Partnership offers brighter future for care-experienced young people

CHILDREN’S charity Barnardo’s has teamed up with Plymouth City Council in a trail-blazing new project to improve the lives of young people in care and leaving care.

Nationally, 39 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in employment, education or training. This compares to 12 per cent of 19-21-year-olds in the general population.

In an effort to change this, Barnardo’s is investing more than £1million to develop the ‘Plymouth Care Journey Programme’, with the ambition that care leavers will be more likely to be in employment, education or training than their peers.

The seven-year strategic partnership is one of the first of its kind in the UK and signifies a new way of working for both organisations, sharing experience and expertise to design and deliver better outcomes for care-experienced young people.

The charity and the council have spent several months talking to local young people and other local organisations, gaining their views on how services should be improved.

At a launch event at the National Marine Aquarium in Plymouth this week, key speakers included Barnardo’s Chief Executive Javed Khan, Plymouth City Council Chief Executive Tracey Lee and local care-experienced young people.

Barnardo’s Chief executive Javed Khan said:

“Leaving home is a big adjustment for everyone, but young people leaving care often do so without the support of a loving family.

“On top of this, they have often experienced trauma such as bereavement, neglect or abuse. This can make it harder to finish school with good qualifications, enter further or higher education, and to reach the first rung on the career ladder. These young people are at greater risk of poverty and homelessness, and more likely to struggle with isolation and poor mental health.

“At Barnardo’s, we believe all young people can achieve a positive future with the right support. That’s why we want to explore new ways for charities, local authorities and other agencies to work together to help vulnerable children. Plymouth City Council shares this aspiration and determination to make change happen.

“Young people have the best understanding of their own situation which is why it was so important that they were involved in this partnership from the outset and will be at the heart of the solutions and service design. Working together, we will address local challenges so young people can face the future with greater confidence and go on to lead fulfilling lives.”

Plymouth City Council, which currently supports around 420 children and young people in care, was chosen by Barnardo’s due to its existing close working relationship with the charity through other local services, and its determination to dig deep into the problem.

Councillor Jemima Lang, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People said: 

“This is a really exciting partnership to be involved in because it means we can begin to make a difference right now in the lives of some of Plymouth’s most vulnerable children and young people.

“Because of the work we’re doing we know that a 14-year-old in care today will have a better chance of a brighter future as an adult than a 21-year-old care-leaver. That’s how significant this could be, transforming the life chances of a generation of children in care.”

In-depth interviews and workshops with local young people highlighted a strong desire for positive relationships with professionals, stable placements and consistency of support.

However, they were concerned about a lack of preparation for independent living, finding their way around the complexity of the care system, and not feeling informed and in control. A particular issue was the loneliness and isolation experienced by many young people as they moved from living in a supported environment to living alone for the first time at a young age.

Barnardo’s has been working with local young people to ‘co-design’ innovative new approaches that would help them to keep and build their social networks, maintain connections with friends, and meet new people.

Potential solutions include wilderness and outdoors camps to build their confidence, cookery classes to promote healthy eating, and volunteer peer mentors, or ‘buddies’, to support them in the transition to independent living.

They will be tested and adapted over the coming months before the results are shared with Plymouth City Council in the spring.