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Securing employment opportunities for care leavers

By Andrew Pirie

In October 2018, the government announced the launch of the Care Leaver Covenant. The strategy has been designed to help those leaving the care system to live more independently, by opening new opportunities with some of the UK’s biggest businesses. Gareth Evans, Head of Partnerships at the Care Leaver Covenant, shares how the initiative has worked since it’s initial launch.

Last issue, Ashley John Baptiste told Social Work News magazine that we need to inspire young people growing up in care to believe that they have “access to the same opportunities as their peers”. How is the Care Leaver Covenant working to achieve this?

We work across five specific objectives; to live independently, to have access to employment, education, and training; to live safely and securely; to have access to healthcare and to have access to financial literacy training.

These five strands anchor absolutely everything that we do. We believe that collectively they can enable a person leaving care to have a fulfilling life.

We read Ashley’s interview with you, and what he spoke about is incredibly important. We speak to many people who are about to leave care, and we know that those who are facing the job market or those who are approaching independence often don’t have the same levels of confidence as their peers. It’s important that we help them build their self-worth so that they feel that they can apply for the same opportunities as others.

But it’s not only about employment. Our approach is based upon enabling young people to build the foundations for a happy, and opportunity-rich life.

The Care Leaver Covenant was launched in October 2018. What impact has it had upon young people since its launch, and how do you see it continuing to develop?

We’re continuing to work hard to increase our offerings via the Covenant. There are new opportunities being added on all the time.

We see the Covenant as being a way of laying strong foundations for those who have grown up in the care system. We embrace the idea of the ‘Universal Parent’ which we use to mean that all of society has a role in parenting young people who are care experienced. We have a variety of initiatives which are far beyond just work experience placements. We have training programmes and access to financial literacy schemes to help support young people.

Looking to the imminent future, we’re about to launch a new banking programme which will enable care leavers, and young people in care, to open a bank account without the traditional ID that most high street banks require.

In addition to this, we’re tackling the high number of care leavers who get tangled up in the criminal justice system. We are developing a partnership with Tuckers Solicitors and are shaping a public offer to provide Covenant-approved legal defence for care leavers. This programme will impact individuals who have been arrested and detained in police custody.

Additionally, we recently ran a roundtable discussion with the Greater Manchester Mayor and over 10 prominent higher education bodies and housing providers where we laid out our ambitions for providing a better quality of housing to care leavers. Too many young people are living in situations which are not secure and are not conducive to a stable personal life so it’s important that we work on this.

The Care Leaver Covenant app is designed for young people to find available opportunities. How does the app work?

This app has been carefully planned with the needs of our care leaving community in mind. We’re continually filling it with a variety of opportunities for work placements across the UK, as well as details of training provisions and even discounts and other promotions. It’s easy to navigate by geographical region or type of opportunity and we’re always updating to improve functionality.

One thing we always say to our care leavers is that we are always here to help. If someone looks at the app and finds that they are overwhelmed or unsure of what they are looking at, all they need to do is to pick up the phone and give us a call. Our contact details are published within the app, and we’re always available to explain what the process is, what the opportunities are and how they can make a formal application.

What do young people need to do once they’ve seen an interesting opportunity?

This varies as in some cases they may need to contact us directly, or it may be that they need to get in touch with the employer directly. Within each listing, it will be made clear who the first point of contact is. We work incredibly closely with the partner organisations in creating new opportunities. We typically have a dedicated point of contact who will understand exactly what the specifics are of that offer, and what is available.

We’re very aware the process can feel daunting and we’re always keen to work with care leavers, taking them step-by-step through each process. If someone calls us, they can be sure that they’ll be speaking to an individual person. This process isn’t automated because we know how vital the human touch is. We can spend time explaining exactly who we are and how our projects are set up to help them build these positive foundations. Because we’re such a close-knit team, we are all available to answer any questions, it may be someone in our youth engagement team, an education specialist or a member of our IT team.

We all work closely to support our end goal. We aim to empower those leaving care to look at and pursue the opportunities available to them.

Money can be a barrier to many opportunities. Do you have anything in place which can help them financially?

Yes, there are initiatives in place which can help provide financial support. For example, there is the flexible support fund which is related to Jobcentre Plus. These funds can support travel expenses or even clothing or equipment for certain jobs, ensuring that the person leaving care can simply focus on making the most of their opportunity.

We want our care leavers to feel that they can prosper and that they are not at a disadvantage. It’s been wonderful to see many of our partner organisations willing to pay for expenses and we’re very optimistic that our opportunities are genuinely viable for those leaving care.

If there is a project that a care leaver is interested in but they are worried about the financial implications, we’d reiterate that they shouldn’t write it off. They can contact us, and we can work on their behalf to ensure they can access their placement.

Why is it so important that universities have joined the Care Leaver Covenant to open educational opportunities and encourage further learning?

The work that we’re doing with universities and higher education institutions is important.

Firstly, we need to work hard to ensure that those who are leaving the care system have access to a fulfilling and enriching higher education/further education experiences. We know that the statistics on the number of people going to university from within the care system could be improved and it’s important that we do what we can to give them the confidence to apply. But the work doesn’t just stop there. Once a young person has begun university, we need to ensure that they have the necessary support to make that experience positive and fulfilling. It could be through additional mentoring, pastoral support or access to new equipment or financial aid. We’re also actively embracing our work with universities and colleges because they are big employers. We want university jobs to be made available to care leavers.

How is the Covenant working with social work teams to share details of this innovative app?

We are working with personal advisors, participation workers, youth workers, social workers, and managers to raise awareness of the app and of how it can be used in the most productive and appropriate way. We want to promote independent use amongst care leavers.

We are encouraging professionals to download the app onto their phones and devices. This will allow them to utilise it during meetings that they may have directly with care leavers as part of their pathway plan, foster placement, residential work or as part of different forums with young people.

We have also gained feedback on the app from our advisory panels that we hold with young people and the staff that support them. This is important because, naturally, not all teams work in the same way and may have different processes about how they work with and inform their care leavers of opportunities and support.

Download the app.

It's free to download and is available on the App Store for Apple devices and the Play Store for Android. All you need to do is search for “Care Leaver Covenant” and it’s easy to install.