If you are a parent, you will know only too well the impact of the pandemic on young people and what they have had to cope with over the last eighteen months. And as corporate parents, we have also seen what this has meant for our care leavers and as we recover from the pandemic, they will need our support more than ever.
During the coronavirus lockdowns, here in Stoke-on-Trent, we supported all care leavers in the city, with a 100 per cent contact rate. When the world became a much scarier place, contact with their personal advisors was at times the only link with the outside world.
Getting things right for care leavers is highly relational and it starts with the basics, such as ensuring pathway plans are fully up-to-date and reflective of care leavers’ own understanding of needs and ambitions. On this firm platform, we are then pioneering in areas of employment, health and housing. We are reforming our Virtual School to include more dedicated support for care leavers. We are working with organisations like St Modwen, Stoke City Football Club and our own housing maintenance company, Unitas, to increase apprenticeship opportunities. And our Cabinet member, Councillor Dave Evans, has personally convened an Opportunities Taskforce, pulling together public, private and voluntary organisations to provide more options for our care leavers to access training and employment as we come out of the pandemic.
With respect to health, the local NHS has helped us strengthen our care leavers’ offer and we have very pleased that through the pandemic that the average ‘Strengths and Difficulties’ rating has improved significantly. And part of the reason they feel that way is because of the effort we put in to ensuring they have suitable supported accommodation, including our own House project that provides an amazing first step to independence.
Our latest OFSTED monitoring visit took place in July and they too recognised the quality of our support to care leavers through the pandemic and how we had used the crisis as a springboard to improvement. There is still much more to do and we will keep listening hard to our care leavers but our progress to date is a testimony to the continuing hard work of our staff and a combination of great team work and clear strategic leadership.
Jon Rouse is city director of Stoke-on-Trent City Council