Southwark Council programme to coach care leavers in life skills

Southwark Council in London has launched a coaching scheme to improve the life chances of young people leaving care. Lauren Revans reports

Recent statistics for Southwark show that, for the year ending March 2009, 35% of 19-year-old care leavers still in touch with the council were not in education, training or employment, compared with 27% in London, and 31% in England.

To raise awareness of the issue, a coaching scheme was launched under which council managers were recruited to mentor care leavers and help them find accommodation, a job or a place in further training.

Robert Lang (pictured below, on the right), organisational development business partner at Southwark and the scheme’s architect, says: “Traditionally, outcomes for care leavers have only been of interest to social care teams,” Lang says. “But we wanted people across the council to understand they had a role to play. From a corporate parenting perspective, it’s all of our responsibility.”

Lang says the invitation to senior managers to volunteer to become a coach was well received and about 20 attended one of the three-day training courses run by New-U Coaching. The focus was on learning coaching skills to help them understand how to relate to young people, set inspiring goals and help put in place robust action plans.

In late November, 18 managers-turned-coaches were successfully matched with care leavers and have been working with them since (see case studies). Lang predicts that, on average, the pairings will come to a natural end in about six months. Coaches who want to take on another care leaver will then be paired with someone else, and another cohort of managers will only be recruited if there is enough demand.

However, Lang admits that the biggest challenge facing the scheme’s long-term success is in drumming up enough interest from care leavers themselves. This time, the looked-after children’s team produced a leaflet explaining the benefits of the scheme, which was made available at their services and through personal advisers. “We might do it differently next time,” Lang says. “I would have liked a bit more interest. We need to look at developing how we bring the young people on board.”

Although confidentiality issues limit feedback, Lang says most coaches are already reporting early signs of progress. He hopes to be in a position to present more concrete evidence of the low-cost scheme’s success for those involved to the council’s corporate parenting committee in June.

Case study

Abiodun Olalekan (pictured below, on left), coach, Southwark

The coach: ‘My chance to give something back’

For Abiodun Olalekan, an accountant at Southwark Council, the invitation to coach a young care leaver was the chance he’d been waiting for to give something back to society.

Growing up on a council estate, Olalekan says he witnessed “a generation of young adults and children with no hope for the future” and wanted to do something about it.

“It’s impossible to speak to every young adult or child on the street,” he says. “But I thought that, if I can touch one person’s life, perhaps I can touch others too.”

Olalekan says the training he received, coupled with his personal drive, prepared him for the coaching role. He was “ecstatic” to feel an immediate connection with the care leaver he was matched with, 24-year-old Alhassan Kamara (see other case study), and the two have been in contact since. The positive experience has also left Olalekan keen to work with more care leavers in the future.

“The key aspect of the training was that it was all about the coachee,” he says. “It’s about supporting them to achieve their life ambitions by helping them to take constructive steps and working with them.

“My role now is to support Alhassan to get the job he wants. He’s sent me his CV to check and forward to contacts, and we’re hoping for a very successful outcome.”


Alhassan Kamara, care leaver, Southwark

The coachee: ‘I’d love to work for Southwark’

As a final year social work student, care leaver Alhassan Kamara has no doubt that taking part in Southwark’s new coaching scheme has improved his chances of securing a job when he qualifies in the summer.

“I would love to work for Southwark,” he says. “I have been looked after by them, and feel it would be rewarding to work for them.

“Before, I never had anyone to help me, or who I could talk to about jobs. Abiodun has really helped. I’m trying to get a job through him, and I’ve learned from that process.”

As a volunteer youth mentor, Kamara also hopes to be able to learn from the coaching process itself, and to be able to use some of Olalekan’s coaching techniques and advice when working with other young people.

“I felt it would be good if I could take part then share my experience with others in the system,” he says. “I will be able to tell them about the benefits of having a coach.

“There is always room for improvement but, so far, I’ve not had any serious issues with this scheme and would recommend it to other care leavers. It provides a valuable experience – every council should run something similar.”

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