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Earlier this month the Government published their new strategy for care leavers, Keep On Caring.  The strategy sets out the Government’s vision for improving the life and life chances of care leavers – a cohort too often disadvantaged not only by experiencing challenging circumstances in their childhood which most of us can only imagine, but also by patchy service provision from corporate parents which too often falls way short of the sort of support most children would expect from their birth parents. It is hardly surprising that many of these young people go on to experience poor outcomes in adulthood, including low educational achievement poverty, substance misuse, and unemployment. 

Keep on Caring continues the trajectory of encouraging reforms in this area in recent years under the Minister Edward Timpson and promises to “improve the lives and life chances” of care-experienced young people by asking both local and central government to “up their game” as corporate parents.  The strategy outlines five key outcomes to achieve this. The second of which is improved access to education, employment and training. The key aims are as follows:

• promote the take up of supported internships, including through the provision of targeted information to Personal Advisers;
• meet the training costs for care leavers undertaking apprenticeships up to age 25;
• support care leavers’ access to, and achievement in, further and higher education, employment and apprenticeships;
• guarantee a place on the National Citizen Service to every child in care or care leaver aged 16 or 17; and
• consider how best to improve access for care leavers to employment opportunities in government departments and their agencies.

These contain some welcome changes.  Last year a group of young people we work with raised concerns about how difficult it was for care-experienced children to get onto apprenticeships.  As such Barnardo’s lobbied hard to ensure that the Government did more to incentivise employers taking on care leavers by increasing the amount attached to them through the Apprenticeship Levy.  In April this proved to have been successful when Government confirmed that firms employing 18-23 care leavers would be entitled to the same higher level of support as 16-18 year olds – but the strategy has extended this still further up to 25.  This alone will not necessarily completely solve the multiple problems care leavers face getting into employment, due to often experiencing a disrupted education through no fault of their own with placement changes and emotional troubles, but it does recognise and counteract for any additional needs that an employer may have to provide when training these young people.

Perhaps the most significant change the strategy puts forward though is the introduction of a right to personal advisors for all care leavers up to age 25, something previously only offered beyond 21 to those in education, employment or training – ironically denying support to arguably those who need it most!  This could be a revolutionary step for some young people – particularly those who have previously faced a catch 22 when deciding they want to get back into education or work, but have not had the additional support to say, help them complete a college application or learn how to prepare a cv.

However, it is important that advisors are not only adequately equipped with training on how to support young people but that they are given up to date access to knowledge around the full range of vocational options available, just as would be expected from any careers advisor.  Although the role of a personal advisor will need to cover many facets it is vital that this important support route towards the workplace is fully able to deliver or at least signpost. 

At Barnardo’s we are confident of continuing to strengthen links between our care leaving services and our employment, training and skills teams to ensure the requisite knowledge and understanding is on hand to help individual young people.  This is working really well in Redbridge already and it’s something we hope to extend further.  However, it’s important that all of us professionals in the skills sector make sure the Government keeps its laudable promises to truly change these young people’s lives by ensuring they, as corporate parents, provide the same sort of care and attention that any parent would give to their child in supporting that difficult transition into the workplace.

Jonathan Rallings, Assistant Director Policy and Research, Barnardo’s