It’s National Care Leavers’ Week, a time to have meaningful conversations about care leavers, the services they receive and the people who support them.
At The Care Leaders we are focused on providing a week of meaningful content that shares positive stories, advice for care leavers and adults who support them as well as being involved in conversations with other organisations and people.
This week Become have launched a campaign #WhatLeavingCareShouldBe and have asked people to share their views of what Leaving Care should look like.
We have put together 8 points that we think are important and could go a long way to ensure young people leave services in a better place than when they enter them.
- Adults who are supporting young people should be encouraged to stay in contact with them when they leave care
I have heard a myth many times that social workers cannot stay in touch with young people when they leave their care. This means many relationships that young people have developed with significant adults in there life end when they leave care. I would be interested to hear a response from Social Work England on whether social work professionals can or cannot stay in contact with care leavers.
- We should stop saying we can provide permanence when the system is temporary
We say that ‘permanence’ is the most important thing for a young person, however we operate in a system that is temporary. Meaning, when young people leave care too early, we often are left with a sense of failure. The length of time you spend with someone is not as important as the quality of time. A 5 minute conversation can change the way you think about the world, and can inspire you to do something remarkable. This will always have more impact than a long-term involvement that is process driven, focused on fulfilling a statutory function and ultimately ends when you are 18.
- Young people should not be put in expensive accommodation that they can’t afford when their legal status ends
We put young people in very expensive accommodation before they turn 18; this can include supported accommodation that can be £1000s a week. When a young person turns 18, their support stops from the local authority and they become responsible for their accommodation, without the skills, confidence or financial support to cope. This sets a young person up to fail; they often have no choice but to register as homeless and we then blame them for something we caused. This must stop.
- Stop using a leaving care grant to pay for a young person’s deposit on private rental property
Most local authorities provide young people around £2000 leaving care allowance to set up their home when they move into independence; this is to ensure they have a bed, washing machine, kitchen items and everything they need to live independently. Private rental properties often ask for a deposit, which for many young people is taken from their leaving care allowance and can often leave them without enough money to buy essentials. The local authority should be responsible for this deposit and it should not be taken from the young person’s allowance.
- Services should provide adequate resource, support and training to leaving care staff
When a young person is reaching leaving care age, the pressure they are under is intense. At the same time, we are slowly removing their support by reducing the time they spend with adults supporting them and often not providing the resources and training to these adults to support the young person. Essentially we are taking things away, providing less support in a time when they need it the most. A first step to ensuring young people feel safe and can leave care successfully, is to ensure they have confident, well supported people around them, who understand their emotions, can respond appropriately and make young people feel safe when the inevitability of the overwhelming experience of leaving care is upon them.
- Leaving care services should be available to all young people until they are at least 25
It’s incredibly confusing and unfair for a care leavers when we have such confusing and complex criteria for determining who is eligible to receive services. Criteria do not focus on the individual and what they need. Instead they use time in care and post care pathways to determine support, both of which are out of a young person’s control. For example, someone in university will still get more support than someone who isn’t. This is counter intuitive: those who need more support because the system only identified their need for care late or did not give them consistent care or who have not got the academc ability for university, get less support. Every care leaver should receive support based on their needs until they are at least 25, irrelevant of how long they were in care or their ability.
- Provide second chances
A fragmented experience of education, care and school placement moves and the impact of traumatic events, often mean that care leavers have not got the academic confidence, skills or qualifications for their next steps. Yet young people who get through challenging circumstances and the challenges of the care system itself often have huge untapped potential. We should provide the one to one support to enable young people to catch up on lost learning, get key qualifications and access their nexts steps. Over and over again it has been shown that young people in care benefit massively from good one to one support and the investment enables these young people to gain independence. We should get rid of the artificial age cut off points at 16, 18 and 19 for accessing such support and keep the offer open till 25.
- Provide a pathway into employment for all care leavers
Young people in care often lack the adult networks and direct experience of adults in work that give them the confidence and access to employment. You don’t know what you don’t know, so there might be jobs out there that could be a great match for you, that would motivate you and gove you confidence in your future but you’ve not heard of or experienced them. Local Authorities should use their own employment opportunities and those of their network to provide a rich and varied work experience offer. That should go from a chat to someone doing a job that you might be interested in all the way to paid internships. Don’t dump a young person in the workplace and expect them to cope: give them a key person, a mentor who has the time to chat, to encourage and help them swim in the sea of possibilities!