Transition into adulthood

Before a child or young person becomes an adult, they should be supported to think about what they might want to do in adulthood.

This can be anything from building friendships to finding a job or thinking about where they want to live in the future.

It might also help children prepare for making decisions for themselves when they become 16, If they have capacity to do so.

This preparation for adulthood should happen from their earliest years and no later than by Year 9, when they are aged 13 or 14.

Children and young people should be encouraged to set what outcomes they want to achieve in future. These outcomes should be reviewed regularly as someone approaches adulthood.

Young people must also have access to careers advice and advocacy to help them prepare for adulthood.

Leaving education or training

Young people must remain in education or training until they are 16 and, in England, until they are 18.

However, some young people with a learning disability – for example those in England who have an Education, Health and Care (EHC) Plan – may remain in education or training, free of charge, until they are 25 if it is agreed that it would be beneficial for them to do so.

When it is anticipated that a young person with an EHC Plan will soon be leaving education or training, the local authority should agree in advance the support the young person might need to access and the support they might need to help them access it.

Transition into adult services

Children with a learning disability who are eligible for social care support can receive it until they become an adult, whereupon they transition to social care services designed for adults.

The transition from children’s services to adults’ services is often very challenging for young people with a learning disability and their families: it combines a change of services and professionals at the very time when they are also negotiating wider changes to their life, for example in their educational circumstances.

These changes should, however, be planned in advance. If a child, young person or their carer in England is likely to have needs when they turn 18, the local authority must assess them if it considers there is “significant benefit” to the individual in doing so.

This is regardless of whether the child or individual currently receives any services. This assessment can be requested by parents. There is no particular age at which such a request should be made, and in some cases it would be reasonable to request an assessment when the young person is 14 or 15. 

This is likely to be necessary for young people with complex needs who are going to continue to need significant levels of support from adult services. The complexity of their needs will mean that meticulous planning and a gradual transition to new services will be required.

The assessment is the starting point and could be requested years in advance of their 18th birthday to allow sufficient time for this planning and transition to take place.

There should also be no gap in services. In England, when the transition between children’s and adults’ services takes place, a local authority must continue to provide the individual with any children’s services they were receiving throughout the assessment process.

This will continue until adult care and support is in place to take over – or until it is clear after the assessment that adult care and support does not need to be provided.

These changes will mean there is no “cliff-edge” where someone reaching the age of 18 who is already receiving support will suddenly find themselves without the care and support they need at the point of becoming an adult.

This continuation of children’s services into adulthood can also happen in order to avoid the transition to adult services coinciding with other stressful events such as exam periods.

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