The vast majority of children in care live in foster care and many of these children remain living with their foster care families when they reach 18 years with ongoing financial support and advice.
At the end of April, 2015, Tusla - the Child and Family Agency reported that there were 6,420 children in care with 93% placed in foster care. The most vulnerable group of children are those leaving residential care or short term foster care placements and children who come into care late, in their mid to late teens, who may not have developed the relationships with carers and staff necessary for a stable placement or to maintain contact.
The aim of aftercare services is to provide the range and continuum of services to assist the varying needs of young people leaving care to enable them to achieve a successful transition from their placement to independent adult life in the community. A key factor in providing appropriate aftercare is the assessment and care planning that should take place in consultation with the young person and key individuals prior to leaving care. This transition between care and aftercare presents a challenge for many young people and Tusla staff alike. These young adults encounter all the usual developmental issues of leaving home without, for many, the security of a stable background for support. Some young people will also carry the impact of early difficulties.
Some young people, on leaving care, declare themselves independent of state services and are reluctant to engage with the service. This presents challenges to service providers. Tusla’s National Policy on Aftercare states that ‘[i]n cases where a young person disengages post 18 years, the aftercare service will monitor them for a minimum of 12 months. All young people can re-engage with the aftercare service up to the age of 21 years.’
Young people leaving care need ongoing support in order to achieve their potential. The provision of an appropriate aftercare service has been highlighted as a key element to achieving positive outcomes for young people upon leaving care. It is essential that young people leaving care are provided with the type of transitional support that their individual situation requires.
Aftercare provision incorporates advice, guidance and practical support. The social worker, aftercare worker, young person, carer and others identify what the young person will need for support and how this will best be met. This may include education, financial support, social network support, and training. One of the key features of aftercare support is to advocate on behalf of young people to promote their development as a fulfilled adult in their community. The most important requirements for young people leaving care are for secure, suitable accommodation, access to further education, employment or training and supportive relationships.
At the end of March 2015, Tusla advised that 1,720 young people aged 18 to 22 years inclusive were in receipt of an aftercare service. Of these, 78% were aged 18 to 20 years, with the remainder aged over 20. Of those in receipt of an aftercare service, 60% of 18-20 year olds and 59% of 18-22 year olds were in full-time education. 639 young people over the age of 18 years were supported financially to remain living with their foster carers.
Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a statutory duty on Tusla to form a view in relation to each person leaving care as to whether there is a "need for assistance" and if it forms such a view, to provide services in accordance with the legislation and subject to resources. Young people who have had a care history with Tusla are entitled to an aftercare service based on their assessed needs. The core eligible age range for aftercare is from 18 years up to 21 years. This can be extended until the completion of a course of education in which a young person is engaged, up to the age of 23 years.
The Minister has decided to strengthen the legislative provisions regarding aftercare to respond to past concerns that there was insufficient focus in this area and that such planning was not taking place on a properly structured and consistent basis.
The approach adopted is to impose a statutory duty on Tusla to prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child or eligible young person. The aim is to create an explicit, as opposed to implicit, statement of Tusla’s duty to satisfy itself as to the child’s or young person’s need for assistance by preparing a plan that identifies those needs for aftercare supports. Work is ongoing in this regard and it is anticipated that the Aftercare Bill will be published shortly.
Tusla's National Aftercare Policy
The Child and Family National Aftercare Service is underpinned by a National Policy and Procedures document which has been developed in cooperation with the key stakeholders. Prior to the introduction of the national policy, each area had their own after care policies, practices and aftercare workers in place. The national policy was developed to provide a consistent approach to the provision of aftercare services. Tusla’s National Policy on Aftercare is being implemented nationally and is monitored by the Tusla Aftercare Implementation Group. The function of the National Aftercare Implementation Group is to ensure the operation of an aftercare service across all areas within existing resources and to identify the gaps in current areas.