Bridging the gap with Transitional Safeguarding

Published: 12/10/2022

Author: Harley, Luwam and Toni

Leaving care is a huge transitional period that many young people face.

We recognise that there is a big difference between how children's and adult's services offer support. The threshold for adult services can be very high and if young people do not engage well, they can be seen as not wanting a service, but we are concerned they will fall into ‘the gap’.

As professionals, it is important that we make sure that young people are helped and protected in this really important phase in their lives and we see Transitional Safeguarding as a means to bridge the gap. We discussed several key issues that exist, including supporting the empowerment of Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC) and the equality, diversity and safeguarding of all young people post 18.

Empowering young people to take control of their lives

We believe that empowering young people, and by this we mean helping young people to take control of their lives and identify their strengths and potential, is so important. We can help young people to achieve this by working alongside them to ensure their voices are heard and understood. This is massively important to personal development when turning 18 and beyond.

Professionals can sometimes find supporting UASCs and young people more challenging due to a lack of understanding around their culture and the culture change they experience when adjusting to life in the UK. They face many barriers including language, family and physical environments, and knowledge that make transitioning to adulthood harder for young people who may not understand certain aspects of British culture.

Having limited access to family and people they can trust can also heighten their risk of exploitation. These children and young people can lack close relationships with the adults supporting and caring for them. We think one solution could be for professionals to learn about the background of each young person, become more trauma-informed and expand their knowledge to develop these relationships, allowing that young person to feel safe and able to talk to you. These young people are learning new things, why not join them on that journey and expand your knowledge to build on that relationship and trust? Don’t be afraid to push yourself out of your comfort zone! Cultural awareness will help protect these young people.

Supporting young people facing discrimination

Joining the working world as a young person can be exciting but scary. It gives you a sense of independence and confidence, but it can also become lonely when you experience discrimination and support is reduced. People from the outside may think that things are fine, but behind the smile, young people may still be experiencing many difficulties and will need someone they trust to continue to help and support them. They need people to pay attention.

Discrimination comes in many forms and in a number of ways; being care-experienced, being a person of colour or having a disability. Many young people struggle with this and feel isolated through feeling treated differently about who they are. Isolation and discrimination can put young people in a vulnerable situation where they don’t feel they are understood; affecting them mentally, physically and emotionally.

There is a large gap when young people look for support regarding equality and diversity issues. We are seen as young people who are doing well because we have jobs and are working towards our own goals. We are deemed as not needing support, and so it falls away. The question we would ask is: does this seem right to do that? If you consider your own children or family, do they need less support or just different support as they move through life?

We can see a lot of positive change in the world, the Black Lives Matter movement has given young people of colour the confidence and courage to stand up for themselves and speak up about their experiences, it has opened that door for conversation and has given them a voice. There is still a long way to go, but this positive change brings hope and opportunity to the conversation. Professionals should work with young people to tackle discrimination and equality issues when they arise rather than sweeping it under the rug. They shouldn’t be scared to ask questions and challenge the system.

We are aware the Independent review of children’s social care (2022) looks at the importance of identifying care experienced young people as a priority group. We recognise that this has both positives and negatives in that young people could easily be identified, many young people want to move away from the stigma of being in care. However, having a protected status would provide additional benefits for access to key services. Everyone is different and individual; we should focus on how they feel and their experiences, rather than pretending these problems don’t exist. Remember to be inclusive of everyone and talk about these issues, celebrate these differences.

The challenges of leaving supported accommodation

Transitioning from being a child in care to a care experienced young person leaving care can be very difficult, especially when there is such a huge focus on the young person’s 18th birthday. For some young people, the moment they reach 18, they are presenting as homeless when leaving supported accommodation.

The present housing system sometimes requires young people to become homeless before they can be offered a place to live. This has a very big impact on young people and, at a time of instability and uncertainly, has an impact on mental health and wellbeing. The Care Review has recognised how our systems force young people into boxes which they do not want to enter into. There is a hope that the term homeless will not be something that care experienced young people will face. Is it realistic that young people are expected to be able to live independently and support themselves when they may not be ready?

It is important to remember that not every young person is the same and they will handle certain situations differently. We need to ensure that young people transitioning to independent living in this stage of their lives are supported and prepared so they are not being left in a vulnerable position. We want to move away from support being based on a young person’s 18th birthday and more geared around what support they need.

The importance of individual care planning

Ensuring that every young person has the right skills and knowledge before turning 18 is crucial. Pathway planning is a huge part of this, but not every young person will fit in the same box. Remembering this will make things easier. One young person may be facing the same issues but may require different levels or types of support, which is why you cannot plan or place every young person in a box with broad parameters.

Individual care planning and reviews would help identify how much support the young person has and feels they might need in the future. The past, however, can also play a huge role in a young person’s life. Trauma-informed practice is a great way to support professionals to understand how a young person may be feeling. Even when you don’t understand why, it is important that you can recognise signs that a young person may be struggling.

Young people with care experience are often expected to adapt because they have had to do so all of their life. Having to adapt is a skill every young person coming into care has to learn in order to fit into a new home or a school. You have to develop the skill to enter any new environment and assess the people and potential risks.

Empowering care leavers

Often, too much focus is placed on the care plan and not on the individual person, which is reflected in the expectation and stigma young people face. Let’s work together to focus on that incredibly fragile and stressful period of transitioning and be there to support them every step of the way.

Our young people are the next generation, we need to remind them of that and encourage them to succeed. So as professionals let’s fill the gap, become trauma-informed and focus on supporting them.

Let’s push young people to aim for the stars, live the life they choose for themselves, and do so with a positive attitude.

Related Research in Practice resources

Harley, Luwam and Toni

Harley is a care-experienced young person with experience of working with children and young people in social care settings. She has worked within her local authority, mentoring young people and has spent time working in supported accommodation settings. Luwam is a care-experienced participation worker for Catch22’s National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum (NLCBF) where she helps to plan and deliver events for professionals and care-experienced individuals. She is also currently studying for a degree in occupational therapy and has previously completed an apprenticeship with Kent County Council. Toni is a care-experienced young person who is a member of the NLCBF team and takes the lead responsibility for the benchmarking social media platforms. She now works closely with both professionals and care-experienced young people.