by David Jones*, a residential care home worker
“Having experienced difficult upbringings, followed by time spent in the care system, care leavers can often feel vulnerable and alone,” says Javid Iqbal, manager of Derbyshire’s care leavers employment team.
“We are about building trust and being consistent in our support of 16 to 24-year-olds who are leaving or have left care, and removing barriers to their development,” he explains.
The team – which recently won local authority children’s team of the year at the Children and Young People Awards, having won the Now Children in Care Award in 2012 – was established to help young people who, due to instability at home or school, encountered obstacles when seeking training or employment opportunities. As a result, many fell into long-term unemployment.
A hand-holding, person-centred approach
“Since March last year we’ve worked with 125 youngsters, guiding them into education, employment or training,” Iqbal says.
“We help them write CVs, fill in application forms, find a work experience placement and fund their travel costs. We want to unlock the young person’s potential, which means we adopt a hand-holding, person-centred approach. Our support is very intensive.”
The team outlined their objectives and convinced the council that financial investment was imperative.
“Many of the young people told us they’d like to do apprenticeships,” Iqbal explains. “So, we proposed supported apprenticeships, where the council would pay a wage of £5.03 an hour to 12 kids to work two days a week in a garage, for example.”
A budget of £70,000 for apprenticeships has been in place for four years now, and currently there are 14 young people signed up, with five more waiting to be taken on. In terms of the qualifications and skills required, the team will work to improve a kid’s Maths and English when necessary, while the employer helps with practical skills at the workplace and developing NVQ portfolios.
Before being considered for an apprenticeship, all the young people are asked to attend work experience so that the team can ensure that the chosen apprenticeship is suitable for them.
It’s crucial that the team are not setting up a youngster to fail. To this end, traineeships have been identified as a useful way for kids to gain some insights into what different apprenticeships will involve.
“Some of these young people are not ready to take on the role of an apprentice immediately,” explains Iqbal. “Traineeships allow them to try work experience and gradually build their self-confidence.”
“The council has certainly seen a return on its investment,” says Iqbal.
Positive outcomes from care – Gareth
Gareth had always shown a keen interest in fashion and often expressed his desire to become a hairdresser.During his time in care however, he’d had a very short fuse and could become verbally abusive when he thought someone had slighted him. I’d told him that such behaviour wouldn’t be tolerated by colleagues and customers in a salon, and he explained that outside of the care environment – when shopping with staff, for example – he was “a different person, much more relaxed,” and having seen this for myself, I agreed with him.
But Gareth appreciated that I felt the need to make the point, particularly if he had to deal with a difficult member of the public. We also discussed the qualifications he would need to gain at college and the fact that he would be expected to do only menial tasks initially – sweeping up and making drinks in the salon – before he actually began cutting hair. Gareth said he knew this was how apprentice hairdressers had to start and that he was looking forward to attending college.
He was taken on by the second salon that the leaving care team and he approached, and is now thriving in an environment that he says he “loves.”
“Notwithstanding the opportunities that are being afforded these youngsters, their confidence and self-esteem are a joy to see.”
The rigorous methods of this service lend it its uniqueness.
Placements have to be appropriate for the young person, and while Iqbal points to the resilience of some of these youngsters, others will always benefit from a more nurturing environment. Accordingly, the team develop a good knowledge of the young people they meet by engaging with them fully.
“Within the council we are a small team dedicated exclusively to this work and we have a very clear focus.
Some of the kids might be resistant to our help or their personal circumstances can prevent them from taking up education or training. But we still want to support these youngsters, to do anything that can impact positively on their lives.”
“More dedicated teams need to be created”
In order that such an initiative becomes more widely adopted, Iqbal insists that other local authorities should follow suit. “More dedicated teams need to be created to address the issues of education, employment and training. It’s vital.”
The achievements of the Derbyshire service are also reflected in the way that care leavers have responded to it.
Interviewed during the last Ofsted inspection, the report highlighted; “A major strength of provision is the Care Leavers Employment Team which has been very successful in arranging apprenticeships, many of which have led to permanent employment. Young people spoke eloquently about the tireless dedication, commitment and patience of this team in helping them develop the resilience, confidence and aspirations necessary to re-engage with education and gain employment.”
Further to this, the team also arrange an annual careers event for young people in care. Here, they can be advised on the range of help available which a child in care or leaving care might require or be entitled to.
“Most kids do respond to you when you listen to them and treat them with respect,” adds Iqbal.
“As such, I would advise the following. Develop a good relationship with them, allow the young person to make mistakes, work to build up self-esteem so that a young person can reach their goal and achieve, and always be straight with a kid.”
*Name has been changed