Why it’s so important to provide extra support for care leavers at Christmas

20th December 2019

Jonny is an Assistant Team Manager in North Yorkshire County Council’s leaving care team. In 2018 he completed the Firstline programme where he took part in a number of residential modules, workshops and extensive coaching to develop his leadership skills.

As a care leaver, Jonny is a strong advocate of supporting and empowering vulnerable children and other care leavers. He is a trustee for Coram Voice, an organisation designed to champion children’s rights and ensure that young voices are heard in the decisions that matter to them. We spoke to him about why it’s so important to provide extra support for care leavers at Christmas.

What was your experience like of being in the social care system?

 My experience was overwhelmingly positive. I stayed with foster carers on an emergency one-night placement – and never left! They became, and continue to be my family. A year later my brother came into care and, after another year of being in a separate foster placement, he was able to live with us.

Even with my positive experience, being in care is hard. You spend a long time not being sure where you belong, knowing that you’re different to your friends and having rules that other people don’t have.

What is the hardest part about leaving the care system?

One of the hardest parts for most young people who leave the care system are the same things that are hard for others: being responsible for paying your own bills, looking after yourself and dealing with the loneliness of living alone.

The key difference is that, as a country, we ask vulnerable care leavers to do this much earlier than other young people. Whilst leaving care teams across the country do an amazing job, they can’t provide the same level of support that a mum or dad can.

Why is Christmas day important for care leavers?

Christmas day is probably the single most important day of the year for most people in this country. It’s the one day that everything is closed and society expects everybody to spend the day with their families, which is ok if you have one or if you have a good relationship with them. The reality for care leavers is that often neither of these are an option for them.

Leaving care teams work tirelessly to make sure care leavers have somewhere to go at Christmas – they even buy gifts for young people to take if they are visiting distant relatives so that they don’t feel like they are imposing. Sadly, some care leavers still don’t even have this option and will spend Christmas day alone.

Why do you think Christmas events put on for young people who have been in care are so necessary?

Having care leavers Christmas dinners are so important for young people who would otherwise be alone on Christmas day (you can find more information on these here). Not only do they give young people a sense of belonging and community but they mean that people who would otherwise be alone on the day will be together, and will feel together.

Organising and hosting care leavers Christmas dinners means that young people can spend the day celebrating, which is really what Christmas is all about!

What kind of support do young people who have left the care system need to improve their lives and opportunities?

Care leavers need a lot of support after they have left care. They need help with the practical skills of living alone, as well as help with the emotional side too. Care leavers need to have the ability to build and maintain relationships because none of us really live independently.

The thing I’m most passionate about is that care leavers need to have access to the right opportunities at the right time. Whether that is a university taking into account someone’s care experience when they issue offers, or whether that is an employer taking the time to recognise why someone might have gone to five different secondary schools.

How has the Firstline programme impacted you and your team’s work with children and families?

Attending the Firstline leadership programme has been the best piece of post qualifying development I have done. The course itself is tailored to each individual which makes it feel different to any other course.

I learnt such a lot about myself and my practice during the course, and I continue to use the lessons I learnt in my practice now. The whole emphasis of the programme is to ensure that as leaders we are able to inspire our teams and the people around us to make a difference for the children, young people and the families we work with.

As a care leaver, what would you say to someone considering becoming a social worker?

Social work is such a difficult and demanding job which touches the very heart of people’s lives. You have to be determined to make a difference to other people, without any mixed reasons and being aware of your own motivations. That said, social work can be the most rewarding job in the world. To be able to think I’ve made a difference to a child, young person or their family is a privilege that not many professions provide.

The Firstline programme enables first line social work managers to develop their own leadership identity and skills which fit within their unique personal and professional context, and supports participants to lead change in social work and broader society. Find out about how you can take part in the programme here.