Children & Young People Opinion

Delivering independence skills during Covid and beyond

Richard White

Richard White, Group Operations Director, Next Step Independence

Next Step Independence, as the name suggests, was created to ensure that looked after young people aged 16-18 have more than just a safe place to live, but also gain the skills they need to thrive as they transition to adulthood. We ensure that during this critical stage of their life, as they take their ‘next steps’ to independence, young people benefit from a package of support which is tailored to meet their individual and often complex needs, allowing them to move smoothly and confidently to living independently. However, the period in which we have to work with young people who have already turned 16 is limited, and as time and tide wait for no man, they continue to have 18th birthdays and move on irrespective of the current pandemic and national lockdown.

This poses an interesting juxtaposition for us in that we’re trying to promote independence in a temporary suspension of normality, where the constant message is ‘Stay home, Protect the NHS and Save lives’. This is at such a tangent to our usual mantra of encouraging responsible risk taking and promoting the concept of trying, feeling and experiencing what independence is like and having the confidence to embrace it.

The invisibility of Coronavirus and the sense that it doesn’t affect young people in the same way that it does the older population sometimes makes it difficult to persuade them to comply with the regulations and requires ‘high level negotiating skills’.  Statistically, five under 18’s have died of Coronavirus in the UK during the current Pandemic; most who have needed intensive care have survived. Children seem to present as mainly asymptomatic, but they can still spread the virus to others. The staying safe message can therefore be a difficult one to communicate as young people know they’re unlikely to be affected.

As we pass the anniversary of the start of the first lockdown and with the number of deaths in excess of 126k we took time as a company to be introspection and to better understand why we’ve continued to succeed through the year. So, having looked unsuccessfully for the tutorial video of ‘How to Deliver Independence Skills During Lockdown’ on YouTube, we recognised we had to revisit our modus operandi. We knew that we had to develop enhanced communication and engagement skills with our staff and empower them to work in a far closer way with young people than we had before. We needed to rethink how we could do what we’re commissioned to do, but in a way that was Lockdown compliant.

We developed a relationship with a training provider and quickly delivered a programme of learning that included PACE, Understanding Behaviours as Communication, and other empowering skills all designed to enable staff to talk and negotiate with our young people more confidently.  We know that by providing just the right amount of support and challenge you can encourage a young person’s drive towards independence, and nurture their enthusiasm. We linked this with new ways of working that gave the young people independence experiences in a safe and compliant way.  Staff have responded amazingly to the challenge and we have seen some wonderful examples of lateral thinking. Additionally, we have invested heavily in developing partnerships with Commissioners, CLA Nurses, YOT, Police, Social Workers and Personal Advisors to create the safe holistic environment where we know young people feel safe to experiment with the concept of leaving care.

The thought that will stick in my memory more than anything though, is the resilience of the young people which never ceases to amaze me. The way they adapt effortlessly to change is inspiring and restores faith in their ability, with the right support, to overcome whatever’s sent their way and flourish as the extraordinary people they are.

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