Twelve child care charities have today called on the Government to change the rules which currently see young people leave foster care at 18. The average age for leaving home for those who live with their own families is 24.
In an open letter sent to children's secretary Ed Balls, the charities said: "As MPs debate the Children and Young Persons Bill today, hundreds of 17-year-olds in care across England will be packing their bags and getting ready to 'go it alone', because local authorities are not required to look after them after their 18th birthdays.
"We urge the Government to take this opportunity to ensure all young people have the option to remain with their foster carers until the age of 21. This means giving a clear commitment to roll out proposed pilots across England as soon as possible, to support the foster carers looking after these young people and to provide the funding required to make the ability to stay until 21 a reality.
"We welcome many aspects of the Bill but failing to enable children to stay with their foster carers beyond the age of 17 will have serious consequences for this Government's stated intention of transforming outcomes for young people in care."
The letter was signed by representatives of the Fostering Network, NCH, Barnardo's, NCB, The Children's Society, BAAF, Voice, A National Voice, The Who Cares? Trust, TACT, Rainer and The Frank Buttle Trust.
Robert Tapsfield, chief executive of the Fostering Network, added: "Many young people in care are pushed out into independent living before they are ready, due to lack of local authority support.
"We need a commitment from the secretary of state to ensure all children in care have the option to stay with foster carers until they are 21, and we need it now. Research and experience show that the longer young people stay with their foster carers, the better they do later on. This Government cannot condemn another generation of care leavers to a lifetime of poverty and underachievement."
According to the Fostering Network, care leavers struggle to reach the same levels of educational attainment as their peers and often find it difficult to make a successful transition to adult life. They are over represented in prison populations, and are more likely to be unemployed, single parents, mental health service users and homeless than those who grew up within their own families.
There are 42,000 children living with 37,000 foster families on any given day in England.