Employing care leavers

Mark Rogers, director of legacy, Care Leaver Covenant
Wednesday, June 1, 2022

Care-experienced young people can find looking for a job more difficult than their peers, but there are a number of measures employers can put in place to support care leavers entering the world of work.

Mark Rogers, director of legacy, Care Leaver Covenant
Mark Rogers, director of legacy, Care Leaver Covenant

Care-experienced young people often miss out on opportunities available to their peers. As a society, we have a responsibility to work harder with and for these young people. One way we can do this is to get better at the way we offer care leavers access to employment.

While these young people may have had difficult life experiences, this can result in them developing many of the qualities employers look for – including being adaptable, resilient and hard-working. Care-experienced young people are often already familiar with children’s services organisations and can bring their own lived experience to the table.

The Care Leaver Friendly Employer Charter, developed by recruitment firm Penna, was launched in October 2021 by education secretary Nadhim Zahawi. It sets out principles for employers to adopt and outlines key goals to work towards in recruitment, tracking and development to ensure care leavers are identified and supported.

Since then, 42 companies have signed up. This is on top of more than 200 others that have signed up to the Care Leaver Covenant – including Amazon, Compass Group and Adecco – and made a variety of employment offers that show their commitment to helping young care leavers find work.

1. Advertise in the right places. If you are looking to employ care leavers, it is important to use the right platforms to advertise positions. Going to the usual places won’t work and it’s wrong to assume care leavers will see the position, presume it is suitable for them and apply for it.

Many care leavers and support workers use the Care Leaver Covenant website to look for opportunities, so this is an obvious place to put these jobs. If you are a business or charity looking to advertise opportunities for care leavers in certain parts of the country, talk to local children’s services departments and promote opportunities through them.

When it comes to the application process, be clear you are actively encouraging candidates who are care experienced as well as people from other backgrounds. This helps reassure the young person they will be encouraged and supported.

2. Make the process accessible. Throughout the recruitment process it is important to ensure the right support is in place for care leavers. This can include creating a single point of contact at the organisation to deal with any enquiries from care leavers. This should be an actual person, not a generic email, and ideally this one point of contact should remain in place throughout the entire recruitment process.

This person can answer questions young care leavers – often without much experience of a recruitment process – may have and sometimes don’t have anyone else to ask. Simple questions such as “What can I expect?” or “What should I wear to the interview?”

Some companies, including the likes of Metro Bank, Anchor Hanover and Springboard, now offer guaranteed interviews for care leavers. You may be worried you could end up with hundreds of applicants but this isn’t the case. Guaranteed interviews, if the candidate meets the minimum criteria, help break down barriers and encourage care leavers to apply. This isn’t about giving care leavers an unfair advantage over other candidates but ensuring they have the same opportunities as other people.

When it comes to the interview itself, it may be useful to share the fact a young person is care-experienced – with their knowledge and agreement. Often it will be a care-experienced young person’s first interview so this information will allow interviewers to accommodate for this.

3. Set up a buddy system. If you offer a job to a care leaver, one of the best things you can do to help them settle in is pair them up with a buddy. This should be someone other than their line manager and ideally an employee who has fairly recently joined the company themselves. This means they have someone to make them feel welcome and answer any questions – the sort of things that may seem obvious but often aren’t.

4. Provide training to managers. To support a care leaver properly, it is important to ensure the likes of line managers and people or HR teams have the skills and expertise needed. This should include training on psychologically informed or trauma-informed environments, which is provided by a range of charities such as Birmingham-based St Basils. Training for colleagues to help create empathetic and supportive working environments will help care leavers and others feel welcome and supported.

Supporting care leavers to undertake qualifications – if they want to – is also a positive step that can help build their confidence and show the organisation has faith in them. This could be anything from GCSE Maths and English to vocational courses and professional qualifications, enabling them to progress and seek out new opportunities in the future.

5. Be ambitious. Be as ambitious for care leavers as you would be if they were your own child. Ask yourself: “Would this be good enough for my own, my family’s or my friends’ children?” While it is important to support care leavers and be empathetic, it is just as important to push them to be ambitious and achieve their potential. This will enable them to grow and develop and help your organisation grow – a win all round.


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