By Linda Briheim-Crookall, Coram Voice
The past month has really brought home the importance of key workers to our wellbeing. Before the Covid-19 outbreak, when care leavers were asked about who gives them emotional support, just under half of them said it was their leaving care worker (second only to friends). As one young person said about their leaving care worker:
She is amazing! Always goes above and beyond for you, always makes sure you’re okay and lets you know she’s always around.”
The difficulties faced by care leavers during the lockdown have been reported both in the news (source: BBC) and highlighted through calls to Coram Voice’s national advocacy helpline, Always Heard. We know they struggle with isolation and a lack of social networks to help them both practically and emotionally.
From the Bright Spots programme’s Your Life Beyond Care survey we know that the quarter of care leavers who had low wellbeing before the crisis experienced other issues that are exacerbated by the current situation – feeling lonely always and often, not feeling safe and settled where you live and not having a trusted person or a good friend. Leaving care personal advisers (PAs) are therefore all the more essential to ensure that care leavers do not feel abandoned in this unprecedented crisis and get the help they need.
Through the Always Heard helpline we hear of the cases when young people are not supported, such as the young people unwell with suspected Covid-19 who still felt forced to go out to secure food and basic necessities, because they had no one to turn to help. Yet, through Coram Voice’s work with local authorities in the Bright Spots and New Belongings programmes we also know that many local authorities and workers are going to great lengths to ensure care leavers are supported. We have produced an insight paper highlighting some of this positive practice and outlined top tips for those that work with care leavers.
Keeping in touch
Recently we saw the government relax some of the visiting requirements for children in care. This makes it all the more important to remember the importance of maintaining contact with care leavers who may have no one else keeping in touch with them.
In East Sussex, personal advisers (PAs) have contact with their care leavers at the start of each week so they can assess how they are managing and to set up plans for the week. In North Yorkshire, some young people are offered face-to-face visits (walking outside with their worker), others video calls. This is reviewed on a weekly basis. For isolated young people, they have increased the level of contact.
Some PAs are reporting changes to how they work and that they know their young people better as a result. We have had reports of some PAs having a great sense of fulfilment because they are dealing with issues that are important to the young person. Day to day, they are dealing with the practical problems their young people are facing and helping them find solutions.
Regular contact and developing a trusting relationship is essential, but the crisis has also emphasised the importance of having the right contact details and an up-to-date understanding of young people’s needs recorded so that anyone can pick up supporting them, should their worker become unwell.
Providing practical support
In North Tyneside, they have been identifying what support care leavers would need if they are self-isolating, asking what they would need to manage, how they would access shopping or medication, who would support them, what they would do if their PA or family were off sick and how they would manage money-wise if they stopped working.
The importance of having the means to stay connected has been heightened by the crisis. Local authorities will need to ensure that both staff and young people have the equipment in place to keep in touch. East Sussex has bought young people phones or tablets if required by their college courses. This has meant that PAs are able to undertake a lot of video calls. It has been a longstanding policy to support young people with internet access at home and ensure they have the necessary equipment. It was great to hear the announcement that the government will provide laptops and 4G routers to care leavers and local authorities should act quickly to access the scheme for those that need it.
Many local authorities have been organising food parcels and packs with other necessities – often with the help of local businesses and charities. In North Tyneside, PAs have credit cards so they can do online shopping or give money to young people or family members.
Having fun together
The state is a care leaver’s corporate parent, but when battling crises, we often forget what makes life good. It can be difficult to find the time to just hang out and enjoy an activity together, but around the country there have been many creative ways in which services have engaged with care leavers, from quizzes and film clubs to cooking competitions to art challenges.
In East Sussex, the leaving care service organised a Netflix afternoon – where young people and staff watched a film together and chatted online. The service paid for one month’s subscription for those that needed it. They also had a cookery and art competitions and are planning to create a ‘Coronavirus Capsule’ of the work, showcasing what young people did when they were isolated.
Where workers reach out and are available to care leavers when they need them, trust develops. When we developed the Your Life Beyond Care survey, care leavers identified trusting relationships with the people around them as a key factor influencing their wellbeing. Before the coronavirus outbreak, most care leavers (96%) did report that they trusted their leaving care workers, at least sometimes. This is higher than the proportion of children in care who report trusting their social workers.
We need to ensure that workers are supported to continue to be there for their young people at this exceptional time. I feel that personal advisers who go the extra mile for care leavers should be applauded, not just in times of crisis. So when it comes to today’s clap for carers, I will clap for personal advisers.
Linda Briheim-Crookall is head of policy and practice development at Coram Voice