Why we need to reform fostering for the over-18s

Trying to study at the same time as sorting out care was a nightmarish period in my life

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The Independent Online

A few months ago, readers of Independent Voices read a blog by a care leaver called Melanie. She told you about why she wanted you to support the Fostering Network’s efforts to change the law so that young people can stay with their foster carers until 21, instead of having to leave at 17 as is currently the case.

You responded, MPs were lobbied and discussions were had in the Commons. Now the House of Lords has an opportunity to change the world for thousands of vulnerable young people who, like I did, face the prospect of having to fend for themselves at just 17, by supporting an amendment to the Children and Families Bill.

My name is Zoe, I am 18-years-old, I started university last month and I want to tell you my story.

I turned 18 at the beginning of my last year at college and I was aware that once I turned 18 I would no longer be in foster care, yet despite continuously asking my local authority – my so-called “corporate parent” – for structured planning, this was not forthcoming.

As my 18 birthday approached I was finally given two options by my local authority: move back to London without completing my A-Levels, or stay on the sofas of people in the area.  Time that I should have spent studying for my January exams was spent with my foster parents writing numerous letters to social services, MPs, the children’s rights director and Ofsted requesting that I stay with my foster family. For a while we did not even receive recognition of these letters and I became ill from the stress of worrying about my future as well as my exams.

As time ticked towards my birthday, I spent my days knotted up with stress and anxiety. While my social worker had successfully ticked the boxes signifying my ability to use an iron and boil an egg they had seemingly not given a thought to helping me make arrangements as to where I would be doing these things. My final review was chaotic; I met three new social workers who were unable to answer my questions and contradicted one another throughout our meeting.

It took a very long time before it was eventually agreed that I would be allowed to stay at home but my foster parents would receive a significant decrease in payment.

I felt neglected by the people from social services whose lack of communication, inability to honour commitments and what I felt was dishonesty resulted in my admittance to hospital at the beginning of the year. I had to take time off from college because of my illness, yet still received very little communication from my corporate parent. Thankfully, throughout it all my foster family was there caring for me.

I wanted to get to university and show people that being in care didn’t mean you had to settle for a second-rate education. I wanted to get there with the support of the social services team around me so that I could be an example for other young people but instead I am getting to university despite rather than because of their intervention. That is totally the wrong way round.

Despite the difficulties I faced I have now completed my A-Levels, getting two Cs and two A*s. These results were due primarily to the love and support of my foster parents, but also the fantastic support and help of my college tutors and I hope it goes without saying, many late nights spent studying.

I have achieved my dream. I have gone further than some may have thought I would, and while it has been a challenge, I know that it will be worth it in the end and I know my foster parents are proud of me.

We need the House of Lords to listen to us, and to support the meeting of our needs and to show faith in us that this extra time in care can help us establish ourselves in society.

Find out more about the Fostering Network’s Don’t Move Me campaign, and how you can call on the House of Lords at the campaign website.