Children & Young People Opinion

A Bright Light for care leavers

Gary Thomas, Area Director, South and South West England, The Children's Society


Every year thousands of young people leave care. When they turn 18 they are expected to live independently, look after their own finances, find employment or continue in education, they are expected to be adults. This is a daunting experience for any young person, but for those who have grown up in care, who have not had a family there to support them, this is even more challenging.


Take something as simple as getting their first job. For most young people their first experience of employment will be a Saturday job. It starts with a search, sending out CVs and filling in application forms, which a parent will probably help them with.

The next step is an interview, this may be a nerve-wracking experience, but again it’s likely parents will have helped them prepare, maybe ironed an outfit, given them a lift or the money to get there. Parents may run through some possible interview questions or the young person may have had special lessons at school.  If the interview is a success there may be family celebrations, if not someone is there to pick them up and give them the confidence to try again.

For many young people a Saturday job is to give them some extra spending money for clothes, socialising and hobbies. First jobs are also a way to learn about the world of work, to find out about application forms, interviews, time keeping, employer expectations and more. 


But what about children who did not have this experience, those in care. In December the Department for Education released the latest figures around looked after children.  It found 39 per cent of care leavers aged 19-21 are not in employment, education or training. This compares to just 12 per cent of other young people in the same age group. Clearly more needs to be done.


Many of these vulnerable young people will have experienced serious trauma in their lives. They may have mental health issues, problems with housing, social workers and more. For these young people the idea of getting a job is huge.  


Then if they succeed in doing so, there will be many more barriers and issues that these young people may still be struggling with.  If they have moved into independent accommodation for the first time they will be leaning to manage their money, they could be struggling with debt or even facing eviction. Employment will bring fresh concerns such as being able to afford to buy the new shirt for work, the travel to get there or money to buy lunch.  Then there’s socialising with colleagues and the alien nature of the office or workplace. 


All these issues may cause the young person to seem disinterested and unreliable. Employers may wrongly think they are part of the ‘snowflake generation’ who don’t know the meaning of hard work.


The reality however is different and it is organisations like The Children’s Society and Catch22 who understand this. That is why we recently launched new collaborative project – Bright Light. The pilot scheme is being offered in four areas of London to local care leavers. Generously supported by the Clothworkers Foundation, it is a programme offering care leavers a full wraparound service that is designed to help them get into employment, further education or apprenticeships. 


Young people who enrol onto the course will be provided with one to one support for up to 18 months. Career coaches will help care leavers to create a stable personal life and a good understanding of budgeting. They will help them think about their futures, building their confidence, helping them to understand employer expectations, CV writing, interview techniques, budgeting, the importance of time management and more.  


Career coaches will also try to work with the employer to ensure they have the right understanding and support in place so that care leavers can thrive.


At The Children’s Society we believe in care leavers, they have so much potential. Many of them have overcome huge issues and with the right support, such as the new Bright Light programme, we know they can become incredibly productive members of society.





Edel Harris





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