St Christopher's Fellowship has secured government funding to pilot a new Staying Close provision in West London aimed at improving the experiences of children and young people moving from care to independence.
They will be partnering with the London Boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow, the West London Alliance and mental health charity MAC-UK to open a new service within existing children’s homes and their community.
They have secured funding for their Staying Close project through the Department for Education Innovation Programme, which provides financial support to children’s services providers who have developed a new way of addressing a problem within children’s social care.
Two types of accommodation will be available: firstly, shared semi-independent housing for care leavers within walking distance of their former children’s home; and secondly, ‘pop home’ bed spaces reserved for a young person temporarily returning to their most recent children’s home. This could be after a relationship breakdown, job loss or other difficult period in their life, but also when they want to celebrate an achievement with the people they have close relationships with.
There will be a key switch in the way staff interact with young people who have moved into the Staying Close semi-independent service. In children’s homes, residential workers and young people have a more hierarchical relationship where decisions are made by the adult. Instead staff will be supported to take on peer mentoring roles, which will make their relationships with the young people sustainable for life. MAC-UK is on-board to support staff in this learning through clinical practice supervision and will be training two young people to facilitate these reflective sessions in the future.
St Christopher’s is also investing in app to aid young people who will be moving further away but still wish to stay in touch with their key workers. This allows them to maintain that positive relationship using a safe, secure platform.
One of the most innovative things about the project is that young people will be owners of their futures by deciding when they are ready to move on, rather than a third party making the choice for them.
There is a striking disparity between care leavers and their peers which this project aims to address. They become trapped in a cycle of surviving, rather than living, and this is not helped by data showing that 62% of care leavers have some form of mental health issue. Once they have left care and are no longer in the security of a residential or fostering placement, they can feel isolated, unsupported and low in self-worth.
These experiences are particularly prevalent in London, where the high cost of housing prevents care leavers from living affordably near to the communities they have grown up in and feel part of. Living far away from the key people in their lives means relationships suffer – even small journeys across the city costs money that young people just out of care do not have to spare.
St Christopher’s has a long history of working to support children and young people as they prepare to transition to living independently. They run four children’s homes and eight semi-independent supported housing services in the capital, all of which provide meaningful participation activities, opportunities to achieve AQA certificates, and build resilience so that young people can cope with whatever happens in their lives. Their social pedagogic model of care emphasises the importance of staff forging meaningful, lasting relationships with young people to bring out their full potential.
St Christopher’s has successfully applied for Innovation Programme support before, securing funding in 2015 to set up two innovative children’s homes for young women at risk of child sexual exploitation and other serious community threats.
Chief Executive Ron Giddens said: “We are thrilled to have received support from the government to pilot our new Staying Close service. Support for young people can drop off once they leave care, and it can knock their confidence if they feel as though they haven’t coped with a situation well on their own. Our new provision will give young people access to that extra support as and when they feel they need it.
“We are especially looking forward to developing the pilot in partnership with children and young people so that we can ensure it meets their needs and addresses the problems that they are most concerned about.”
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