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 September 2018, Tusla, the Child and Family Agency, reported that there were 6,072 children in care with 92% placed in foster care. Children who come into residential care or short term foster care placements late in their teens make up a particularly vulnerable group. They may have not had enough time to develop the relationships with carers and to create a stable placement and to ensure supports are in place for their future.
The purpose of aftercare is to provide young people with a range of services to assist them with their needs as they transition into independent adult life. It is really important that assessment and care planning in consultation with a young person takes place prior to them leaving care. The transition between care and aftercare can be challenging for both young people and Tusla staff. The usual challenges of leaving home can occur, but often, the young person does not have a stable background to lean on for support. Some young people will also carry the impact of early difficulties.
It is possible that young people, on leaving care, will declare themselves independent of state services and be reluctant to engage with the service. This presents challenges to service providers.
Young people leaving care need ongoing support in order to achieve their potential. Providing an appropriate aftercare service is of key importance for achieving positive outcomes for young people leaving care. It is essential that a young person receives the support that meets their specific needs and situation.
Aftercare provision includes advice, guidance and practical support. The social worker, aftercare worker, young person, carer and others consider what the young person will need for support and how this will best be met. This could include education, financial support, social network support, and training. A key feature 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 September 2018, Tusla advised that 1,979 young people aged 18 to 22 years inclusive were in receipt of an aftercare service. Of those in receipt of an aftercare service, 65% of 18 – 20 year olds and 57% of 21 – 22 year olds were in education or accredited training. Almost half (46%) of care leavers remained living with their foster carers.
Section 45 of the Child Care Act 1991 places a duty on Tusla to decide whether each person leaving care has a need for assistance and, if so, 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 Child Care (Amendment) Act 2015 strengthens the legislative provisions regarding aftercare, imposing 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.
The aftercare provisions of the Act of 2015 impose an obligation on Tusla:
(i) To prepare an aftercare plan for an eligible child before they reach the age of 18;
(ii) To prepare aftercare plans, on request, for an eligible adult aged 18, 19 or 20;
(iii) In relation to an eligible adult, to review the operation of an aftercare plan where there has been a change in that adult’s circumstances or additional needs have arisen.
The relevant sections of the Act of 2015 are being commenced with effect from 1 September 2017.
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.