Under the Staying Put initiative, which was made law through the Children and Families Act 2014, councils have a duty to support looked-after children who want to remain with their foster carer until they are 21.
But according to a National Children’s Bureau (NCB) report into how Staying Put is working in practice, the scheme is being hindered by a lack of funding from central government to enable councils to cover the additional cost.
A survey of more than 500 carers and children’s professionals for the study found that more than a half (57 per cent) of respondents said carers were not receiving adequate payment.
More than two thirds (67 per cent) of those surveyed said this lack of funding was preventing carers from taking part in Staying Put.
Staying Put guidance states funding should cover all reasonable costs of supporting young people to remain with their carer.
The Department for Education (DfE) allocated a total of £42.4m for councils to cover the cost of Staying Put for the first three years of operation – £7.4m in 2014/15, then £14m in 2015/16, and £21m in 2016/17.
But 40 per cent of respondents to the NCB survey cited a lack of resources for organising and supporting Staying Put as a “major barrier” to its implementation.
The report states that, in many cases, councils have endeavoured to meet funding shortfalls themselves.
The report concludes that there is “a need for greater direction from central government and adequate funds to resource implementation”.
One leaving care manager told the NCB that the weekly cost of ensuring 19 looked-after children could stay with their foster carer after their 18th birthday was £3,200.
However the funding allocation for the year was £67,000 meaning the council was faced with a £99,000 deficit.
Another leaving care manager said: “We receive about £36,000 and our costs will be at least double what we get from central government.”
Enver Solomon, the NCB’s director of evidence and impact, called for further research into the extent of underfunding and how it is impacting the implementation of Staying Put.
“If local authorities are saying that resources is a factor then that needs to be taken seriously,” he said.
Solomon also called for a review into the number of looked-after children expected to take up the option of staying in foster care until they are 21.
A DfE spokesman said the government wants all care leavers to experience stable transitions to adulthood.
“That is why we have changed the rules so young people are able to continue to live with their foster carers once they turn 18 in a Staying Put arrangement.
“This is already helping young people all over the country – and to ensure that good work continues we are providing an additional £44m to help local authorities implement Staying Put during the first three years.
“We welcome the NCB’s report. It highlights the overwhelming endorsement that Staying Put has received from young people, carers and local authority workers.”
A lack of “buy-in and understanding” from senior local authority managers, was also listed as a major barrier to implementation by a just under a quarter (24 per cent) of respondents.
And around one in five respondents (19 per cent) said a lack of understanding of Staying Put among local social workers was a “hindrance”.
Foster carers also raised concerns that allowing a young person to remain with them once they reached 18 had prevented them from taking in younger children due to safeguarding concerns.