A fresh start: how to make the transition from children’s to adult social care

In this exclusive guest column, Will Oborne, Lifeways‘ community engagement and development manager, shares his professional experiences and advice around the transition from children’s to adult social care.

Will Oborne

In the beginning, all things are difficult, as the Chinese proverb goes, and for the thousands of young individuals with support needs and their families across the country, the transition from children’s to adult social care can seem a daunting task. Yet making the move is also a challenge that’s seldom heard about. 

That’s why I think it’s important to explain what a transition from children’s to adult social care means, and how you can get the best possible support.

Next steps

Let’s start with a couple of examples that I’ve personally been involved with.

A young man, let’s call him Jack, was in his late teens, and had multiple complex needs. He had always lived with his parents. This meant that Jack’s parents had support duties as well parental responsibilities. Most days, Jack went to a day service, which supported his needs, and was fun to be at. 

Jack’s parents were getting older and they increasingly found it harder to meet his needs. And when a staff member at the day centre told Jack’s parents it was time to take a step back, they knew deep down that the staff member was correct. 

In Jack’s case, his parents searched the internet for support services, and gave us a call as a result. 

We then advised Jack’s parents about his next steps, working closely with the adult social services team at Jack’s local council. Getting your council’s social workers involved is usually a must if you wish to access funding for your transition.

These next steps saw Jack move to his own apartment in one of our brand-new supported living services in Norfolk. Today, Jack has the best of both worlds: plenty of support, and independence when desired.

In another example, Chris, another young man we now support, was 17 going on 18. When Chris’ key workers first got in touch, he was finishing his final year at a residential school in Cambridgeshire. 

Over the next few months, we worked with Chris’ key workers at this school to plan a transition for when he turned 18. Slowly, the young man got to know us, and began to build new relationships with our support team. Today, Chris receives support from us, and is thriving in his own purpose-built flat. He’s neighbours with other young people at a similar life stage.


Let’s pause. At this point, you may be thinking: “If was I the parent of a young adult with complex needs, I’m not sure I could bear to see them move out of the house.”

You’re not alone – and that feeling is a common concern we hear from the dozens of parents we talk to every day.

However, while it might seem counter-intuitive, after an initial settling-in period, relationships between parents and their children often strengthen after they move out. Why is this? 

Parents frequently tell us that once their child has moved to a supported living service, they were finally able to feel like parents again, not support workers. For them, their children’s transition marked a polar shift in roles from guardian and care-giver, to that of a mentor and friend.

Sadly, there are also times where young adults have outgrown their childhood homes, yet still live in them, while the strain of their support needs can threaten to break down their families.

Yet thankfully, after receiving professional support, and living away from the family home, whole family ties – often between siblings – are often improved and restored. Family members can of course visit whenever they like. And when they do come to visit, it’s nearly always for quality time – not just support.

Never too early

It’s never too early to start thinking about a move from children’s to adult services. That’s because there are many factors that you’ll need to consider. 

When’s best to start planning the transition? Let’s assume your son or daughter or loved one wants to move out at the age of 18. 

This could perhaps be after finishing residential school or college, or simply from the family home. In either case, you’ll want to start looking as early as you can. This can mean starting the search at the age of 15 or 16 years old. 

There’s also lots of things you’ll need to organise. This includes the really practical stuff, such as buying furniture for the new place, finding activities located near the service, and identifying convenient opportunities for employment or education – we, or other providers, can of course always help you with this.

And without sugar-coating it, there’s lots of steps you’ll need to take. These steps can range from assessments, funding agreements, and finding a placement in a convenient, desirable area. That’s why it’s important to give yourself sufficient time to find the best option for you or your family member.

You’ll also need to find avenues of funding, usually from your local council or NHS. 

There’s no one-size-fits-all approach for transitions from children’s to adult social care. This means that if a transition plan is to take place in a person-centred way, it has to be adaptable to that individual. 

Although each move is unique, all children’s-to-adult social care transitions have one thing in common: massive, life-altering changes. 

But in the overwhelming majority of times, moving from children’s to adult services is a profoundly positive, life-affirming change – and a fresh start for both young adults and their families.

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