How can outcomes be improved for young people leaving care?

Published: 20 June 2018

A group of young people sitting on a bench; only their legs and shoes are seen.
Each year 11,000 young people leave care, including foster and residential placements, and start their transition to adulthood. 

For many, this is a difficult journey. Not only do young people have to grow up fast, many moving to live independently from their 18th birthday, but often have a great deal to cope with due to difficult experiences earlier in life and within the care system. Young people do not always receive the support that they need, and many face significant challenges as young adults. At the same time, the case workers (personal advisers) supporting these young people often have high caseloads, leaving them with a frustrating tension between the amount of support that they want to give young people, and the time that they have available to do this.

Launched by Social Finance in 2014, Leaving Well is a project working to improve outcomes for care leavers.

How are Leaving Well approaching the problem?

Leaving Well identified that to improve the outcomes for young people, we must better understand what their outcomes are. Whilst it is known that the outcomes of young people leaving care are poor, limited data is collected on what these are and why they are happening. Leaving Well partnered with Dr Mark Kerr from the University of Kent, to create an Outcomes Framework for young people leaving care. Our aim is for this to be adopted across the sector.

What does Leaving Well know about the experiences of young people and those that support them?

In order to embed the Outcomes Framework in practice, Leaving Well set out to understand what happens in leaving care teams. We wanted to understand how young people experience services, how personal advisers (PAs) support them, and the pain points in the process. We partnered with Leeds City Council, the London Borough of Havering, and Southampton City Council to understand what would improve the experiences of young people and the teams that support them. This period of work was made up of different types of quantitative and qualitative research. We met with young people and their personal advisers, team managers and directors, and reviewed data on young people’s outcomes. Next week, we are publishing these findings.

From this we learned about the struggles and challenges that leaving care teams face, and what young people would like to improve. We found the following findings to be consistent across all three of the local authorities that we worked with:

  1. Personal advisers’ time could be used more effectively; personal advisers sometimes spend more time on administrative tasks than with young people.
  2. Management does not have sufficient tools to analyse and identify areas for service improvement. There is little data available to guide decision-making.
  3. Whilst the pathway plan has the potential to be at the centre of the young person’s transition to independence, it is currently falling short.
  4. Young people could be better supported to take realistic steps towards their goals
  5. Leaving care is isolating, and there is little support to help young people to build relationships.

Our research highlighted the passion for change in the sector, and the drive amongst leaving care teams. Whilst there is a real need for change in the leaving care sector, and the support currently given to young people is not good enough, we saw the potential for impact.

Why did Leaving Well decide to take a digital approach to change?

Leaving Well learned that managers would like more data to better make decisions about the services offered to young people. At the same time, we learned that there is the potential to better support young people and their personal advisers through innovative solutions. It became clear that a digital solution could enable more information to be gathered on the outcomes of young people, whilst also supporting young people to get what they need. Digital products can support users to access information, and facilitate collaboration. We saw the potential for a product to enable young people to have greater involvement in their leaving care process, and at the same time collect and collate useful information to inform management decisions.

What does the Leaving Well digital tool do?

The Leaving Well team is developing a digital tool which aims to improve the support that young people receive. Meeting the needs of our users is our priority; this means that everything in the tool has been developed in collaboration with young people, their PAs, and service managers. PAs told us that the tool should enable them to direct their time to where young people need it, and young people told us that they wanted to take ownership over their planning. Managers told us that the tool should provide them with oversight over what is working well and less well for young people. The Leaving Well Digital Tool is currently in the Alpha stage of development; it is being tested by PAs and young people. We are continually learning and developing the tool accordingly.

What has been most clear from our work is that the sector must work together to improve the outcomes for care leavers. We hope that our research shows where change can be made, to improve the lives of young people and support the teams who work with them. By sharing our findings, we hope to give young people and personal advisers a voice. We hope that other local authorities will also see the potential for change.

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