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‘People took advantage’: Brandon care leaver opens up on experiences in work as new support scheme launches

PUBLISHED: 15:59 26 October 2018 | UPDATED: 08:35 27 October 2018

A new government scheme hopes to increase the career ambitions of young people leaving care through work and training opportunities. Picture: iStockphoto

A new government scheme hopes to increase the career ambitions of young people leaving care through work and training opportunities. Picture: iStockphoto

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Organisations working with care leavers in Norfolk have cautiously welcomed a new government scheme which aims to raise their career aspirations and life chances.

Rolls-Royce is among the employers which has signed up for the care leaver covenant. Picture: ANTONY KELLYRolls-Royce is among the employers which has signed up for the care leaver covenant. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

More than 60 organisations including Amazon, Rolls-Royce and children’s charity Barnardo’s have signed up to the care leavers covenant, which commits to provide 10,000 work opportunities for young people leaving the care system over the next decade as well as skills training and increased access to university.

Young people leaving the care system have historically had poorer life chances than their peers – figures show that 40pc of care leavers aged 19 to 21 are not in education, employment or training (NEET) compared with 13pc for this age group overall, and only 6pc of care leavers of this age progress to higher education.

Rebecca White, director of Your Own Place, a community interest company which supports care leavers in Norfolk, said she welcomed “anything that has a focus on such a disadvantaged group”.

But she expressed concerns about how the scheme would support employers to offer the opportunities.

James Arbon, 22, sought help from Your Own Place in Norwich after leaving care at 18. Picture: Rebecca WhiteJames Arbon, 22, sought help from Your Own Place in Norwich after leaving care at 18. Picture: Rebecca White

“We are frequently asked to take young people on work experience and I have to turn it down because it wouldn’t be fair not provide enough support,” she said.

“We are talking about a group of young people facing sometimes significant mental health barriers, learning difficulties and other challenges. As such they will need additional support, empathy and understanding in the workplace and this requires resource.”

Ahead of the covenant’s launch in Birmingham on Friday, children’s and families minister Nadhim Zahawi said the country needed “more ambition” for care leavers, and that this represented a “landmark moment”.

“Young people leaving care have often overcome huge challenges but struggle to achieve the same positive outcomes in life as their peers, which is simply not fair,” he said.

Your Own Place director Rebecca White (right) at the social enterprise's base in Norwich.
 Picture: ANTONY KELLYYour Own Place director Rebecca White (right) at the social enterprise's base in Norwich. Picture: ANTONY KELLY

“When we talk about burning injustices, this is what we mean – so we need to be more ambitious for these young people.”

Norfolk County Council already offers support for its care leavers including help with CVs, buying items needed for education or work, and contributions to living expenses near training or higher education.

Stuart Dark, chairman of the council’s children’s services committee, said: “We welcome this initiative, which will further strengthen our support for care leavers.

“We are already developing apprenticeships for care leavers in Norfolk and have agreed to exempt them from paying council tax, to help give them a step up as they approach independence. The educational achievements of children in our care is also better than those seen nationally and we work closely with care leavers to ensure they have the skills to support them into work.”

‘People took advantage of me’

One care leaver from Brandon says employers “took advantage” of him after he began working.

James Arbon worked in a pub in Ipswich before moving to Norwich and seeking help from Your Own Place.

The 22 year-old said: “People took advantage of me because I was vulnerable.”

After moving to Norwich James secured work experience with Archer’s Butchers. “It gave me the independence that I needed and it was a move that put me on the right track,” he said.

He now works full-time with Anglia Landscaping, based near Newmarket.

James feels that measures like the care leaver covenant are long overdue, especially with the generally lower school performance of children in care.

“There is so much more that people could do to support care leavers. When I was 18 I didn’t get any support,” he said.

“It should have happened a lot sooner but hopefully the kids who are younger will benefit from it.”

What will the care leavers covenant involve?

The covenant – which is being run by Spectra First, a company offering residential and other support services for looked after children – is part of a package of reforms aimed at helping to ease the transition into adulthood for care leavers.

Its package of support also includes:

– 12-month internships from every government department in Whitehall, including 100 12-month internships from January 2019.

– Support from universities, such as bursaries and accommodation, with Cambridge, Leeds, and Manchester universities committing to supporting care leavers.

– Resources and tools from Barclays Life Skills to help care leavers to manage their money better, as they often lack the safety net of financial support from their families.

The scheme is attracting the support of famous advocates including children’s author Dame Jacqueline Wilson, who wrote the Tracey Beaker book series about a girl who lives between the care system and a foster parent.

Dame Jacqueline said: “I’m so pleased that care leavers will have the help, information and access they deserve so they can get on with their lives and fulfil all their hopes and ambitions.”

Alongside other schemes to support those leaving care, the government has committed to provide £3.2m in 2019/20 for 47 councils to employ specialist personal advisers to help care leavers up to the age of 25 who are most at risk of rough sleeping.

Mr Dark said Norfolk County Council was waiting to hear if it had been successful in its bid for funding for a specialist adviser.

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