Our job is to help our care leavers succeed. Most often when we say this, we’re talking about them being happy, confident adults who can maintain good relationships, enjoy their own family life and experience fulfilling work.
In recent years, a lot of focus has been placed on the need to help care leavers into work, or on the pathway to work, as early as possible.
We know that young people who get a few GCSEs and make their way through a level two college course or further, will have a better chance of finding and holding onto a job. Many of us know care leavers who have gone through GCSEs, A Levels and on into graduate and post-graduate programmes. We know that those young people have a greater chance of working and earning successfully for the rest of their lives.
Many local authorities have the good sense to offer taster, shadowing and work experience schemes, traineeships and apprenticeships that provide young people in care and care leavers with the opportunity to experience work in a supportive and constructive environment. The best authorities do this in partnership with local and national businesses and charities.
We know where the good work is and, broadly speaking, we know what it looks like.
Too often, however, we only start thinking about “employability” for our care leavers when we hit pathway planning time. I think that’s too late.
Readiness to learn at a higher level or go into work comes from good preparation. Rather than solely focusing our efforts on providing work experience and careers advice from the age of sixteen, we should be helping our young people develop their aptitudes, skills and capacities from a much earlier age.
So how do we do it and where do we start?
We start where our young people are. Good preparation means developing a strong and meaningful relationship with the young person. Through that relationship, a carer can help them develop new skills and aptitudes by doing two key things: exploring and acknowledging their existing talents and abilities and, secondly, providing access to new experiences that will broaden the young person’s horizons.
The ability to do that depends on the fostering agency, residential home or local authority being willing to support young people’s access to outside activities, clubs, hobbies, sporting teams, cultural events and other sources of inspiration, interest and excitement. It also depends on the carer or worker, in whatever role they have, maintaining a sense of curiosity and possibility in their own outlook.
We are modelling adulthood to the young people we work with, we must therefore be the curious, engaged and active citizens that we want our young people to be. These aptitudes, these experiences of working with and caring for others, the development of relationships and communication skills can all come from young people’s engagement with us and the wider world. And this is how we will help them into work that they’ll enjoy.
We can get this right but it’s entirely down to us.