It is National Care Leavers Week, and TACT – the UK’s largest fostering and adoption charity, is using it as an opportunity to mark the fantastic first year of TACT Connect – an innovative service for care experienced people.
TACT recognises that leaving care is a challenging time for young people, especially as many will not have the help of a supportive family network. As a child in care they are surrounded by professionals dedicated to their welfare, but once they leave care that level of support fades away. So, TACT has set up a program called TACT Connect that provides a model of support for care leavers, enabling them to achieve positive outcomes.
TACT CEO Andy Elvin said: “It’s important as a parent that you stay in touch with your children throughout their lives. The state can be a not so great parent because once people have left care, it doesn’t know what’s going on in their lives. So, TACT Connect is our way of addressing that.”
TACT Connect has built an impressive network of care leavers that support and celebrate one another, while keeping in touch with TACT. TACT Connect offers the chance to meet other care experienced people, learn and access new skills and get support in reaching their aspirations. By becoming a member, care leavers receive newsletters packed full of helpful advice and shared experiences, plus invites to events, and the opportunity to be involved in shaping the scheme.
Mark Riddell – National Advisor for Care Leavers has welcomed TACT Connect. Mark said: “Initiatives like TACT Connect are important because they are led by the voices of care experienced young people. This is a new concept and it would be good to see similar work happening elsewhere in the country. We need to be ambitious about how we support care experienced people, and TACT Connect is a really good starting point.”
Work on TACT Connect began in October last year, with the creation of a steering group consisting of care leavers, foster carers, young people in care and TACT members of staff. Right from the start the development of the scheme has been guided by care experienced people, who are naturally in the best position to know about the needs of Connect members, so they have taken a prominent role in tailoring the service. Care leavers are also solely responsible for editing the TACT Connect newsletter, which was launched in March.
In February, work began on the “Peer Mentoring” scheme by providing training to prospective mentors. The scheme allows care experienced people to mentor 15-16-year-olds to help their transition to independence, by offering their own experiences and learned wisdom, as well as being available any time the young people need someone to talk to who may have faced similar challenges to them.
In April, TACT Connect was officially launched at an art gallery in Birmingham where TACT care leavers displayed works of art that they had created themselves with the theme of “message to my younger self”. Those present also built a road-map of their accomplishments, helping to put their experiences in context and define themselves in a way which recognises their many assets.
TACT young person, Channon, said: “It is great to be given the opportunity to connect with other young people who have been in care and have similar life stories. Creating my art piece made me think a lot about my own story, I found it very therapeutic.”
In May, TACT Connect created its database of TACT alumni to establish a network of care experienced people that continue to support each other throughout their lives.
Shortly after the launch, TACT Connect began piloting it’s “Enabling Grants” scheme, which is a grant available to care experienced people to help improve their access to both education and employment. Government statistics found that care leavers aged 19-21 are three times more likely to not be in either education, employment or training compared to their peers. Often this is due to financial insecurity, and the “Enabling Grants” scheme aims to address this issue by providing assistance to those looking to take their next steps but are struggling due to a lack of resources. Applications are assessed by a panel of care experienced people, foster carers and the TACT Connect coordinator Verity.
TACT Connect has made fantastic progress over the past year, but this is just the start. Ambitious plans are in place to grow and meet the needs identified by its members. Plans include regular regional events shaped entirely by members (the next being in Wales in November 2019), a money management workshop, the creation of an online portal for members and the recruitment of regional TACT Connect Advisors made up of care experienced people who organise activity in their local community and engage in research and campaigns.
TACT Connect wants care experienced people to know that leaving care does not mean that they are forgotten, they will continue to be supported throughout their life by those who have had experiences similar to their own, as well as TACT.
TACT care leaver Samantha summed up the scheme: “TACT Connect isn’t just about having a supportive community, it’s about having a friend for life that you can turn to whenever you need help or are feeling lost.”
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