Blackpool Council's Care Leaver Employment Adviser (CLEA) project provides a dedicated worker for young people (16 to 25 years) who have been looked after by the local authority. This role aims to support young people to take up a job, training, or work placement.
Background and context
Blackpool is one of the most deprived local authorities in England, with high levels of child poverty, benefit claimants, and unemployment. It has a transient population and a proliferation of low paid seasonal job opportunities. The number of children in need, and children looked after (CLA) in Blackpool is one of the highest in the country, rising from 533 in 2018, to 652 in 2020. The number of young people 16-17 years of age who are not in education, employment, or training (EET), is three times the national average; less than half of Blackpool care leavers were in EET in 2019 (46 per cent)
Description of activity
The CLEA project provides a dedicated worker for young people (16 to 25 years) who have been looked after by the local authority. This role aims to support young people to take up a job, training, or work placement. The project aims to improve the support to care leavers and to increase local authority opportunities across Council departments and suppliers. It supports the young people beyond matching them to an opportunity, ensuring that they take up and sustain the opportunity, and going forward can build up their confidence in the new role.
Starting in January 2020, the project secured funding for the first year through the HR department raising monies by outsourcing HR services. The Council recently secured permanent status for this post. The success of the project has relied on collaboration and effective partnership working. Referrals made by Personal Advisers from the Adolescent Service (who provide support to Blackpool’s Care Experienced Young People) are reviewed by the CLEA with consideration of the potential to match individual young people to available opportunities. Partnerships to help connect young people and opportunities include, for example, Adult Learning services, Blackpool and Fylde Further Education College, and the Virtual Schools Worker.
The CLEA holds a case load of 30 young people at any one time. As part of their corporate parenting role, the Council prioritises internal vacancies for care leavers.
Challenges and barriers
The main barriers for the Council in achieving engagement in employment support and specifically among hard-to-reach young people relate to the following:
- Low levels of skills and qualifications.
- Recruitment challenges - being able to meet the essential requirements for a job.
- Poor health and emotional wellbeing among NEET young people.
- The COVID-19 pandemic has impacted on employment and training opportunities, and young people have been disproportionately impacted (with a high number claiming out of work benefits). Many young people gain a valuable foothold in work experience via seasonal jobs in the tourist economy, however due to the pandemic the normal pattern of seasonal recruitment has been affected, with fewer jobs available in tourism concessions and shops. Competition in the labour market means that overall unemployment in the town is high. As a result, more young people are looking for employment in the local labour market. Less experienced young people may be missing out as a result.
Many of this group of young people left school with low levels of skills, and no, or very few qualifications. Some young people in the town consider that there are no suitable job opportunities for them: “[A] perception that there isn’t anything out there.” This results in low levels of aspiration, self-esteem, and confidence. Furthermore, many are not aware of opportunities that may be available to them, or where to go to find out what might be possible.
The COVID-19 pandemic and associated lockdown resulted in lost learning for many young people, who did not engage with online learning. For others, the impact has been traumatic, with a recent rise in mental health issues and self-harm being observed by council officers.
Impacts and outcomes
The CLEA exceeded targets for service take up, with 75 referrals between January 2021 and December 2021. Of the 75 referrals, 42 (56 per cent) attended their first appointment (attached), and one half of this group (21 of 42) started work. One third (7 of 20 - 35 per cent who had the potential) remained in work for at least three months, and one half of the group who were eligible to work for six months subsequently achieved this. Fewer work placements were undertaken than had originally been predicted (2 out of 10), primarily due to COVID-19 impacting on the ability of employers to offer these. In December 2020, 47 per cent of care experience young people were in ETE, and this increased to 53 per cent in December 2021.
The portfolio of work placements secured within the town alongside work with local employers, has helped to raise awareness in the community of the contribution that young people with experience of care can make. This has increased their willingness to make an offer to this group.
Successes and lessons learnt
- Lack of qualifications: The Council have recognised the importance of not over specifying the requirement for qualifications among young people leaving care. So, they removed qualification requirements to create entry level roles. This created ‘a way in’ for these young people and made them more ready and able to take up training.
- Relationships: Key to the success of this project has been the strength of the relationships established between the Employment Adviser and the young people. This is attributed to having a dedicated and specialist role as well as being able to offer considerable time to build engagement and trusting relationships. This can help address the multiple challenges facing CLA, such as, insecurity, accommodation issues, and mental health problems.
- Sustained support: While there will always be ‘quick wins’ it was felt that for most care leavers 18 months is required for positive outcomes to be achieved. This timescale allows time for periods of disengagement and re-engagement, and it also accommodates those who need time to transition into good timekeeping routines.
- Interlinked practitioner working: Co-locating the CLEA with the wider employment support team has brought benefits including the sharing of knowledge and information, and positive and collaborative team-working. In some instances, the project has helped to change the views of Personal Advisers (PA) who sometimes considered that the young person was either not ready for work or was unemployable.
Young people’s voices
Young people who had been supported by the CLEA provided positive feedback about the help they had received to enable them to take up EET opportunities.
One young person gained significant confidence in attending and engaging with a job interview. She felt able to ask questions of the employer, showing initiative. Taking part in role play and practicing interview questions had played a big part in this successful interview. She has since been offered a job as mental health Support Worker.
Other feedback from young people indicates how helpful the support has been for them:
I am really happy with how the service is going and think it has helped me find out what I would like to do. There has been quite a few opportunities open to me because of it.
I'm very grateful for the ongoing support provided by the Employment Adviser.
There’s no other way for me to say thank you as I wouldn’t of gotten this far without your help your amazing.