- Recommends semi-independent living between ages of 16 and 18
- Costs would not exceed current residential care costs
Fair Ways Foundation, one of eight organisations chosen to deliver the government's Staying Close pilot, has taken an innovative approach to supporting its young care leavers.
The Southampton-based residential child care provider launched the initiative last February. It aims to address many of the issues faced by young people leaving residential care.
The Staying Close scheme involves offering young people the chance to move into nearby supported accommodation to maintain attachments with their former home and its staff.
Unlike other organisations in the pilot which start the process at 18, Fair Ways advocates drawing up a long-term care plan for its young people before they turn 16.
Fran Herridge, Fair Ways' Staying Close pilot project manager, says it is this proactive approach that underpins the organisation's strategy for delivering the pilot.
"Some of the challenges [for delivering the pilot] are just the way young people in residential care are planned for and looked after. Local authorities are working in a reactive environment and don't necessarily have the resources to plan ahead so long-term care planning is still a challenge for them," she explains.
Herridge says the four key elements to the Fair Ways pilot: long-term care planning, environmental consistency, maintenance of key relationships and meaningful education, training and employment, have been carefully designed to improve life chances for its young people and prepare them for adult life.
She believes starting the care planning as early as possible is a crucial factor in achieving a successful outcome for those young people leaving care.
"We are saying it's about getting young people out of children's homes a little bit earlier and having them prepare for independence in small steps rather than a big step at 18," she adds.
The organisation, which aims to have 10 young people participating over the two-year pilot, recommends moving them into semi-independent living from 16- to 18-years-old. During this transition period, the level of support would be gradually reduced and at 18 the young person would move on to independent living.
Herridge says the costs in delivering support to young people up to the age of 21 - as set out in the pilot's proposal - would not be more than current care models.
"Because of the high costs of residential children's homes placements, we believe the cost savings of moving a child at 16 into semi-independent living would actually provide for support beyond 18," she explains.
Herridge says there were reservations from some staff - and from young people themselves - about moving out of residential care before the age of 18.
"If they are settled where they are at 16 or 17 then to move them out is a bit risky, but for a couple of young people who have already done it they are thriving and it's less daunting for them.
"They've got that safety net of still having the number of staff there but they are not completely on their own having to survive in adulthood," she explains.
Herridge says maintaining the relationships which have built up between young people and staff in residential care is an important part of the Staying Close pilot.
"These are key relationships for young people if they are not in touch with their family and at 18 if they leave the residential children's home they may never see those members of staff again," she says.
She believes one of the key benefits of the Staying Close pilot is to provide security for young people around knowing where they are going to live.
"Having that secure base enables young people to have the time and emotional capacity to go into education, employment and training. They can then think about other things in their life because they know where they are going to live," explains Herridge.
Herridge says delivering the pilot has produced benefits for staff, many of whom have worked with some of the young people for a significant period of time.
"Staff don't just want to cut off these relationships so the fact they can be involved with the young people when they move on is really positive," she says.
With another year for the pilot left to run, Herridge is hopeful the government will recognise the success of Fair Ways' scheme when it evaluates each of the eight organisations involved.
"What sets us apart is we are looking at the bigger picture and the impact of starting earlier. We're not just going to wait until they are 18 and expect them to survive.
"We are going to ensure they have the skills and knowledge to survive beyond that age and be able to make their own contribution to society," she says.