What is a Care Leaver?


The Care Leavers’ Association has a simple definition of a care leaver – any adult who has spent time in care.

The legal definition of a care leaver comes from The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 which 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.

However, we want a wider definition because we have always focused 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 ones 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. Barnardos, 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.