Care leavers experience some of the poorest educational and employment outcomes of any group of young people. Nine months after leaving school one in three care leavers finds themselves unemployed, with a negative impact not only on the care leavers themselves, but with a cost to society as a whole.
The Scottish Government has done much to assist those care leavers trying to get into training and employment, including funding the Community Jobs Scotland (CJS) programme, which creates paid job training opportunities for young unemployed people through third sector organisations.
The Scottish Government’s Evaluation of the CJS Phase 3 & Phase 4 Care Leaver and Young People with Convictions Pilots however highlighted a number of concerns that need to be addressed to ensure that care leavers are ready to enter the workplace and sustain employment.
A major factor impacting on care leavers chances of gaining and maintaining employment is down to low educational attainment. A lack of qualifications means that these young people are at a disadvantage when compared with those who are not in care. Increased engagement is the key that will allow those young people in care to reach the potential that they have academically. In order to increase engagement we must look at the pupil to staff ratio.
Smaller class groups allow for more intensive teaching that allows for difficulties that individual students have to be dealt with quickly. Relationships are vital to young people in care and they would benefit from working with the same core group of support staff which should boost confidence and engagement at school.
Relevance and flexibility in the curriculum for pupils in care has a positive impact on overall engagement and in turn attainment. Many of these young people have had negative experiences of education and do not see the relevance of what they learn at school. The curriculum and transition planning needs to be a focus early on in the secondary phase of a young person’s education, with them knowing what they need to achieve to meet their own aspirations.
Flexibility can then be applied to the curriculum, in terms of subject choice, to allow them to see the relevance in what they are learning. Is it essential that a young person who wants to be a mechanic take a social subject or a modern language during the senior phase of their education? This is the question that lots of young people ask and if flexibility in the curriculum is not increased those in care will continue to disengage from education. However, if these young people are given specific goals that are relevant to them there will be an increase in attainment figures.
Stakeholder feedback during the CJS pilot reported that the care leavers they worked with displayed low levels of maturity. This is again an area that needs to be tackled within our schools and should continue to be worked on. Resilience and self-belief play a huge part in the maturation process and it is the responsibility of those working with care leavers to develop these skills.
During their time in care a young person will work with various carers, teachers, social workers, educational psychologists, support staff and a variety of different agencies. This approach does not lend itself to a consistent joined up approach and does nothing in terms of building positive relationships for those in care.
For many care leavers, access to the family and social networks that many young people draw on to move into employment is not available. Additionally, the challenges of moving into employment for the first time often come at a time when care leavers are facing a significant range of other challenges over and above those faced by other young people.
Where possible there should be a core team of staff that follow a young person through their time in care and remain with them for a fixed period of time after they leave care.
This consistency of approach will allow the young person to have someone they trust support them through their schooling into training and into employment.
For a young person leaving care the outside world can be especially daunting, but with the right support we can ensure that these vulnerable young people make a positive contribution to society.
• Iain Cameron is from Spark of Genius, member of the Scottish Children’s Services Coalition