When Sephora, aged 22, first stepped through the Drive Forward doors in the summer of 2017, her first thoughts were “will they really be able to help me with what I am looking for?” Young people leaving the care system are referred from one service to the next and not all are able to help them or deliver on promises. This can leave individuals sceptical about whether an organisation will really be able to meet their needs. Sephora, as a mother of a 7-year-old, needed a stable 9-5 job close to both home and her daughters school. This would enable her to support the two of them, fitting around her daughter schedule. Six months on, Sephora is thriving at The Children’s Commissioner where she is a Business Administration Apprentice, able to walk between her work, home and daughter’s school. She has high hopes for her future career.

Sephora left care at the age of 18 to live in a hostel. She had been desperate to live independently but she admits now that she did not really know what to expect. Having so much responsibility came as a shock and managing her own finances left Sephora scraping by from one week to the next. She took up work with a care agency to try to make ends meet. She moved into her own flat at the age of 20, now working 20 hours a week with the agency. At the same time, Sephora was studying for her Maths and English GCSE, maintaining high aspirations and a desire to provide the best that she could for her daughter. Her flat lacked floorboards and paint and her daughter was five at the time; Sephora wanted her daughter to come home to a happy environment, one the child could feel comfortable inviting friends round to. Therefore, Sephora gave up her course to take on more hours with the agency, but the hours were uncertain and changeable at very short notice, which was unsettling for this family unit of two. The situation was not sustainable and Sephora decided to leave the agency and look for a new career. She turned to her social worker who advised that she get in touch with Drive Forward Foundation.

In the meantime, Drive Forward Foundation had been working closely with The Children’s Commissioner’s team to design an apprenticeship scheme that would be accessible for care leavers.

Drive Forward consulted The Children’s Commissioner team to ensure that the wage and application process were at a level that would be accessible for Drive Forward’s client group. We also worked with the team to ensure that the working environment was flexible and supportive, taking into account the challenges that care leavers face. This included incorporating a mentoring scheme and training from Drive Forward to all staff involved on challenges faced by care leavers and the long-term impact of trauma and negative experiences on young adults.

Just as we were beginning to recruit for this opportunity, Sephora had recently started working with Heaven, Employment Consultant at Drive Forward. Heaven was supporting Sephora with her confidence and encouraging her to look at other industries that she had not previously considered. When Heaven first suggested the Business Admin Apprenticeship to Sephora, she was unsure. It was outside of her comfort zone as she had not been in an office environment before. However, boosted by Heaven’s belief in her, she decided to go for it! She worked with Drive Forward to complete the application process and was surprised to be shortlisted. She went for the interview and was delighted when she discovered that she had been successful.

There was one last hurdle to face: starting full-time work. Sephora was no longer eligible for housing benefit and had one month to wait until her first pay cheque. She had bills to pay, travel, clothes and food to think about. We were able to support Sephora through our Closing the Gap fund which is specifically in place for this reason, to help young care leavers overcome financial hardships when moving into employment. Providing Sephora with the equivalent to what she would have been receiving through benefits for the first month, Sephora was not left on the back foot but was able to plan ahead and budget, instead of scraping by and in debt before she had hardly begun. The Children’s Commissioner also introduced a new payment method for Sephora, allowing her to be paid once every fortnight instead of monthly to ease her transition.

Sephora has now been at The Children’s Commissioner for three months:

“It is amazing, it is going really well, I am learning a lot daily… just how the office works… I am happier… Before I worked for a care agency and I did not know if I would have a job from one day to the next. I have a 7-year-old child. There are certain things you have to be able to provide for your home and it is hard to provide these things… I am more relaxed and I have 25 days’ holiday… I can plan for things.”

The experience has provided Sephora with new ideas for her future and she is now considering a career in finance or HR. As well as this, Sephora would like to be a voice for other young people in, and leaving, care. She remains in touch with Drive Forward and is taking part in our mentoring scheme – paired with a mentor who can act as a listening ear and objective viewpoint, being someone outside of The Children’s Commissioner.