Council appoints care leaver ambassadors

Neil Puffett
Monday, October 26, 2020

A council has appointed a group of young people to act as ambassadors for care leavers as part of efforts to improve the support they receive.

Oxfordshire County Council has launched the scheme during National Care Leavers Week. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council
Oxfordshire County Council has launched the scheme during National Care Leavers Week. Picture: Oxfordshire County Council

Oxfordshire County Council, which has 465 care leavers aged between 18 and 25, said the seven ambassadors, who have previously been in the care system themsleves, have been appointed to "ensure the voices of children and young people in care are heard and included in decision making".

The move has been announced to coincide with the start of National Care Leavers week, which runs from today (26 October) until Friday (1 November).

The ambassadors will meet and talk to children living in care outside the county, as well as those with disabilities, and new arrivals to Oxfordshire’s children in care scheme.

The aim is for them to form a link between care leavers, the exisiting Children in Care Council, Oxfordshire Care Leavers Association and the council's corporate parenting panel.

Steve Harrod, Oxfordshire County Council's lead member for children and family services, said the best way for the local autority to provide first-class service and support for young people in care is to understand what they want, based on their experiences.

“As corporate parents, Oxfordshire County Council wants to be ambitious for all our care leavers," he said.

"The test we set ourselves is: ‘would this be good enough for my own child?’.

“Ambassadors are young people who have themselves experienced living in care. I’m therefore confident they will create a common bond with those they listen to, building trust, understanding and a vison of how we can make the existing system even better."

Newly appointed ambassador Autumn Walsh said she found leaving care "a hard transition" as it meant more responsibility and having to make difficult decisions.

“However, being a care leaver also lead to me becoming a chair of the Children in Care Council and achieving an apprenticeship, working with care leavers and children in care," she said.

“I am now in my own place and would love to help other care leavers to get where they want to be.”

Meanwhile, Become, a charity for children in care and care leavers, is marking National Care Leavers’ Week 2020 by calling on government to remove the "care cliff edge", whereby many young people in care are forced to move out of their home on turning 18, into independent living arrangements or unsuitable accommodation, such as bed and breakfasts, even if they don’t feel ready or supported to live independently.

The charity said that for many, this triggers an "abrupt transition into adulthood", falling at a time in a young person’s life when they need stability the most, warning that a concerning number of care leavers end up homeless immediately, or struggle with the lack of support and become homeless later on.

Katharine Sacks-Jones, chief executive of Become, said: “Living independently for the first time should be something young people are excited about, but for too many in the care system it’s something they dread – knowing they could be forced into independence before they feel ready or supported.

“Ending the care cliff means that more young people will be able to move into independence when the time is right for them, and the right support is in place.

"This is especially important after what has been an incredibly difficult year for young people in care, many of whom went into the pandemic having already experienced significant trauma, mental health issues and feelings of isolation.”

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