Unemployment, homelessness, gang culture and teenage pregnancy are issues which affect young people across the country, and none more so than those who have been in care.
Behind the newspaper headlines are worrying statistics which show educational attainment, levels of health and wellbeing, and employment prospects are all significantly lower for care leavers than for the general population, while instances of homelessness, criminal behaviour and teenage pregnancy are considerably higher.
On Thursday 10 March, a group of care leavers who are being supported by Drive Forward Foundation had the opportunity to share their experience of these challenges with the Secretary of State for Work and Pensions, Iain Duncan Smith, MP.
Drive Forward Foundation is a charity which provides practical and emotional support to care leavers aged 16 to 26 years; helping them to develop key skills, confidence and motivation, which enable them to move into work, education or training. Through a range of corporate partners, Drive Forward provide the professional networks that care leavers are deprived of.
Mr Duncan Smith listened as 18-year-old Ceyan spoke passionately about his plans to become a youth worker: “Where I didn’t have a good childhood, I want to help people get on the right tracks.”
The teenager, a former gang member, has few formal qualifications and the charity is helping him to develop a CV and explore training options. But, his necessity for immediate income (he needs a new pair of shoes) means he is drawn towards accepting low paid jobs, on short term or zero hours’ contracts, possibly to the detriment of his long term plans.
Mr Duncan Smith also spoke to Jayden, a young father who wants to get back into work to set an example for his two-year-old son and Sam, who after almost a year of being homeless is being supported by Drive Forward to achieve her dream of joining the Navy. Sam spoke candidly about her experiences of ‘sofa surfing’ for eleven months, and the resulting stress and anxiety this had caused.
The Secretary of State commented: “I firmly believe, and have always said, that no one is beyond reach. What I saw at Drive Forward showed me they share this belief. They are helping care leavers look beyond their circumstances, so they realise that they can achieve anything they set their minds to. Drive Forward’s work is of tremendous importance and it is vital that this type of support is always available.”
Mr Duncan Smith also spent time with a group of care leavers, the majority of whom have already secured permanent contracts through Drive Forward. They were participating in a public speaking training session, supported by a group of lawyers who had volunteered their time to demonstrate how to develop a strong argument through the effective use of evidence.
Some of the group delivered their speeches to the Secretary of State, who offered his own tips on public speaking.
Martha Wansbrough, the Director of Drive Forward said: “It’s easy to forget that behind the often negative headlines about young people, and care leavers in particular, there are real people who are struggling, who need support.
“We are pleased the Secretary of State took the time to visit us, and spent so much time chatting with our young people. I hope it was useful for him to hear at first-hand the challenges they face but also to see how motivated and determined they are to succeed.”