Unit 16: Leaving Care Well

This unit recognises the importance of the transition out of care whenever it occurs and examines the outcomes for young people leaving care. It also identifies factors that make the move into adulthood particularly challenging for care leavers and recognises what factors can make a difference for young people leaving care.

Unit objectives

  • To recognise the importance of the transition out of care whenever it occurs
  • To examine the outcomes for young people leaving care
  • To identify the factors that make the move into adulthood particularly challenging for care leavers
  • To recognise what factors can make a difference for young people leaving care.
  • To enable and encourage participants to reflect on their own journey to independence and make meaningful connections and comparisons with care leavers experiences, to better contextualise the issues/challenges faced.
  • To explore effective planning, support systems and strategies for making the process of leaving care positive.
  • To promote the concept of corporate parenting through the leaving care transition into adulthood.

Resources required to deliver unit

  • Video Clips: Choose from Ashley, Mandy or Saffron (young adults) and Ian & Ros (workers)
  • Handouts: Quality Indicators for Best Practice; Leaflet on leaving care; Factors affecting young people’s engagement with work; Sweet 16? Summary of Recommendations
  • Leaving care well presentation

Introduction to trainer

The main focus of this unit is young people leaving care and moving into adulthood. A wide range of issues face young people who are leaving care to become independent. This is acknowledged within the unit but for this course the emphasis is on education, training and work.  Although care leavers are over represented in a number of groups that are socially excluded and under-represented in the higher education system, it is important to emphasise throughout this module that this is not inevitable and that effective targeted support can change this. All professionals involved with looked after children as they approach adulthood have a responsibility to ensure that they receive the support necessary to negotiate the transition as well as possible. Carers, social workers and teachers can all affect this process positively.

It is also important to be aware that children can leave the looked after system at any age and to a variety of destinations. Educational professionals, such as teachers or early years workers, involved with these children need to be aware of the importance of such transitions and be proactive in providing support before during and after any move or change. 

  • It is important for looked after children whatever their age and stage, to receive consistent positive messages and support regarding their education and academic potential, and for all staff to have high aspirations for them.
  • The importance of stability and consistency for looked after children cannot be over-estimated; and next to family, schools are the single most important constant for children. A connectedness to school, regardless of academic ability or attainment is a vital protective factor for children and young people. The importance of a “sense of belonging” is particularly crucial for looked after children, and school/college staff and educational settings should aim to help looked after children belong and feel connected to their school.

This unit relates back to the Transitions and Trajectories Unit and participants should be reminded of the issues that were covered in that unit.

Outline of Unit

  • Introductory Activity
  • Presentation: What are the issues?
  • Large Group Activity
  • Presentation: Planning and strategies for improvement
  • Video clips
  • Small group activity:  Improving practice
  • Pairs/Small group activity: Leaving home – the practical & emotional journey
  • Final presentation and discussion: Children leave care at any age!

Presentation and discussion: Children leave care at any age (10 minutes)

Use the first two slides to remind participants that although the main focus of policy and practice is often on young people leaving the looked after system to become independent, children can cease to be looked after at any age. Some children are looked after for only a matter of days while others spend all or most of their childhood being looked after by the local authority.

Ask participants for suggestions of practical things they can do to help children cope with this transition. These transitions are very important and making them a success is not just the responsibility of social workers or carers. Educational professionals can be very important in maintaining security, stability and safety for children during and after these transitions.

  • Children and young people do not always leave care post-16. Many experience transitions back home from temporary care settings at a younger age.
  • It is important for these children to experience as little disruption in other key areas of their lives at these times.
  • Maintaining consistent school placements, key relationships, access to hobbies, clubs and friends is crucial in maintaining a sense of control and normality to counter the emotional vulnerability many can experience.

Timeline activity (30 mins): Leaving Home: The practical and emotional journey

Think about your own life between the ages of 15 and 25.

Individually and in pairs/small groups initially, consider the following aspects of your own journey to independence.

  • At what age did you leave home
  • Was this planned or in a crisis – did you have choice over when you left and where you went?
  • Did you move onto college or university – for example into halls of residence or sharing student flat with friends; or move into your first home with a new life partner eg getting married
  • If you went off to college or Uni, did you/could you go home at holiday time
  • How sure were you that if it all went wrong you could go home – did you ever do this? What mistakes did you make/ How were these resolved
  • How did you manage your money – did your parents/family help with your living costs & expenses? How was this negotiated and managed? What about the “bank of mum& dad”?
  • How did you feel? Excited, scared, lonely, abandoned, happy, confident, optimistic - what was your emotional journey like, and where did you get your emotional support?
  • What about key people who supported you – immediate/extended family, friends, college tutors, work place colleagues
  • Who could you turn to when you got stuck?
  • Who were the relationships you could rely on for emotional support?

Create a timeline highlighting the events and experiences that marked your transition to adulthood and full independence.  Discuss your timelines in small groups. Are there differences in your experiences –what are they and why do you think they existed?

  • Reflect on people experiences and ask them to reflect on, and contrast with care leavers experiences
  • What are the key differences, thinking about your childhood, family, stability, educational experiences etc?

Trainer’s notes

The purpose of this activity is to remind participants that for most people the transition to adulthood and independence is spread over several years.

Although the age of legal capacity is 16 in Scotland there are a number of other legal milestones that mark a young person’s emerging adulthood.

  • It should be stated clearly that leaving care should be viewed as a life process, and not a bureaucratic event.
  • Good parents do not generally abdicate active parental concern or responsibility based on arbitrary age thresholds; and good Corporate Parents must avoid this also.

Most people achieve independence through a series of steps, none of which alone marks a clear moment of becoming an adult. Some people feel that they only truly became adults when they have their own children which may not happen until well beyond the age of 25. This is in marked contrast to the experience of most looked after children who are still expected to become independent much earlier than most of their peers.

  • Whilst it is important to consider and ensure practical support to prepare and support young people moving to independence, the issue of emotional support and emotional resilience is often central to sustaining successful transitions. This is what care leavers tell us.
  • What do participants think helped them make successful transitions?
  • How might this contrast with young people with a care background?

Be aware that in the group you may well have participants who did leave home while they were very young or indeed who have a care experience themselves. Although it is important that young people should be allowed to leave care when they are ready, not under pressure from the system it is also essential to emphasise that early independence does not have to be an automatic route to failure. There are numerous young people who left care at 16 and are leading very successful lives.

  • However, research clearly states that, if we delay, or positively extend, the age at which young people exit the care system, and extend the timescales for a supported, graduated transition from care, avoiding abrupt “cliff edge” transitions, then care leavers outcomes and chances for success are greatly enhanced.
  • We need to remind ourselves not to set different standards and expectations for care leavers who have often had troubled and traumatic childhoods, and who may lack the practical and life skills, and emotional resilience to successfully make this life changing transition at such a young age and without the consistent, support of family.
  • We need to have big aspirations but realistic expectations - and continually ask ourselves: “would this be good enough for my child”?

Presentation: What are the issues? (15 minutes)

Create a presentation using the PowerPoint slides (3-23) handouts and supplementary material. This presentation is  to build on the first activity by underlining both the difference in experience of young care leavers from most of their peers and the relative lack of resources, external and internal, with which they face the move into adulthood. The slides draw on a range of research publications on care leavers. The first three slides make the point that care leavers are expected to become independent much earlier and in a more accelerated fashion then their peers.

The Sweet 16? Report/One Year On: Is Life Any Sweeter? emphasised the perceived pressure on looked after young people, particularly in residential care, to leave the system when they are 16. This emphasises the instability of accommodation and the high number of young people not engaged in any economic activity. Disabled young people face even greater disadvantages in engaging in economic activity than other care leavers.

  • Acknowledge the clear links between stable and supportive accommodation and its influence and impact of the ability to engage with and sustain education, training or employment opportunities.

Large Group Activity (10 minutes)

Ask participants for suggestions about what might improve outcomes for young people. Concentrate mainly on education and employment but encourage participants to think across the entire age span. Make sure that they consider individual good practice as well as policy responses. Remind them that many young people identify the support and commitment from individual adults as particularly important in achieving their aspirations.

Prompt with:

  • The power of individual relationships – someone, somewhere made a real really positive connection and believed in the young person’s potential and helped them believe in themselves. They did not define them by the label of being a “looked after child” or “care leaver”. Care leavers tell us this can be fundamentally important.
  • What about the concept of Family Firm – dedicated employment opportunities offered by to care leavers LA’s and other corporate parenting bodies.
  • Has your local college or FE institution got a Buttle UK Quality Mark?
  • If emotional resilience and consistent emotional support are crucial to making successful transitions, how do we ensure that care leavers have this?

Presentation: Planning and strategies for improvement (15 minutes)

Use the PowerPoint slides (24-33), handouts and supporting materials to develop a presentation that describes the responsibilities of Local Authorities to care leavers and the Pathways planning process. It may helpful to print off a few copies of the Pathway plan to circulate among the group so that participants can understand exactly what is being undertaken. 

It would also be worth creating a couple of slides with up to date local statistics outlining the percentage of young people leaving care with a Pathways  plan in place (nationally the rate is only 57% - Scottish Government Children’s SW Statistics 2012) and any local initiatives for care leavers.

Spend some time talking about the factors that influence outcomes for care leavers. Obviously the support available after a young person leaves care is crucial but it is equally important that adults working with looked after children, of whatever age, are aware that what they do with them and how they relate to them can have an impact well into their adult life. Emphasise also that many of the most important factors are to do with education. Use the quote from the young person to lead into the video clips that follow.

Video clips: Mandy, Saffron, Tony, Zoie (young adults) and Ian & Ros (workers)

Select one or more clips from Mandy, Saffron, Tony, Zoie (young adults) and Ian & Ros (workers). What things appeared to help the young people to achieve success in their movement towards adulthood? What barriers or constraints existed? What were the important differences in their experiences? What factors were most important in the work described by the two workers?

Small group activity:  Improving practice (45 minutes including feedback and discussion)

In their own professional groups (usually this would be three groups: educational professionals, direct carers and social workers) ask participants to spend a few minutes reflecting together on the video clips. Then ask them to identify what they and others in their profession could do to improve the long term outcomes for looked after children with whom they work.  Five minutes before you wish them to stop ask them to identify one challenge for each of the other professional groups.

Remind them that this needs to be done in a respectful way but that it should be the key factor that they believe might make a difference.  During the feedback concentrate mainly on the strategies that they have identified for themselves. There will be some policy issues identified but there should also be plenty of examples of direct practice improvements.

  • Ask for suggestions about how they can influence local policy.
  • Can they achieve more by working together across their agencies and supporting each other?
  • What about local housing and accommodation policies for care leavers?
  • What about the Family Firm concept for work opportunities for care leavers
  • What about improving links with local Higher & FE establishments
  • Do they need to collect robust local data to prove their argument?
  • Ask how people intend to implement the practice changes they have identified for themselves.
  • Finally ask the groups to share the challenges they have for each other. 

It is likely that participants will already have identified the particular issue for themselves but to hear it again from their colleagues will emphasise its importance.

Key messages:

  • Children can cease to be looked after at any age and they need careful support from all the adults involved with them to manage this transition
  • Care leavers experience an early and accelerated transition to adulthood compared to their peers.
  • Their negative experiences prior to becoming looked after and in some cases while they were being looked after, have adverse effects on their future outcomes
  • Good experiences with individual carers, social workers and teachers can improve children’s chances of success
  • Relationships count: being that person who stops and listens, who takes a genuine interest, who goes the extra mile, who “believes” and who actively promotes a positive culture of care…..
  • Positively remaining in foster care or residential care settings longer, staying up to at least 18 years and through to 21 years can significantly improve longer term outcomes for young people in terms of health, education and employment.
  • Staying longer helps narrow the gap between looked after children/care leavers and their peers.
  • Avoiding the abrupt “cliff edge” of leaving care and extending the transition period for leaving care and moving to independence/adulthood improves outcomes.
  • Helping looked after children/care leavers cultivate a “sense of belonging” to a care setting, school or college, is crucial in helping develop emotional resilience.
  • Enabling young people to return “home” to their care setting, (even for a short time) just like their peers, if/when the need extra support or things don’t go smoothly, can be a crucial support, both emotionally and practically.
  • Local authorities have specific responsibilities to plan for and support young people after they leave care
  • Young people’s active participation in the planning process is essential for successful outcomes
  • Educational achievement is a crucial factor in improving outcomes for care leavers
  • Becoming independent at a later age is associated with greater success

Resources required to support this unit

  • CELCIS TCAC Flowchart
  • Still Caring: Supporting Care Leavers in Scotland CELCIS Briefing RS-2013-02
  • ‘Staying Put Scotland’ Guidance (SG, 2013)
  • Throughcare & Aftercare in Scotland Local Authorities: National Study (CELCIS/Staf, 2014)
  • Scottish Care Leavers Covenant (2015)
  • ‘Making Not Breaking’ Report (Care Inquiry, 2013)
  • CELCIS (2014) Inform CYP Act 2014  Part 9.pdf
  • CELCIS (2014) Inform CYP Act 2014  Part 9.pdf
  • Scot Exec (2004) Leaving Care Regs & Guidance.pdf
  • Helping Care Leavers:
  • Problems and Strategic Responses;
  • Pathways handbook;
  • Pathways Plan;
  • Sweet 16?
  • Sweet 16? One Year On – Is Life Any Sweeter?
  • Life After Care Report: Children & YP Now/Care Leavers Foundation
  • In Loco Parentis: Demos Report
  • Resilience and Young People Leaving Care: Mike Stein/JRF
  • Education Matters In Care
  • Our Family Firm: A Working Framework for Community Planning Partners and Employers: Scottish Govt: 2011
  • From Care2Work Creating Opportunities and Raising Expectations: NCAS 2010
  • Person-Centered Planning In Social Care: JRF Publications
  • Personalisation Through Person–Centered Planning: DoH
  • 16+ Learning Choices Policy and Practice Framework
  • The Buttle UK Quality Mark Model: Working with your institution to support Care Leavers in HE (Buttle UK / University of Bradford 2012)
  • Review of Research on vulnerable Young People and their Transitions to Independent Living
  • How good is your Throughcare and Aftercare service? Quality Indicators for best practice
  • http://www.scottishcareleaverscovenant.org
  • https://www.celcis.org/our-work/key-areas/throughcare-and-aftercare/
  • http://blogs.iriss.org.uk/relationships-matter/
  • http://www.staf.scot
  • http://www.whocaresscotland.org/
  • http://www.leavingcare.org/professionals/wmtd/
  • http://www.buttleuk.org/index.php