Harri Helvon-Hardy, Founder and CEO of FABRIC, explores the unique needs of vulnerable young care leavers and looks at how local authorities and communities could have a positive impact on young people
COVID has seen a much higher emphasis on Local Communities coming together to support the vulnerable. Over years we’ve seen declines in youth groups and spaces that would have once been a safe place for young people. More community-based projects aimed at young care leavers would have a huge impact on their life chances. Care leavers will be part of tomorrow’s society and a collaborative approach to community care is likely to elicit positive transitions into independence.
“It takes a village to raise a child”. A beautifully written African proverb, but perhaps one that has become increasingly hard to apply in modern life.
Arguably one of the most positive developments throughout the COVID-19 pandemic has been an increased sense of community; from clap for carers to food banks and community social media groups offering help to those isolating. With the rise in community relationships being felt in towns and cities across the UK it would be a loss to not build on those renewed community foundations.
Over the last decade, there has been an increasing decline in offerings in the community. Initiatives tend to decline in line with a drop in societal concerns and then tend to be reintroduced when issues such as ASBOs and teenage pregnancies start to rise again. It could be argued that a reactive cycle of funding is applied only ‘when needed’ and not as a proactive nurturing approach to improve and sustain the health and wellbeing of communities.
The YMCA (2020) released figures highlighting since 2010 Local Authorities in England and Wales have cut funds to youth services by 70%, dropping from £1.4 billion in 2010/11 to £429 million in 2018/2019. Whilst these statistics vary between countries, Wales having a lower decrease of 38%, there is also a marked difference in the cuts across Local Authorities in both countries. For many, youth groups and community centres play an intrinsic part in their development with trusted role models providing a safe base for them to address their worries or simply have a place where they can have fun.
With such a substantial decrease in funding documented over the last decade, there has been understandable calls for attention to be paid to the impact the funding cuts have had on the safety and development of young people. When adding the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic, it would be concerning if significant attention wasn’t given to the potential detrimental effects on children and young people.
Since the arrival of the COVID, there has been a substantial focus on how for many children and young people school is a safe space when their home isn’t. By that assertion, if schools finish by 4 pm the remainder of the day isn’t safe for those children and young people then more safe spaces are needed.
Outcomes for care leavers are substantially lower than those young people considered to be a part of the general population. According to Atkinson & Hyde (2019) “Care leavers, on entering adulthood, are at heightened risk of homelessness, custody, sexual exploitation, becoming not in education, employment or training (NEET), mental health issues, social exclusion and death in early adulthood”
The transition into independence for young people in care has been frequently referred to by many as “the cliff edge of care”. This visual reference has been based upon the lived experience of care experienced people who have found the decline in support to be far less than needed. Whilst legislation around leaving care makes provision for support post 18, the level of support is substantially less than prior to 18 and for many living it, far less than the challenges of transitioning into adulthood require.
Many organisations have highlighted the issue of social isolation for young people leaving care with several factors impacting; the disruption to social networks due to their experiences in care, fewer opportunities to meet new people and the impact of living alone. Youth and community centres would have historically had the opportunity to impact positively on the social isolation of care leavers and the linked issues of mental wellbeing. However, the decline in services means that for many young people leaving care there are substantially fewer opportunities to build social networks and seek support outside of Local Authority working hours.
Whilst there is of course a need for Local Authorities to address the issues faced by young people leaving care and the consequences of the reduction in youth services, the issue is less likely to be resolved if all expectation is placed upon governmental organisations.
According to UK Government, the question Local Authorities should ask themselves about corporate parenting is “would this be good enough for my child?” Perhaps developing from the strength of community witnessed during the COVID pandemic, this question could be also be asked by local communities and instead a collaborative approach to supporting young people could be taken.
Teaching care leavers life skills
What if Local Authorities made a commitment to addressing the funding cuts in youth services and local communities looked to harness the skills within them to support young people?
Transitioning into adulthood is a huge challenge, learning how to navigate life’s challenges isn’t something we do the moment we turn 18, tick a box to check and then we are ready. I am a qualified social worker, running a business and charity and I still receive a text message every week to remind me to put the bins out. We all at times need help managing life and perhaps forget the privilege we have if we are assisted by a solid support network.
With communities full of people with wide-ranging skill sets, tapping into these resources for the improvement of young people in society seems an opportunity to pay things forward, retain the sense of community witnessed over recent years and add a little more sense of purpose.
A care leaver who recently transitioned to independent living has decided to focus her attention on helping others by training to become a youth worker. Her experience of leaving care has shaped this decision and driven her to make a difference for others going through this phase, she said: “Being a care leaver was a really scary experience and knowing that the support I had from workers was going to rapidly fall away was terrifying. However, I’m so grateful for youth work, and my youth workers who stood by me as all other services went. I have loved the role youth work has had in my life so much it has inspired to be a youth worker myself.
“It has been amazing in the last year to have been given a work placement within the youth service where I can make money to support myself while also training to get qualifications to be a qualified youth worker in the future. I would not be here without youth work.”
These care leavers are our future and as they transition to adulthood, they will play an intrinsic role in shaping our societies, surely, we owe it to them to offer them the support, skills and knowledge to help make the transition as seamless as possible and give them the life chances that they deserve.
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