Skip to main content

Leaving care

Care leavers are entitled to additional support from the council and from social work. This section explains your rights when you leave care and how you can get further help.

Who are care leavers?

Care leavers are young people who were looked after by the council's social work department when they turned 16 but are now moving on to live independently. You will be a care leaver if:

  • you have been supervised by a social worker whilst living at home
  • you have lived in a children's home or residential school
  • you have lived with a foster family.

When can I leave care?

You can leave care once you are 16. However, just because you can leave doesn't mean you have to. If you would prefer to stay in your current accommodation, you should discuss this when you are making your pathway plan (see 'what is a pathway plan' below).

If you are under 16 and thinking of leaving care, your rights are very different because you are still considered to be a child. If you have serious problems where you are living, for example if you are being bullied or abused, you may want to leave straight away. If you are in this situation, contact ChildLine on 0800 1111. ChildLine advisers can help with lots of different problems - not just housing - and are available 24 hours a day.

Before I leave care

Leaving care and getting your own place is a big step, so it's important that you're well prepared. Your local council has a legal duty to help you make your plans to move on, and to support you in your transition to independent living. This usually involves the social work department or children's services department taking the lead with you, but will probably also involve the housing department, local voluntary organisations and others.

How can the council help?

When you leave care the council must make sure that:

  • you have all the information you need to make decisions about your future
  • you have a suitable place to live when you leave care
  • you have the opportunity to get all the skills you need to live independently
  • you have a plan for your future, called a 'pathway plan'.

What is a pathway plan?

Before you leave care, the council will help you create a plan of action for your future known as a 'pathway plan'. There are three stages involved in creating a plan:

what do you want

It's important that you let the council know what you want to do when you leave care. You'll be asked to attend a meeting with social work and your pathway co-ordinator (the person responsible for making sure that your plan is drawn up and you have all the support you need to follow it). This will give you the opportunity to talk about your current situation and what you want to do in the future.

You can choose someone to come along to your meetings with you, to support you and make sure your opinions are taken seriously. This person may be a relative, a teacher, support worker or foster carer. They are known as a 'young person's supporter'.

Getting assessed

Social work will then assess your situation to decide what support you'll need to carry out your plan. They'll need to talk to other people in your life, such as your parents or guardian, carers, teacher, doctor, careers adviser and anyone else you'd like to be involved. If there's anyone you don't want them to talk to, let them know.

Drawing up the plan

Once the assessment is completed, you and your pathway co-ordinator can draw up your pathway plan. This will outline:

  • where you are going to live
  • how you will afford to pay rent and living expenses
  • whether you will continue your education, start training or look for a job
  • how you will cope living on your own
  • what the council is going to do to help you carry out your plan.

The plan isn't set in stone - it will be reviewed regularly and you can update and change it as you go along. The council has a responsibility for keeping in touch with you and making sure you have the support you need until you are at least 21 years old.

Where will I live?

The council is responsible for making sure that you have somewhere suitable to live when you leave care. This may be:

  • back with your parents or family
  • your own rented flat or a room in a shared flat or house
  • a bed-sit
  • a place in a hostel or foyer offering support for young people
  • a place in 'move on' or satellite accommodation.

The pages on short-term and long-term housing options have more information on the kind of accommodation available to young people.

What financial support can I get?

The financial support available to you will depend on your age and your circumstances. When you leave care the social work department may support you, or you may be able to claim benefits. The page on financial support for care leavers explains what you are entitled to.

I'm not happy with social work

If you are not happy with the support or accommodation you receive from social work you can make a complaint. When you draw up your pathway plan, you should be given information about your social work department's complaints procedure.

What if I become homeless after leaving care?

If you leave care and you find yourself with nowhere to live, then you can make a homeless application to the council, and If you have nowhere to stay tonight then you'll need emergency accommodation.

Where can I get more help and advice?

If you become homeless, or if you aren't happy with the support or accommodation you're getting from social work, go and see an adviser at a Shelter, Citizens Advice or local youth advice agency. 

You can find out more about your rights at the Who Cares Scotland website.

Scotland map Housing laws differ between Scotland and England.
This content applies to Scotland only.
Get advice if you're England

The important points

  • You are a care leaver if you were looked after by the council's social work department when you turned 16 but are now moving on to live independently.
  • You can leave care when you are 16 but your council has responsibilities to make sure you have the support you need until you are at least 21 years old.
  • You will be supported to create a 'pathway plan' to help the council and social services give you help to plan leaving care when you are ready.

If you're still looking for help, try searching, or find out how to contact us

Was this page helpful?

This feedback tool can't offer advice. If you still need help, please call our free housing helpline on 0808 800 4444

Would you recommend Shelter Scotland's website to a friend, colleague or family member?
(0 - not at all likely, 10 - extremely likely)

Your feedback is being submitted

Success! Thank you for your feedback.

If you'd like to hear more about our work at Shelter Scotland, you can sign up to receive updates on our campaigns page.

Sorry, there was a problem sending your feedback to us. Please try again or contact us via the website if this error persists.

The fight isn't over - support us this summer

far from fixed campaign logo
It’s a disgrace that people are still homeless in Scotland today. Join our campaign
It’s a disgrace that people are still homeless in Scotland today.
Volunteer
Find out more about volunteering with Shelter Scotland
Volunteer with Shelter Scotland
Have you had a bad housing experience? Tell us about your story.
Share your story of a bad housing experience
£