FOSTERING care in England is changing and campaigners are now calling on Wales to follow suit.
As of last week, foster children will have the option to stay with their carers until they are 21 rather than leaving at 18 or earlier, as was previously the case.
Matt Downie, head of campaigns at Action for Children, a charity with offices in Wrexham and Mold, said: “We have been asking for the care leaving age to be increased for decades – this is a long time coming but a vital change for vulnerable children and young people.
“The trauma that many experience before being taken into care can mean they are not ready to leave home before they are 21. Many are forced to live independently at 16-years-old and we know it can be a dangerous and lonely experience.
“We launched a campaign calling on the Welsh Government to do the same as the Department for Education in supporting young people in foster care until 21.
“Now is the time to ensure all young people in foster care have the chance to stay.”
Two women who have been through the care system have also spoken up in support of a longer potential fostering period.
Sarah Betteridge, 26, lives in Wrexham with her three children Kieran, four, Nathan, six and Jessmine, seven.
She said: “I was first taken into care when I was eight. My mother was depressed and struggled with alcohol. I am deaf and she just couldn’t cope.
“I spent time in care homes and with foster families – there were so many I can’t count them. It can be horrible being in care. I was moved around so much I found it difficult to trust people.
“You’d just think: ‘I’m not going to be here long. There’s no point getting attached’.”
Sarah described herself as “a little terror” when she was younger and said much of her behaviour was prompted by the instability of her childhood.
All that changed when she was settled with one family who made a home in Cheshire.
She said: “I was 11 when I first moved in with them. It’s always hard going somewhere new, especially when you have a disability. I didn’t sleep much the first night. It took me about six months to really feel comfortable.
“But they did everything right by me. I had my own room, with a deaf alarm that would flash when someone knocked on my door.
“My foster mum explained to the other children that I was deaf and not to shout but to make sure they looked at me when they were talking to me.”
More than that, Sarah’s foster parents virtually became real parents.
She said: “To me she was my real mum. We went on trips to Chester and Rhyl. We did home baking together and she tried to teach me to knit, but I hated it, so we gave up on that. We all had a dinner night. My night was Wednesday and they would cook me my favourite food, spaghetti bolognaise.
“She stood up for me as well. When you’re in care it’s difficult to go on sleepovers or school trips because the social workers have to okay it. By the time we got permission, the trip would have been and gone. So she overruled them sometimes to make sure I could have a normal life like my friends.
“She fought for me to go to a specialist school for the deaf as well.”
As difficult as it was for Sarah to finally put her trust in someone, leaving was even worse.
She said: “I was too young to go at 18. I went to college but I dropped out and I got pregnant very quickly, and although I reconciled with my own mother, who started becoming a grandmother to my children before she died, I really missed that support.
“It’s wrong. It’s wrong and cruel to be that strict. Children in care are often scared and need that extra back-up. I know people who didn’t leave home with their natural parents until they were in their 30s – why shouldn’t foster children be able to stay until they are 21?”
Sarah is now enrolled at Coleg Cambria in Wrexham and hopes to become a support worker for older teenagers in care.
Sarah Mehmood, 37, formerly Milsom, grew up in Mancot and attended Hawarden High School.
She was seven when she was taken into care.
She said: “It was my first and only foster home. To be honest, I don’t really remember arriving. I just remember it was the middle of the night. I was very scared and I didn’t really know what was happening, but from the word go they just made me feel as welcome as if I’d been born in that family.
“They didn’t formally adopt me but they are now legally classed as my parents.
“I just think being able to stay longer gives a person security. I wasn’t ready to go at 18. I was allowed to stay with my new parents until I was 28.”
At 18, Sarah said she was still questioning who she was.
“I was wondering why I hadn’t been wanted, but because my foster parents treated me so well, I felt like I was wanted.”
Now financially independent, working in a Manchester nursing home, married and looking into the possibility of becoming a foster carer herself,
Sarah credits her foster family for allowing her to be where she is today.
She said: “I want to become a foster carer so I can give back something of what was given to me.”
“I’d definitely urge the Welsh Government to look into changing the law in Wales. Just having that back up means so much.”