The National Children's Bureau and The Prince's Trust have been undertaking research into 'what works' when helping care leavers to develop vital life skills.
The research, focusing on support delivered through The Prince's Trust Fairbridge Programme and partner agencies, looks at how supporting care leavers to develop personal and social skills could help them to stabilise their circumstances and make positive steps forward.
The research has revealed that half (55%) of 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.
Based on interim findings from the five-year From Care to Independence project (FC2I), 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.
Alongside their one to one work with practitioners, the young people engaged in adventurous group activities and training courses appropriate to their needs, ranging from managing an addiction and overcoming homelessness, to parenting skills and getting ready to earn a living.
Staff commonly reported improvements in young people's communication skills, motivation, management of emotions, and understanding of their own strengths and weaknesses. Having these personal skills had a significant influence on young people's success in moving into work, education, training or volunteering.
Young people felt that the package of one-to-one support, group activities and training courses had helped them to improve their confidence and reliability, and built skills in teamwork, and setting and achieving goals.
However, early findings from the research confirm that young people's success in moving into employment or training was linked to the number of sessions they attended, their access to wider support from social services and the extent of their needs. For example, those with offending histories, lacking motivation or facing other difficulties such as with their housing or health, were less likely to achieve positive outcomes and either disengage or drop out of the support programme.
Anna Feuchtwang, Chief Executive of the National Children's Bureau said:
'We expect a lot from care leavers who are learning to fend for themselves despite their start in life and the significant day-to-day challenges they may face. That is why continued support is vital as they adjust to their new responsibilities and develop the know-how to keep their lives on track. While there are no quick fixes, early findings from this research identify some of the elements that need to be in place for young people leaving care to flourish.'
The wide ranging needs of young people participating in FC2I illustrate the challenges facing care leavers. Prior to joining the programme less than one quarter (23%) had been working, in education or volunteering. 86% did not have five GCSEs, including Maths and English. Around a half reported a history of offending (54%) or mental health problem (49%). Four in ten (39%) reported problems in family relationships and a third (33%) had a disability. One in ten (13%) had a child and 5% were asylum seekers or refugees.
For these young people to engage effectively with the support being offered, the study indicates it is essential to make initial contact with the programme a positive experience and offer care leavers the flexibility to set their own priorities.