From care to where? Business holds a lifeline
As a parent, when your child reaches 18 you hardly expect to wave goodbye, send them on their way and leave them to find their way through adulthood without any support, advice and guidance, so why is this case for many young people leaving the care system? Coming of age is a scary, exciting and challenging time for any individual, however, it could be argued that these young people, more than any one, need a helping hand to navigate the choices they will face; those that will determine their future.
This week, (21-28 October 2016) is National Care Leavers’ Week, an annual event organised by The Care Leavers’ Foundation. Established back in 2002, National Care Leaver’s Week brings together major charities and interest groups working with care leavers. The week itself is about highlighting the needs of care leavers, and encouraging the agencies responsible for looking after them to work in a more coordinated and effective way, something we often don’t see. It’s also about focusing the minds of politicians on the lack of support for these vulnerable individuals who face unique challenges as they move into adult life.
Since 2013, I have had the pleasure of working with young people who have been through the care system through the Aiming Higher project, a Big Lottery Funded project in partnership with Business in the Community and Include Youth. I can honestly say that every one of the 63 young people I have worked with never cease to amaze me. We meet on a weekly basis and, considering what some of them have had to go through from a very young age, their determination and grit is paramount. Through Aiming Higher, we work with young people who are 16-21 years old and match them with a mentor from the world of work who can assist with their transition into education training or employment (ETE). I am truly proud to say that over 72% of them have made the move into ETE since the project started. When we get to witness a young person transform into an independent young adult, perhaps driving and paying for their own car, developing a stable career, or even thriving in the interview situation – those moments make all the hard work so rewarding. These are small moments in life for some, but for these young people achievements like these are huge milestones and often the turning points for their future.
It isn’t always plain sailing though. Many face leaving the care system with no job, training prospects or educational attainments behind them. And unfortunately, many just slip through the loop. As they approach their 21st birthday, their future prospects diminish, as does their support from social services or as sometimes phrased their “parent”. The thought of living independently with no support and officially being a care leaver can be very daunting. Through no fault of their own, these young people have no other support systems in place, no-one to confide in and help answer the big questions anyone faces when approaching life as an adult. As a result over 600 care leavers in Northern Ireland become NEET (not in education, employment or training) a year. These young people deserve a springboard and a chance to aspire, achieve and become the people they really want to be.
So what can we do? To date, over 60 businesses have supported the Aiming Higher project and there is a clear appetite among the private sector in Northern Ireland to help improve the employability skills of care leavers, but where do they start? Many companies simply just want to get involved to help and many view it as an opportunity to develop their own staff through mentoring and sharing skills. A majority offer CV clinics, workplace visits, mentor support, and those all-important mock interviews to assist the young people in making that transition. Being vulnerable to risks such as early parenthood, homelessness, poor health and involvement in crime all affect our young people, and employers are becoming more adaptive to their complex needs when it comes to offering employment.
My eyes have certainly been opened working on this project and getting to know the young people we work with, but now that we are nearing the end of our final phrase of Aiming Higher what does the future look like for Business in the Community and our members who want to support this group of young people? The answer is -watch this space. As an organisation, we are committed to helping our businesses make a difference. Our new three-year strategy has a strong focus on continuing to work with the most disadvantaged and those furthest removed from education. We certainly want to be involved in this space and we are excited to challenge ourselves, members, non-members and government to create initiatives that really work, for those who need it most.
Young care leavers can still experience social exclusion whilst officially participating in education and work. This is frightening and I think it is clear that much more needs to be done for those leaving care, providing them with a level of support that is on par with their peers. So, if you’re not involved in National Care Leavers’ Week, why not find out more – http://www.thecareleaversfoundation.org/About_NCL_Week. But don’t stop there, if you or your business can support young people in care, no matter how small, please get in touch – firstname.lastname@example.org. Together, we can make a difference.