place for you. Your social worker/personal advisor is there to help you with this, working through the options available to you and helping you to decide on what will be best for you at that time.
All plans for your accommodation will need to be included in your Pathway Plan and agreed at your reviews. In addition, there is a meeting every week that looks at placements and accommodation for children looked after and care leavers. This meeting ensures that any decisions about where you live is the right decision for you and agrees the funding for the placement or accommodation. Your social worker/personal advisor will keep you informed of the process and any agreements made.
While you are 16 or 17 there will be no expectation or pressure for you to move from a foster placement or residential care, but it is really important that we plan for where you will live when you are 18 and ensure we work with you and your carers to prepare you for this.
If you are in a foster placement and want to stay there after you reach 18, as long as both you and the foster carer are in agreement, and you are engaged in education, training or employment, then we will support you to remain there.
The accommodation options for 16 or 17 year olds include:
- Foster care
- Residential care
- Your family
- Supported accommodation – perhaps a shared house or flat, where you have your own room but share some facilities with other young people and receive support from a housing support officer
- specialist accommodation – a residential school, for example
The accommodation options for 18 year olds include:
- Staying put – this is where you stay in your foster placement and we can agree this as long as you stay in education, training or working
- Supported accommodation – perhaps a shared house or flat, where you have your own room but share some facilities with other young people and receive support from a housing support officer
- Supported housing
- Specialist accommodation
- Independent accommodation – council flat or private rented for example
- Your family.
When you are 16, we will put your name down for a council flat. For you first property as a care leaver you will be viewed as in ‘priority need’ for a council property or other social landlord.
To be offered a council flat will be dependent on you being able to maintain the tenancy and be in education, employment or training.
If this is what you want and you work with us to show that you are able to manage a tenancy we will do all we can to make sure you have your own place at 18.
Please note: if you decide to take privately rented accommodation instead, you will lose your place on the council’s housing list.
More information is available in both the Care Leavers’ Handbook and Care Leavers’ Financial Entitlements Handbook, both of which are on the left hand side of this page.
Preparing for independence
Moving to live on your own is a massive step, it’s not just about paying bills and cooking your own food; it’s also about staying healthy and getting on with your neighbours! We work closely with Slough Borough Council’s Young People’s Service (YPS) which will work with you to learn the skills you need to succeed in your new accommodation and prepare you for independence.
We also expect your foster carers or residential care worker to help you learn independent skills and this should be included in the discussions at your looked after review. Your social worker/personal advisor will talk to you as part of the pathway planning process.
Other factors that may affect payments made to you will include the type of accommodation you live in and whether you are engaged in employment, education or training.
Any financial support will be set out clearly in your Pathway Plan. You can also read the Care Leavers’ Financial Entitlements Booklet for more information.
Financial support for 16 and 17 year olds
At this age you will not be able to claim benefits (with the exception of young parents and disabled young people), so we will be responsible for paying for your accommodation and living costs.
If you are not working, entitled to benefits or receiving any other form of income, and you are not living in foster or residential care, you will receive the following payments:
- Living allowance
- Accommodation costs
- Birthday allowance – on your 16th and 17th birthdays
- Festival allowance – for one festival which you will nominate
- Travel to/from college
- College registration and administration fee
In addition to the basic living payments listed, there are also discretionary payments which can be agreed with the Leaving Care Managers, and included in your Pathway Plan. These include:
- Dental treatment – for NHS treatment
- Glasses – for frames only (lenses should be free on NHS)
- Phone cards/mobile phone
- Passports, travel document applications
- Educational materials/special equipment
- Costs associated with special needs
- Activities and Leisure- this is for hobbies, holidays, leisure and related activities e.g. gym costs and driving lessons
- Maternity payment
- Travel to contact
- Clothing allowance
To see the current amounts paid to 16 and 17 year olds for the things above, see the Care Leavers’ Financial Entitlement Booklet 2017 on the left hand side of this page.
Financial support for 18+ year olds
Although you may still receive some financial support once you turn 18, you will be expected to get your income from work, education grants and, if eligible, benefits. In most instances we will not be responsible for your daily living costs.
You will still receive a birthday allowance, on your 18th and 21st birthdays.
Claiming benefits is not simple and you need to ensure you get everything you are entitled to. Your personal advisor will be able to help you with this.
- Your personal advisor will help you with your initial claim, and help you with your applications. You will need identification documents and a bank account (if you don’t already have one) for the benefits to be paid into. Your social worker/personal advisor will help you get these in place before your 18th birthday, and support you to apply for your benefits before your birthday so that everything is set up to reduce any delays in payments.
- Slough Jobcentre Plus has made it easier for care leavers to claim benefits. However, you will need to inform them you are a care leaver so that they can provide extra support.
The benefits you can claim will depend on your circumstances and it can be complicated. The Citizens Advice Bureau has a website that can help www.adviceguide.org.uk and full benefit details can be found at www.gov.uk/browse/benefits.
Job Seeker’s Allowance (JSA) – if you are 18 or over you can get JSA
- if you are unemployed, available for and actively seeking work, working less than 16 hours per week on average. You need to show that you have actively looked for work and be available to go to job interviews, or attend appointments at short notice. To get JSA you must go to a Jobcentre (usually every 2 weeks or when asked) to show how you’ve been searching for a job – this is known as ‘signing on’; or
- if your college course is part time you will be entitled to JSA, but you will also need to make yourself available for work.
Please note: young people who do not undertake the supporting actions required for JSA, miss appointments, leave a job without a good reason, or are dismissed may be subject to a Benefit Sanction.
In order to avoid this, your personal advisor can help with your job search, appointments at the Jobcentre, and fulfilling other commitments.
Housing benefit and income support
If you are over 18, living away from your family and are studying full-time in non-advanced education (up to and including A Level or equivalent), you can claim Income Support and Housing Benefit. You can enrol in your course of study at any time up to your 21st birthday, and can continue to receive these benefits up to the end of your studies or the end of the academic year in which you become 21, whichever is earlier. This help is also available to you if you have stayed on with your former foster carers.
Housing Benefit can pay for all or part of your rent. If you are likely to have problems paying your full rent, you can approach the council and ask for Discretionary Housing Payments. These are not guaranteed, but the council may be able to help you for a period of time until you find other accommodation or earn enough to pay your rent yourself.
Income Support – if you are in full time employment, or are in college or university and are studying full time, you should claim income support until you are 20 years old. This will be dependent on the hours and type of course you are studying.
How can I claim?
- If you are not claiming any state benefit, contact the local council where you live to claim Housing Benefit. If you do claim a benefit through Jobcentre Plus, they will take details of your Housing Benefit claim at the same time and pass this on to the council.
Setting up home allowance (previously known as a ‘Leaving Care Grant’) We will provide financial support to care leavers moving into independent living arrangements for you to buy the essentials required for your new home (see the Care Leavers’ Financial Entitlement Booklet 2017 on the left hand side of the page or ask your social worker/personal advisor for the current amount). You may be able to access some of your allowance when you move into semi-independent living if the unit does not provide everything you need.
The allowance is not intended to meet the costs of personal support or accommodation costs and you will need to agree the items you need for your new home with your social worker/personal advisor.
Discretionary Payments to 18- 25 year olds
As with 16 and 17 year olds, there are also discretionary payments which can be agreed with the Leaving Care Managers, and included in your Pathway Plan for 18 to 25 year olds.
Financial support for former relevant young people in higher education (university)
If you are a Former Relevant young person who is in higher education, you may be entitled to education equipment and living costs support. (ask your personal advisor for the current amounts)
You are entitled to student loans and grants, and usually will not be able to claim benefits. Student loans and maintenance grants are administered by Student Finance, and you do not need to repay maintenance grants.
You should also get a Higher Education Bursary and qualify for 20 weeks’ accommodation during out of term periods. We will meet the costs of your out of term accommodation.
There are also many bursaries to encourage young people from disadvantaged backgrounds to go to university, including care leavers. Buttle UK, a charity which awards universities a quality mark for offering additional support to care leavers, and Propel, which is run by the Become charity, both have good advice. Their details – and other charities which offer bursaries and grants is under ‘My Future: Useful Links’ on the left hand side of the page.
To see the current amounts paid to 18 to 25 year olds for the things see the Care Leavers’ Financial Entitlement Booklet 2017 on the left hand side of this page.
Care leavers who are parents
If you are 16 or 17, and are expecting or responsible for a child, you could be entitled to income support. This can be claimed from 11 weeks before the due birth date if you are not in school or college. If you are in school or college you will have to wait until the baby is born to make your claim.
If you are still in care and your child is living with you (even if your child is also in care), you can claim child benefit. This is a tax-free payment that you can claim for your child.
Disabled or ill care leavers
As a care leaver who is disabled or ill, you may be able to claim certain benefits when you are 16 and 17:
Employment and Support Allowance (ESA) – a benefit for sick or disabled people who cannot work. To get ESA you would normally have to have an assessment to see if you can work. You will also need to have a medical certificate (called a ‘fit note’) from your GP showing why you can’t work, or have a condition that exempts you from the medical assessment.
Personal Independence Payment (PIP) – helps with some of the extra costs caused by long-term ill health or disability, if you are aged 16 or over.
Education, Training and Employment
If you want to get on in life this is perhaps the most important thing we can help you with.
We encourage you to make education a top priority and we will support you to stay in education for as long as you need and want to. This does not mean staying in school necessarily as there are a number of different options, whether that is going to college, starting an apprenticeship, going to university, or , finding a job.
We have specialist workers in Slough Children’s Services Trust’s virtual school and in Slough Borough Council’s Young People’s Service who can help you explore your options and help you make applications and support you once you start education or work.
We will support you practically and financially as set out above. The ways we will support you will be agreed in your Pathway Plan.
We also have an apprenticeship scheme at the Trust and the council has one too. You could apply and it might even lead to a permanent position!
Staying fit and healthy
A big part of staying healthy is eating a healthy diet and getting plenty of exercise. Occasionally you may become poorly or need some advice about a health issue.
There is a designated nurse for children looked after in Slough who can help with:
- Advice on health promotion services
- Stopping smoking, drug and alcohol misuse, genito urinary medicine (GUM), contraception and counselling
- Health appointments at a venue suitable for you (at home, a health clinic or over the telephone)
- Finding someone for you to talk to when you are feeling down or if you need some specialist help with your mood or mental health
When you leave care your personal advisor will help you to register with a GP and dentist if necessary. You will then be responsible for your own health e.g. eating healthy, exercising, getting plenty of sleep. It is also important that you know when and how to seek help or advice from professionals if you are feeling unwell or are worried in any way about your health.
Your personal advisor is there to help you, if you don’t know where to go for help. Just ask. You are entitled to receive a ‘Health Passport’ when you leave care. For more information visit the ‘My Health’ page.
After 18, you may still be able to receive free prescriptions, glasses and dentist treatment if you are still in full time education or claiming benefits. Your health provider will be able to help you find out if you are eligible.
Having your say
The Children in Care Council provides children and young people with opportunities to have a say on the issues that matter to them as a child looked after and to be heard by the people who make decisions about their lives.
At Slough Children’s Services Trust, this council is called Reach Out! – a name chosen by our children and young people. Being part of Slough Children’s Services Trust’s Children in Care Council is a fantastic opportunity to influence real changes to the services and support that all of Slough’s children looked after and young people receive. It enables children and young people to express their views, make suggestions directly to senior managers and Joint Parenting Panel as well as meet new people and get involved in exciting activities.
To find out more click on the Reach Out! button.
Advocacy. If you sometimes find it difficult to say what you want or would like someone to help represent your views we will provide an advocate who will help you if you are under 18. Full details (NYAS) are in the information bar on the left.
The advocate will be someone independent of the Trust and will be there to ensure you are listened to and might come with you to meetings to help you get your views across.
Complaints and compliments. We have a complaints/compliments leaflet, which tells you everything you need to know about how to make a complaint and who can help you with this. You should have been given a copy of the leaflet. If you don’t have one, ask your social worker/personal advisor for one. The leaflet is available to download and is located on the left hand side of the page.
We want to make sure you’re happy. If you have any worries, try and speak to your social worker/personal advisor first.
If you’re still unhappy and have a complaint please call out complaints manager on 01753 875825 or email firstname.lastname@example.org.
We guarantee we will listen to what you’ve said, look into it properly and respond to you in a reasonable timescale.