What have we learned about our relationships with care leavers during lockdown?

Nat O’Brien
Friday, August 28, 2020

The Covid-19 lockdown and continuing restrictions has compounded many of the issues care leavers already face – but now, more than ever, the struggles with accommodation, mental health, employment and many other challenges are intensified.

Catch22 runs the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum (NLCBF), a network of over 110 local authorities and their Leaving Care teams. Our aim is to improve outcomes and enrich the lives of the UK’s care leavers.

NLCBF has hosted virtual sessions for its local authority members over the past few months and attendees have included participation workers, care-experienced apprentices, personal advisors, and leaving care team managers from over 35 local authorities.

Here, we share the immense challenges our member local authorities have faced, as well as the innovative solutions which have worked for them:

The challenges

Through both our events and surveys, there are clear trends in the issues seen by our members:

  • Digital inclusion - Wi-Fi or broadband access may be weak, with limited data. 74 per cent of local authorities state that young people not having access to devices such as laptops or smartphones is a challenge.
  • Care leavers are apprehensive about using online apps - Just over a third of local authorities said care leavers were shy about using online platforms, possibly due to their mental health and a decreased motivation to communicate during isolating times.
  • Lack of digital skills or training - 23 per cent said digital skills and training is needed to use some platforms.
  • Managing boundaries – “Young people see you online and they may contact you. We want to ensure young people are safe but boundaries are important.” Personal advisor, NLCBF Local Authority Member.

Keeping in touch

Staff are using a combination of traditional communication as well as web-based platforms, but training and new processes have been needed.

  • Traditional approaches – Staff are using their phones to call, text, and email. Sometimes, face-to-face check-ins and socially distanced walks have been possible.
  • Social media - Use of social media platforms has increased during lockdown.
    -Over 50 per cent of local authorities are now using Facebook to share useful information and engage with care leavers.
    -Twitter and Instagram are used to poll care leavers, inform them of opportunities, and to share experiences.
    -TikTok has been used to promote interactive challenges.
  • Video calls – Video calling, using everything from Zoom to HouseParty, has been primarily used for one-to-one discussions, such as pathway planning between personal advisors and care leavers, and well-being check-ins.

“We make use of Instagram, Facebook, Zoom, WhatsApp, YouTube and Survey Monkey. Each channel has a different purpose and creates different interests and information e.g. Instagram has been used for sharing fun stories, challenges, and it is more personal.”

Personal advisor, NLCBF Local Authority Member.

What works

  • Increased engagement – 100 per cent of local authorities reported improvement in engagement. 20% of local authorities have reported they have increased engagement with care leavers placed out of county.
  • Preference for virtual engagement - 43 per cent of local authorities reported that young people who were not usually engaging had a preference for virtual engagement. Our team has even had new young members join the Young Peoples’ Benchmarking Forum.
  • Increase in independent living skills - 26 per cent of local authorities mentioned social media had been used in preparation for independent living work, such as sharing Facebook live cooking sessions and exercise videos.

Next steps

Our insight over the last few months shows that there are some important areas that many Leaving Care teams need to focus on to develop good policy and practice for the future.

It would be helpful for local authorities to develop training and practical guidance for staff and care leavers on the different social media platforms and how to use them effectively. We’ll be developing a practical guide, using insight from our members and resources from existing programmes, like The Social Switch Project.

There is a need for staff to share evolving concerns around safeguarding and policy in relation to new engagement models and to check that their teams and young people are using social media safely. We will be referring to Catch22’s National Online Harms Consultation and resources from our members to help local authorities develop best practice guidelines.

While engagement is high, there is real opportunity for young people to upskill right now if they are inspired with the right prospects and supported with the right tools. Programmes like Bright Light are getting care leavers into employment and have continued their success during lockdown. And work with our wider partners, such as Microsoft, prioritises digital inclusivity so our young people can secure their futures.

The challenges do not appear to be going anywhere for a while but we know that if we continue to see members work together in the coming months, with care leavers the priority, then we can ensure our young people are not left behind during what is, for many, a very isolating time.

Nat O’Brien, co-production and engagement lead, National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum. To find out more about becoming a National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum member, contact nlcbf@catch-22.org.uk

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