November 2020 brought the evaluation of Break’s Staying Close, Staying Connected project for young people leaving care.
The independent evaluation of the project was carried out by Jo Dixon, Caroline Cresswell and Jade Ward from the Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York, below is the extract of the summary:
“The SCSC project supported young people to develop and build the skills to prepare them for independent living. Feedback from the young people and workers showed that young people’s life skills had improved after six months of entering the project. In addition there was evidence that young people showed increased happiness with life over time, had better stability in their accommodation (most had lived in their house-share for six months or more) and there was increased participation in activities, whether education, employment or getting involved with other activities in the project.”
Department of Social Policy and Social Work, University of York
How did the project come about?
The transition from adolescence into adulthood is a learning curve for all young people but is often much more challenging for those moving on from residential care. Without the financial and emotional safety net families often provide, research has shown that those leaving residential care tend to be poorly prepared for independent living and are particularly vulnerable to risk. They are at greater threat of housing instability and homelessness, lower engagement in education and employment, are more likely to be involved in criminal activity and experience mental health difficulties and loneliness. In recognition of this, eight Staying Close pilots were developed under the Department of Education (DfE) Children’s Social Care Innovation Programme, with Break’s Staying Close, Staying Connected (SCSC) being one of the largest and based in two local authorities*.
Launched in January 2018, SCSC supports residential care leavers aged 16 to 21 who were preparing to leave or had recently left residential care. The project provides the young people with individualised transition support with the aim to help develop the skills and support networks required for independent living. The support package shared houses with others from the project and provides a team of professionals to support them in all areas of their life.
Not only is the project aimed at supporting care experienced young people in their transition to adulthood and all the responsibility that brings, but also works to help them maintain relationships with their previous residential placement or someone of their choosing. Those in the programme are allocated a Transition worker who is instrumental in helping to support and build community and family links and connection to previous children’s home.
Break’s belief in treating young people as individuals and not implementing a ‘one size fits’ all goes to the heart of its approach with SCSC. This not only means the ability to adapt the level and frequency of support as required but the co-produced element to the project means that it could take on board feedback from the young adults and tweak the offerings as the project went along. With the aim of not only improving the service this also gives the young people some ownership in their decisions, choices and involvement in the project itself.
Evaluation report and its findings
A variety of methods were used to measure the impact on those participating in the study of the project. This included but was not limited to measuring their mental and physical wellbeing; happiness; improvement of life skills competence; employment and training status; risk taking behaviour and cost saving impact on the local authorities.
Some young people who had experienced post-care instability in between moving from residential care into their SCSC property, had since settled. Nationally, 41% of young people leaving care are homeless at some point in their first year. As described by one SCSC front line worker, “some young people have stayed within the SCSC project longer than they have been in any other placement” (staff survey).
After feedback from those in the project Break employed a dedicated employment, education and training officer who built links and sourced opportunities that made a difference, and young people talked highly of this support.
The findings showed that one of the areas that showed the greatest improvement was how happy young people felt about the future. One young person said of the project “they’ve changed me as a person for the better. All young people who have been through care deserve this
Voice of young people
When asked what advice they would give to other young people leaving care and thinking of entering the SCSC project “Don’t rush anything, don’t try and become independent all at once then try to move out in six months. Stay as long as you can, learn as much as you can.” Another young person responded:
“Listen to your transition worker. Every bit of help that you get, that’s going to help you a lot and it’s going to get you on your way a fair bit. I tell you it will get you on your feet. From when I started the Break SCSC team, I couldn’t do nothing. I couldn’t even cook pasta for God’s sake. Now me and [the transition worker] are cooking roast dinners and stuff like that.”
Although the evaluation did highlight some challenges the project faced along the way it found that overall the project was successfully set up with evidence showing improvements in all outcome areas. The report also praised the staff stating that the success of the project “was helped by the experience and expertise of Break and the SCSC project workers, who had a range of professional experience”. Alongside the improved outcomes for young people, the project delivered significant savings to the public purse. In the independent evaluation it was found that for each £1 spent, the project could prove £2 of savings.
Break has received funding to continue to run the SCSC project and have plans to further develop and widen the offering to be able to support a wider number and range of care-leavers.
*Break SCSC launched the project in a third local authority but as it joined the pilot scheme towards the end of the evaluation report it was not included in the findings.
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