The Our Way Leeds service was established in July 2020 to develop a citywide service for young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It provides counselling, supported accommodation, pre-tenancy support and crisis intervention to young people, with a focus on mental health and wellbeing.
Leeds City Council has a clear ambition to be a child-friendly city, helping young people into adulthood, to develop life skills and be ready for work; improving the support and services available to help young people live in safe and secure environments; reducing the number of children looked after and those leaving care; improving social, emotional and mental health and wellbeing are all key components of supporting a young person to live a healthy and independent life (Leeds City Council, 2018).
The Our Way Leeds service was established in July 2020 to develop a citywide service for young people who are homeless or at risk of becoming homeless. It has been designed to meet the needs of young people who are aged 16- 17 years old and looked after by the Local Authority; care leavers aged 18 – 25; young parents; young people in contact with the criminal justice system; unaccompanied asylum seeking children (UASC) over the age of 16; and young people with a range of other vulnerabilities.
Our Way Leeds is jointly commissioned by Leeds’s children’s social work and adult social services. It is delivered by a consortium of third sector organisations: GIPSIL (lead provider, offering mental wellbeing, counselling, complex needs and prevention services), Turning Lives Around, and Foundation Leeds (providing accommodation and support services). It aims to support vulnerable young as they transition to adulthood by:
- focusing on prevention, identifying young people at risk and intervening earlier
- helping children live in safe, supportive families
- promoting independent living, healthy lifestyles, and positive wellbeing
- delivering a flexible 24/7 accommodation and support service for young people who need it, while promoting independence and choice
- providing access to training, employment and developing life skills
- keeping young people safe through better partnership working/co-location and information sharing with other agencies.
Our Way Leeds offers a single service comprising a range of long term, flexible support to meets different needs at different times in young people’s lives. It has a single point of access and staff details, premises, services, and resources are badged or branded as Our Way Leeds, regardless of which consortium partner delivers them.
The service is designed to provide floating support, supported accommodation, pre-tenancy support and crisis intervention to young people who are at risk of homelessness. This includes a counselling and wellbeing service which has been significantly expanded from previous service offers. Young people can access the service by multiple routes:
- self-referral by phone, email, or in person
- referral council services including Housing Options, Care Leavers Service, children and families’ social work services
- NHS mental health services, including the crisis assessment unit at Leeds and Yorkshire NHS Foundation Trust
- third sector and community organisations.
A triage assessment follows all referrals, which are reviewed for additional mental health and wellbeing needs. Support is then put in place to tackle immediate issues and to plan for longer term mental health and wellbeing outcomes. Mental health and wellbeing are recognised as important factors in a young person’s journey to independence.
Where possible, the service will focus on prevention by improving and sustaining a young person’s current living situation. This includes advice and guidance, counselling and one to one support, mediation, social and group activities focusing on positive wellbeing; and pre-tenancy support. Practical support for young people includes support around managing finances, registering with local GPs and other services as adults, and managing relationships. For some young people, social and wellbeing activities help them be more ready for therapy.
For young people who need a housing solution, a range of emergency and planned accommodation is available. This includes housing with 24/7 support available on-site or nearby support, trainer flats, and supported accommodation with other landlords. The housing stock will increase as the service becomes fully implemented, with flexible options available to meet the needs of young people. By April 2022, the service aims to have 270 units of accommodation available, with 132 of these incorporating 24/7 support.
As Coronavirus restrictions ease and the service develops its face to face support offers, a young people’s hub will open in a central location, with satellite locations also planned to help deliver accessible wrap-around support for young people under one roof. This will include advice and information, training and employment support, counselling, and social activities.
How this approach works with families
Our Way Leeds’s focus on prevention aims to identify vulnerabilities and provide support early so that young people can ‘stay put’ in a family setting. Where a young person has been asked to leave the family home, for example, mediation services will attempt to repair relationships. Prevention workers will seek compromises and share information with the adolescent brain and managing behaviours with parents and carers.
It might not be possible for a young person to remain in the family home, so some will be supported into independent living arrangements. Even in complex cases where it is not possible for a young person to remain in the family home, families are still engaged by the service. The service recognises that family is important for many young people, who may choose to keep family members in their lives in early adulthood despite conflicts and challenges, and support for wellbeing and mental health must acknowledge the family as part of the wider support network.
Our Way Leeds also works with young people who have their own children, and who require accommodation support and wellbeing as young families.
As a new service, which will be fully mobilised by April 2022, reporting on outcomes is still to emerge. Our Way Leeds adopts an ‘outcomes wheel’, which measures young people’s progress across multiple domains: accommodation, work and learning, people and support, health, how they feel, choices and behaviours, money, practical life skills, and parenting (where appropriate). Young people report their progress in each domain from one (‘stuck’) to 10 (‘self-reliance’).
Our Way Leeds aims to meet all the needs of all young people who are at risk of homeless in the city, and currently supports around 400 young people at any one time. During the pandemic, care leavers and looked after children have been a priority for the service.
While the service has not yet been fully implemented, some key messages have already emerged from the model.
The power of joint commissioning: Jointly commissioned services can take a significant amount of time to develop and create. Effort and perseverance may be required to bring departments or organisations together but it brings rich rewards. Our Way Leeds was able to make progress by establishing a shared understanding that working together would be better for young people and be more cost-effective for the local system. The service benefited from support across the council and builds on a supportive wider context of council strategies, including a Homeless Strategy, Housing Strategy, Health and Wellbeing Strategy, Mental Health Strategy, Children and Young People’s Plan, and Inclusive Grother Strategy (Leeds City Council, 2018).
Integrating services: The Our Way Leeds service is delivered by a consortium, where third sector providers bring different assets and specialisms. The fully integrated service creates opportunities for clear branding, pathways, and simplified communication which makes the service easier for young people to navigate. This approach reduces the need for young people to be passed between different agencies and delivers a level of consistency around decision making and access to help across the pathway. Managing the whole pathway through a single contract also creates an opportunity for the council to invest more in developing its relationship with the consortium and work together to improve quality and outcomes.