YOUNG people leaving care in Cheshire have a wider choice of options than ever before to ensure they make the right decision for their future.
Cheshire County Council is one of only four local authorities piloting two schemes aimed at improving opportunities for looked-after children once they reach the legal care leaving age of 16.
The Right2BCared4 programme gives youngsters a greater say in their options and ensures they can come back into care easily if they wish to do so prior to their 18th birthday.
Meanwhile, the Staying Put: 18+ Family Placement scheme provides a package of support for young people who wish to live with their former foster carers up to the age of 21.
English local authorities have a duty of care until a child is 18, however, a 16 or 17-year-old has the right to choose to live independently.
Project manager Jill Thorburn said: “Every young person approaching their 16th birthday has access to an independent advocate who can explain their rights and options under Right2BCared4 and Staying Put.
“We currently encourage all young people of 16 and 17 to remain in care, however, a small number still leave prematurely.
“One of the greatest achievements so far of Right2BCared4 has been the six young people aged 16 and 17 who, having previously left care, we have helped to return to a regulated care placement.
“Potentially a young person can stay in the placement for a further five years, which can make all the difference in the outcomes for them in their adult life.
“There is a similar success story behind Staying Put. We are currently supporting more than 10 young people to remain with their former foster carers.”
One young person, now aged 22, said: “I wish this had come in years ago. I would have loved an opportunity like this – I would encourage care leavers to grab it with both hands.”
The county council has appointed a young person as a member of the project board and asked a group of young people in the care of Cheshire to design the vision statement for the Right2BCared4 project.
Right2BCared4 and Staying Put are three-year pilots which will run until 2010 and 2011 respectively.
Children’s Services Executive Member David Rowlands said: “Right2BCared4 and Staying Put are exciting opportunities to change radically the culture and practice surrounding the provision of services to care leavers in Cheshire and make a real difference to a young person’s transition to adult life.
“Lessons learned will be shared with other local authorities and will ultimately, we hope, come to influence national policy.”