The London boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow determined that children resident within the homes in their area did not have the support of established peer networks and adult guidance to access education, training and employment in the same way as their equivalent peers outside of care. The cost of London housing prevents care leavers from remaining close to their former children’s homes, disrupting education and support networks. Care leavers become trapped in cycles of survival and uncertainty, denied the freedom to experiment with opportunities, to grow and increase their aspirations.
In conjunction with St Christopher’s Fellowship and local partners, the two boroughs’ Staying Close offer includes two kinds of accommodation for care leavers. The first is care leaver shared housing within walking distance of children’s homes, open to accommodating young people from any of the local homes. This housing provides medium term accommodation with security of tenure and a package of support tailored to the needs chosen by the young person focused on gaining independence. The other is a pop-home bedspace reserved for young people returning short term to their former children’s home. This is designed to support those wanting to return for short periods in times of need, crisis or celebration, such as for Christmas.
To ensure that care leavers get the right support, young people co-lead clinical practice supervision with MAC UK to enable workers to evolve support towards a mentoring tone, conscious of changing roles of authority and responsibility, as children mature to independence. A mainstay of this work is enabling staff and young people to redefine relationships to something that is not based on the hierarchy of adult and child but on a more equal peer advisory basis ensuring that the independence created is genuine and not protracted dependence.
The aim of this innovation is to create opportunities for ownership and advocacy by inviting young people to author their own leaving care plans: a young person endorsed, evaluated model of best practice for continuation of care post 18.
DfE funded independent evaluation will be published in 2020.