A Wakefield project for young care leavers and homeless young
people has been singled out for praise by the government. Its
success is a result of effective partnerships that open up a range
of services for young people leading to new skills, qualifications
and employment, reports Natalie Valios
"Signpost helped me in 101 million different ways over the
years," says Ellen Speight, a 21-year-old care leaver. Signpost is
a project providing services to young people leaving care, as well
as young homeless people and those facing the threat of
It is a partnership project between Wakefield's merged housing
and social care department and the national children's charity
Barnardo's. It was one of four social services departments chosen
as a beacon council by the government, beating 16 others to the
Care leavers are one of the most over-represented groups among
the population of young homeless people, but it is a rare
occurrence in Wakefield. "We believe it's because we get in early
enough," says Liz Richardson, Signpost's project leader.
Speight adds: "Signpost taught me the basics of being
independent - all the things that someone living at home would
learn from their mum and dad." She had a son when she was 17 and
they became the first mother and baby to go into supported lodgings
under Signpost's scheme. She had a befriender and was helped to get
a council house.
Speight is still in contact with Signpost and is hoping to do a
four-year law degree to enable her to become a solicitor, with the
aim of helping young people who are registered with Signpost to
deal with their legal problems.
Mike Brown, children's services manager for Wakefield housing
and social care department, has responsibility for Signpost. He
believes the project's strengths lie in effective partnership and
the services offered to young people.
As well as the partnership between the local authority and
Barnardo's, the project works with several other agencies,
including Wakefield Health Authority, the Benefits Agency, agencies
working with drug and substance misuse, and churches and voluntary
The services on offer to the young people can be matched to suit
their needs: skills assessment work; a parent and toddler group; a
boys-own group; a befriender service; a drop-in centre; peer
volunteers; a scheme for small loans, which can be paid back at a
rate which suits the young person's financial circumstances; an
emergency food scheme provided by the churches which ensures they
have access to basic food at times of financial need; counselling
and support services for homeless young people; and Christmas food
A Young Person's Voice group is affiliated to National Voice, an
organisation run by young people who have experienced the care
system. Its regular meetings allow young people to discuss the
issues they feel are important.
Signpost has had life skills work accredited through North and
West Yorkshire Open College Network. Four modules are on offer:
self and others, personal development, living in the community, and
citizenship. Young people can enter at pre-vocational or vocational
level and its aim is to act as a stepping-stone for those who have
been out of education for some time.
The results illustrate Signpost's success. In 1995, 10 per cent
of young care leavers gained employment, by January 2000 this had
risen to 18.8 per cent. In 1997, 13.5 per cent of care leavers were
in full-time education, this rose to 26.9 per cent in January 2000.
And last year, of 81 16- to 17-year-old care leavers, three gained
national vocational qualifications; five got City and Guild
qualifications; and 26 took GCSEs, with one passing 10, and four
passing nine GCSEs.
The project sees in excess of 500 young people a year. Everyone
is kept on its register until they are 21. They also see a
considerable number of care leavers over-21 to whom they continue
to provide a service if they come to the project.
Young homeless people come to Signpost's attention through a
variety of routes. They can be self-referred, or referred through
social services area teams, schools, colleges, police, churches,
probation and hostels. The young person's permission is needed
before any agency or organisation can refer them.
For care leavers, Signpost is the next stage in their care plan.
When they are 15 or 16 a project worker is invited to a review to
ensure leaving care issues are on the agenda. At 16 they are
referred by their social worker to the project. "We talk to them
and other significant people in their life about their wants and
needs," says Richardson. "We move at their pace."
After referral, there is an eight-week introduction period when
young people have an initial assessment and are talked through what
the project offers and what would best suit their needs. They are
assigned a one-to-one key worker and there is a duty service that
gives young people dedicated time with staff if they need support
in an emergency which may occur between visits from their key
worker. A 365-day, 24-hour emergency on-call service is also on
Young people are helped into a variety of accommodation to suit
their needs. This includes hostels, supported housing, supported
lodgings and supported tenancies.
"We help them to realise it isn't easy living on your own. You
need to know how to manage a whole lot of areas of responsibility."
With this in mind they are taught how to manage money, shop and
cook on a budget, decorate and manage a home as well as working or
going to college.
In 1994, the project realised that it needed emergency
accommodation for the most vulnerable 16 to 21-year-olds and
brought in a senior practitioner to recruit volunteer hosts from
the public. In the past 10 months it has offered 112 nights of
emergency stopovers and 540 nights of short stops.
However, the project discovered that for most young people
homelessness was far from temporary and one or two nights'
accommodation with different hosts was failing to meet their needs.
Medium-term placements were made available and on average, young
people stay between six and 12 months. But for those who need a
more permanent placement until they are ready for independence, it
launched the supported lodgings scheme in May 1995, again with
Young people have the other option of supported housing as the
project is the managing agent for nine units of accommodation and
eight units of move-on bedsit accommodation. It hopes to establish
a further seven units. Once young people and staff are confident
that they have developed independent living skills the next stage
is to move on to their own tenancy.
A Children Act 1989 housing panel is another part of the
planning process for independence. Its purpose is to ensure young
people have registered with the housing sector to get a council
tenancy or tenancy with a housing association. "It helps them get a
foot on the rung of the ladder," says Brown. The panel also looks
at what skills the young people already have, as well as helping
identify areas for further development. The panel includes
Richardson, representatives from the housing and social care
department, and a housing association.
"The panel offers accommodation to a young person if it feels he
or she has the skills to manage on their own," says Richardson.
More recently the project has received funding from the
Department of the Environment, Transport and the Regions' homeless
action programme which has funded two new posts - a support worker,
and a mediator/counsellor to try to resolve conflicts between young
homeless people and their families. It has also received funding
from the local health action zone to provide a service for teenage
In summing up what Signpost has done for her, Speight reflects
the views of many other care leavers and homeless young people:
"You helped turn a very mixed-up young person into a mature and
stable adult and for that I will be forever grateful. You have
helped turn this chapter of my life into something that I can
always remember and if there's ever a time in the future when I
doubt myself I can look back and remember all of you that believed
in me and know that I'm worth believing in."
· Project: Signpost
· History: Development began in April 1993. In January 1994
a senior practitioner was brought in to recruit householders and
volunteer befrienders. Fully fledged by 1995.
· Funding: Total annual cost of the project is
£380,000, of which Barnardo's contributes £110,000. The
rest is met by Wakefield's housing and social care department, and
grants from the Constance Green Foundation, DETR and health action
· Staff: Six full-time and one part-time leaving care
staff, a specialist social worker to work with homeless young
people, and a deputy project leader are employed by social
services. The social services payroll also covers 26 hours of
administration support. Liz Richardson, a senior practitioner, a
support worker and an administration officer are employed by
Barnardo's. Mediator/counsellor and support worker are funded
through DETR homeless action programme.
· Clients: Care leavers and young homeless people or young
people under threat of homelessness.
· Contact: Liz Richardson, Constance Green Centre, 24
Cheapside, Wakefield WF1 2TF, 01924 304100.
SIGNPOST FACT FILE
· 91.5 per cent of all young people in Wakefield who are
entitled to leaving care services obtain them from Signpost. 5.4
per cent were living outside the region but the project ensured
they received the support from elsewhere, and the remainder were
not in touch with Signpost.
· 27 young care leavers are on a full-time college
· 42 young care leavers are in full-time employment.
· 19 households were accredited as providers of
· 29 individuals and groups have backed the project in the