Anne Gulland reports on a project in Hartlepool that is giving care leavers the chance to lead settled lives in homes of their own.
When he left care, 18-year-old Chris Rennie from Hartlepool had nowhere to live and no job. He was put in touch with Disc (Developing Initiatives, Supporting Communities), a charity that runs initiatives for people who fall through the net of statutory services.
One of these projects is Step (Supported Tenancies Employment Pathways) partnership, which helps 16- to 24-year-olds find and maintain a home, and supports them into education, training or employment.
Moving into a flat has changed Chris’s life. “I was dossing with mates – I had nowhere to live.” he says. “My leaving care officer referred me to Disc and within a few weeks I got a flat. It’s given me the chance to get a job, it’s a roof over my head and it’s given me opportunities I never had before.”
Chris had wanted independence since he was 16 but finding work was impossible without a home. He is now planning to do a course which will enable him to work in security and with earnings from that he hopes to pay for a computer course.
The Step partnership was set up in 2006. Project manager Clare Singlewood believes its two-pronged approach tackles two of the biggest issues for care leavers: access to accommodation and education or training. Disc offers help before the young person takes up their tenancy and also helps with running a home: making applications for grants and benefits buying furniture and homeware advice on managing money and even basic cookery lessons. Once the young person is stable in the tenancy, Disc workers will look at education and employment.
Young people come to the scheme at different stages: some may have just left care and some may already have a tenancy but are struggling in it.
Singlewood adds: “We work with them prior to the tenancy. We work with them setting up the home and supporting them. When they’re no longer chaotic and want education and training then we look at that.”
Step works closely with local housing association Housing Hartlepool, which is keen to offer tenancies to young people with a support package in place. Support lasts on average two years, by which time the person should be independent.
Another 18-year-old, Sarah*, has been in a tenancy for two-and-a-half months and describes how her support worker helped her with initial grant applications with a view to doing them herself. “[Disc workers] are there for you when you need them but they also show you how to do things. It makes you independent,” she says.
Sarah is doing a course with the Prince’s Trust and hopes to work with young people. “At school I wasn’t into studying but now I’m settled and piecing it all together I want to make something of it,” she says.
Not all the young people Disc works with are as motivated as Sarah, admits Liane Robinson, the programme’s project manager for education and training.
“A lot of our clients are long-term unemployed and when they are referred to us they are not considering work because of the impact on benefits,” she says. There’s quite a lot of work to do in changing their aspirations. For a lot of the clients it’s about crisis management and sustaining them in their tenancy. When we discuss employment it’s not a priority for them at all.”
Low waged jobs
For many young people faced with the prospect of earning low wages and losing their benefits, there is one question – what is the point of having a job? Robinson and her colleagues focus on the social aspects of finding a job such as a reason to get up in the morning and meeting people. About a quarter of Step clients are now in employment, with 80% of that number staying in work for at least six months.
But even if young people are not ready to think about employment immediately, Step gives them the chance to think about it later. Teenage mother Rebecca* moved into a house six months ago and is now settling in with her young son. But she intends resuming her hairdressing training at some point with support from Disc.
Singlewood says: “One of the great things about the scheme is that we are extremely flexible. We give people chances.”
*Names have been changed
● Find more information about Disc
● More about support for care leavers at www.communitycare.co.uk/care-leaver-support
● Support should be offered to tenants at the beginning of the tenancy – ideally before they move in.
● An alcohol/drug worker can help with any substance misuse problems.
● Think about the area into which the young person is moving – are there a lot of older people? Is it near friends and family?
● Affordability is a key reason for tenancy failure so advice on grants and budgeting is important. Workers need to ensure that the tenant is aware of meeting rent payments.
● Be clear that support is for a fixed period, agreed by the support worker and young person.
This article is published in the 16 October issue of Community Care magazine under the heading Care leavers take giant step to independence