Since the Care Leavers’ Association represents care leavers of all ages from 18 onwards, we had better say what we mean by a ‘care leaver’. Firstly, it is worth noting that there are a number of official definitions of ‘care leavers’ available. Here are some of them:

  • The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 states that a Care Leaver is someone who has been in the care of the Local Authority for a period of 13 weeks or more spanning their 16th birthday.
  • The Care Leavers of Australian Network (CLAN) definition is: ‘people who grew up in what was called ‘care’, outside of our families, but who now have left that ‘care’.

Other definitions include:

  • ‘a person who has been a ward of the state but no longer qualifies for or receives any government assistance’.
  • ‘Adults who, as children, were looked after on a full-time, temporary basis by persons other than their own parents or wider family. This must have been in arrangements where the state had some or all of the responsibility for their care, even if it did not provide that care’.

However, we want a wider definition because we have always focussed on the experience of being in care and the long-term impact this has, rather than on the legal definition or whether these children, when they left care, went on to independent life or went back to their families. As a result, we have agreed the following definition of a care leaver as being:

“Any adult who spent time in care as a child (i.e. under the age of 18). This care would have been approved by the state through a court order or on a voluntary basis. It can range from as little as a few months to as long as one’s whole childhood (18 years). Such care could be in foster care, residential care (mainly children’s homes) or other arrangements outside the immediate or extended family. The care could have been provided directly by the state (mainly through local authority social services departments) or by the voluntary or private sector (e.g. Barnardo’s, The Children’s Society and many others). It also includes a wide range of accommodation. For example, it would include secure units, approved schools, industrial schools and other institutions that have a more punitive element than mainstream foster or residential care.“