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What do care leavers want from Staying Close?

From 2018, St Christopher’s is running a new type of service designed for care leavers, by care leavers. Staying Close puts children and young people in charge of their transition to independence once they leave care.

We asked Mhairi, who now lives in her own flat, how she thinks Staying Close could have helped her when she was transitioning to independence and how she hopes it will make a difference to other young people in the future.

So tell us a bit about yourself…

Well, I am there – independence. I’ve lived in all sorts of places: with family, with foster carers, in children’s homes, in hospitals, in four semi-independent homes and now here. I’ve learnt a lot for myself and I have had a lot of challenges to deal with that sometimes have not worked out.

It’s been a long journey and sometimes it felt like it was never going to happen or that I wouldn’t be able to cope but I made it. I have my own flat, my own space and things are really good.

What’s the hardest thing about living independently?

When you leave care you really are on your own. So when you need to work out how to get the heating on you don’t really have someone you can ask because it’s just you. It can make you feel quite lonely.

It’s really quiet being on your own in the flat. You might not need key work sessions to help you anymore now that you live independently, but I didn’t realise how much I would miss just having people around.

And there is no second chance. If you mess up you lose your flat. That’s quite scary and it’s not like for other young people who can go home to their families if it all goes a bit wrong or it feels like it’s a bit too much.

So what is the Staying Close project?

So Staying Close is basically a project that the Department for Education have funded to help test out things that might help people like me and other care leavers transition from their children’s homes to living independently. The St Christopher’s project will be made up of:

  • a ‘pop home’ bed where you can go back to their home when you need to just like you might in a normal family home;
  • a participation worker who helps you be involved in how you want to be supported and creating your own plan for the transition, but who also helps you develop your practical independent living skills and confidence through different workshops;
  • a four-bedroom home for you to get a real life experience of living independently and learn in a real life way by trying it out;
  • support for children’s home staff to help them be more like a family. I think this is so good – even though you know they are not your family you still miss them and want them to stay in your lives.  This way it is easier for them to do that.

Part of it is that the young people moving from children’s homes to semi-independent homes will work together with the staff to create the way that they are supported. I think this is a really good idea. Why not get the young people involved? They are the ones who actually know what will help them!

Being involved in your support plan gives you responsibility and makes you feel that you are in control and able to make changes yourself. I am telling you – you will want to know you can do things like that when you are living on your own.

It is really good that St Christopher’s is trying to do this Staying Close thing because I think it would have helped me.

How prepared were you for living independently?

Not that prepared, really. The people in my children’s home all said I have to get ready for independence and would need to budget once I was in my own flat, and they told me all the things I should learn to do. But there was never any structure to make sure that I did it. Well, actually sometimes there was but I was not interested in learning because it didn’t feel real to me. Let’s face it – if you are still living at home it is hard to motivate yourself to learn how to be more independent. It would have been better if I had had a bit of help and support to learn along the way, but in real life situations not just in workshops before I had actually moved.

Do you think the Staying Close project will help young people learn?

Yes, because you are really trying out living independently, so you feel what it is like and it motivates you to learn. When I left I thought I knew everything and was ready – but it wasn’t until I was really living on my own that I realised what I needed to know. If I had been able to ‘pop home’ and have a little break from learning it would have been much better.

What advice would you have for young people getting ready to move from their children’s home?

Don’t be afraid to ask questions. You are not meat to know it all and people are there to help you – your friends, staff, other professionals. And don’t worry if you make mistakes – everyone does, it’s just they don’t often talk about it so it feels like they did everything right first time.

Find out more about Staying Close