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A regional offer for our care leavers

I picked up a great tip from a group of young people recently: if you want decision makers to listen to you, confiscate their possessions.

This is exactly what our regional Children in Care Council did when they met with chief executives, leaders and elected mayors from across the North East.

The young people didn’t just take away tablets and mobile phones to make sure no one was checking their emails when they should have been listening, they took jewellery, watches and wallets too. And in their own words, this is why they did it:

“The reason we did this activity is to highlight the time we have been moved and our belonging being taken from us and how that feels. You are lucky we looked after your things, lots of time our belongings go missing and that includes photos and precious things from our family. Thank you for letting us highlight this to you.”

Young people from each of our Children in Care Councils came together as a regional group a few years ago, because one young person was curious about what was on offer to children in other areas. These regional get-togethers are a chance for young people to use their collective voice to tell decision makers how we could improve things for them and others like them. It was great to hear them talking enthusiastically about many of the good things that are already happening for young people in care and care leavers in so many of our local authorities. This is the case in local authorities across the country as was highlighted by the Changing the Narrative About the Care System video shown at last year’s ADCS Annual Conference. The young people wanted to know if the very best things we do could be made available to all young people in their situation, regardless of where they live in the North East. Four things were particularly important to them:

1. Keeping your social worker until the age of 18, but also having a Personal Advisor from 16, providing both continuity and extra support at a time when they felt they really needed it:

“Lots of areas let you keep your social worker now until you are 18 but not all still get support off a personal adviser at the same time. In some places this doesn’t happen until you are really close to your 18th birthday. In Stockton, Redcar and South Tyneside they get their adviser from 16 and still have their social worker. I think this is good because those years are difficult for young people in care and any extra support is good. The adviser could be helping you start to think about the future while your social worker supports you though (sic) what is happening now in your life.”

2. Free leisure passes available to all care leavers up to the age of 25 to help support good physical and mental health:

“In the future we would like to introduce free leisure passes for all care leavers across the region. According to research carried out by Young Minds, looked after children and care leavers are between 4 and 5 times more likely to attempt suicide in adulthood. This has been in the press very recently. Free leisure passes would allow care leavers to challenge growing obesity concerns and improve their mental health.

“This is something I really think would help young people who struggle with their emotions when they leave care, as corporate mams and dads I hope you think this is a good idea too.”

3. Apprenticeships specifically for care leavers provided by local authorities, with extra support for the young people and the apprenticeship provider to make it work:

“We would also like to see care leavers being given the opportunity to gain apprenticeships with their local council. This could include ring fencing apprenticeships, it would also provide care leavers the opportunity to gain vital work experience and employability skills.”

4. Varied opportunities for independent living, including shared accommodation with other young people:

“We really would like to see more councils thinking about new ways for young people leaving care to move on to being independent. New ideas like supporting flat shares and room mates are a good thing, a bit like students. This will support some young people and stop them feeling as lonely. Some areas are starting to look at ideas like these already but I would like to see them in every borough.”

Whether they realised it or not, in their presentation the young people touched on most of the areas that the Children and Social Work Act now requires local authorities to address when they consult on and publish their local offer for care leavers: preparing for adulthood and independent living, health and wellbeing, relationships, education and training, employment, accommodation and participation in society.

We all know that young people leaving care start living independently much earlier than many other young people and often without the strong family support networks that most young people rely on. This is why it’s crucial that the children we care for continue to have the right advice and support as they make the transition to adulthood.

Our leaders and elected mayors have asked directors of children’s services in the North East to develop a regional Memorandum of Understanding to work towards all care leavers in the region having access to the things they have told us are most important to them, regardless of where they live. I look forward to seeing what we can achieve together in the North East for this very important group of young people.

*Quotes from the young people are unedited.

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