Keith Clements, Policy Officer at NCB considers ‘what work’s’ in supporting care leavers.
For all young people, getting on in life is not just about gaining knowledge and having opportunities, but also about the developing the skills, confidence and resilience they need to make successful transition to adulthood.
An increased national focus on mental health and wellbeing, particularly in education policy, which is visible in the election commitments made by the new government is a welcome reflection of this fact.
While the support that schools and colleges offer to develop life skills and confidence will often vary, most young people can at least, rely on a strong family network to fill in the gaps and help them to work through the personal challenges they face.
The typical experience of a young person in care will be very different.
The fallout from their pre-care experience, and often frequent placement moves within care will make the development of strong, supportive relationships a challenge for many.
The ability of schools and other formal services to track and contribute to the development of life skills and confidence will be hindered by these factors. And, of course, the age at which these young people are expected to become independent is much lower than that of their peers, with most leaving care at age 18, and others earlier, and the support the state provides them as care leavers dropping away completely in their early twenties.
This is why programmes such as ‘From Care to Independence’ (FC2I) are so important.
FC2I is a programme of support delivered through The Prince’s Trust Fairbridge Programme and partner agencies, which aims to support care leavers to develop personal and social skills that could help them to stabilise their circumstances and make positive steps forward.
Research has revealed that half (55%) of the care leavers who received a package of group activities and one-to-one sessions successfully moved into employment, education, training or volunteering, emphasising the role that continued support for care leavers can have on their lives.
An overwhelming majority of care leavers found the model of support offered by the project useful, with 98% saying the one-to-one sessions with advisors had helped them achieve their goals.
It is heartening that, in spite of their troubled start in life, few of the young people working with FC2I have let this stop them setting aspirations for their future. It is clear that, of all young people, care leavers are better placed to achieve their goals with the right one-to-one support.
The findings also, however, give us a timely reminder of some of the challenges care leavers face and the need to continue to improve how their day to day needs are met, including accommodation, emotional and practical support and access to mental health services.
There are encouraging opportunities for these issues to be addressed, such as proposals for the reform of child and adolescent mental health services, and the ongoing work to explore how all care leavers are able to benefit from ‘staying put’.
The research into the effectiveness of FC2I, like much of the sectors’ work supporting care leavers, demonstrates the vital role the voluntary sector plays in improving outcomes, through service delivery, innovation, evaluation, finding solutions, and challenging the status quo.