Big interview: The early interventionist - Jane Slowey, chief executive, The Foyer Federation

By Dipika Ghose

| 10 November 2004

She's just six weeks into her job, but Jane Slowey, The Foyer Federation's new chief executive, has already been busy zipping around the UK visiting different Foyers.

"Each Foyer is different, so the best way to learn about the movement is to see as many as possible," she says. The Foyer movement developed in the early 1990s, when it was realised that existing ways of supporting homeless young people were not enough. "Foyers are about more than putting a roof over a young person's head," says Slowey. "They're about providing access to holistic support, training and education."

About 100 organisations, including YMCAs and numerous local projects, are accredited Foyers and 30 are currently going through the accreditation process. Together they help 10,000 16- to 25-year-olds every year.

This week, the organisation is moving into a new phase with the launch of its Safe Moves project. Safe Moves, an early intervention homelessness prevention scheme, has been piloted for the past 18 months and starts rolling out nationally this week. The scheme will enable local authorities and other agencies to work with Foyers to offer local support to young people at risk of homelessness. Peer mentoring, life skills and family mediation will be part of the scheme.

Slowey views Safe Moves as an opportunity to reassess the federation's role. "The main challenge for the federation's work is to find out what our ethos means for the 21st century," she says. "Other organisations are also providing services other than housing, so we need to look at how we can take the principles and ethos of the Foyer to make it relevant to future needs."

Slowey believes her background in local government and the voluntary sector will help her argue for homeless and disenfranchised young people.

As a Birmingham Labour councillor during the 1990s, Slowey was on the housing committee and helped set up the city's first Foyer.

External gaps in services for young people, such as mental and sexual health provision and even adequate dental care, are all issues the federation is constantly battling. But increasing the level of youth participation within its own organisation is one area where it can make changes.

"The important thing about Safe Moves is that it is grounded in the experience of the Foyers," she says. "The idea came directly from young people, who said that if they had known in advance how difficult homelessness was it would have made things easier. They said they needed someone with experience to tell them how it really was."

Foyer residents stay at least nine months and are given a keyworker and an action plan as part of the deal. The federation's own figures suggest the Foyer concept is working.

Half of Foyer residents have no qualifications, just 11 per cent are in government-funded training and only five per cent are in full-time work. On leaving, though, 24 per cent enter full-time employment and 23 per cent join government training schemes.

This is despite barriers such as the 16-hour rule, which stops housing benefits for 19-year-olds entering full-time employment or education - an issue the federation has long campaigned against.

Slowey is doubtful the forthcoming green paper on youth will address these housing-related issues, but welcomes the document nonetheless.

"The green paper seems to be a bit of an afterthought, as the Government has had a clear focus on children for so long," she says. "We hope the paper will provide a similar focus on budgets for older young people as there has been for children."

FYI

- Jane Slowey was a Labour councillor in Birmingham for eight years, from1988 to 1992 and from 1994 to 1998

- Prior to joining The Foyer Federation in September, she had been chief executive of Birmingham Voluntary Youth Service Council since 1998

- She worked with the Home Office on the voluntary sector infrastructure strategy launched in July, and was on the Treasury working group for Futurebuilders.

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