Leaving the nest: The harsh reality faced by teens in care 

They say turning 18 marks the beginning of adulthood, a time filled with newfound freedom and exciting possibilities. But, as seen in the recent BBC One documentary, Joe Swash: Teens in Care, for the thousands of teens in care across England, reaching this milestone can be a scary time, because it is when their foster care comes to an end. What a lot of people don’t know, is that there is a little-known lifeline, called Shared Lives, that is ready and waiting to help. 

In the one-hour programme (available now on BBC iPlayer), Joe, whose mum, Kiffy, has been a foster carer for the last 15 years, meets some of the 17-year-olds on the verge of aging out of the care system. One is 19-year-old Daniel, who has no contact with his family and relies on a few hours of support every month from a volunteer, Ruth. Ruth helps Daniel manage his £70-a-week Universal Credit. Besides Ruth’s support, Daniel doesn’t have anyone to look out for him. It’s an all-too-common situation that leaves an already vulnerable group of young people at risk financially. Because of this, it’s been reported that one in four young care leavers find themselves homeless at 18 years old. 



Photo: Karl and Joe Swash together.

(Source: BBC/Firecracker Films) 


Another care leaver featured in the programme is Karl, who lives in a private group home, the seventh place he’s lived in his 13 years in care. Despite the staff’s efforts to prepare him for independent living, Karl says he’s worried: ‘I wish I had a couple more years here’. Considering that the average age for moving out of parents’ homes in the UK is 23, Karl’s thoughts seem justified. But he finds himself without a choice – or does he? 

 Shared Lives – a lifeline for care leavers 

Chances are, you haven’t heard much about Shared Lives, but this cracking alternative (if we do say so ourselves) to traditional fostering has quietly been making a big impact in social care since we created the model in 1978. In the last 45 years, Shared Lives has become the fastest-growing form of care, yet it’s still one of the best-kept secrets in social care. Not only that, but according to regulators across the UK, it’s one of the safest and highest quality forms of care there is.  

Historically, it’s been most known for the support it gives to those with learning disabilities, but it’s a much more flexible form of care than that. You can access Shared Lives for a bunch of different reasons, including if you’re about to be discharged from hospital, as a haven from domestic abuse, or as a care leaver. It’s accessible through various providers, whether it be your local council or an independent organisation like ours. For someone like Daniel, who’s missing out on more of a family connection, or Karl, who isn’t quite ready to go it alone, Shared Lives could be the missing link. And get this – it works out as a cheaper form of quality care that could save the NHS up to £30k every year. 

PSS Shared Lives supports care leavers right now through two separate services. Our Moving On service means we’ll pay you to support a young person as they move out of foster care and flourish into adult life. They will have the chance to live with you and your family at your house, in a loving environment. Whether you’re already a foster carer or someone willing to become a self-employed Shared Lives carer, the Moving On Together service means you can support care leavers at one of the most critical phases of their lives. By providing a stable and loving environment, you can make a lasting impact and help young adults build a solid foundation for their future. 



Photo: Chloe and Natasha with their PSS Shared Lives carers

In the often-overwhelming journey of leaving the care system, Shared Lives shines a ray of hope for care leavers. Shared Lives doesn’t just give someone a roof over their head, but a genuine family environment where they can feel supported and valued. It offers a lifeline for those who would otherwise face the daunting prospect of fending for themselves at a young age. 

Shared Lives is not just about providing a short-term solution; it’s about building an impact that lasts just as long as PSS has been around (that’s over 100 years!). The impact of Shared Lives is not limited to the individual care-leavers alone. Shared Lives carers and their families also benefit. It allows them to open their hearts and homes and be fulfilled by making a meaningful difference in the lives of others. 

 Shared Lives doesn’t just give someone a roof over their head, but a genuine family environment where they can feel supported and valued. 

Make a difference for care leavers 

Shared Lives carers don’t need caring experience. As long as you’re a big-hearted, genuine, professional, determined and open-minded person, we can train you up with everything you need to be the best carer there ever was and then we work with you and the young people we support to make sure the perfect match is made. 

We can change the story for teens in care who are on the edge of adulthood, so that they don’t just survive leaving foster care, they enjoy a new independent journey too. 

To learn more about Shared Lives and how you can get involved, visit www.sharedlivescarers.com. You could just be the crucial lifeline for a young adult who needs it.