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Staying Close praised for “encouraging secure, long-term social networks”

St Christopher’s Fellowship is “encouraging secure, long-term social networks” for care leavers, according to an evaluation released by the Department for Education.

The report on the children’s charity’s Staying Close model, released on Tuesday 3 November by the DfE Innovation Programme, highlights “the pilot’s genuine desire to allow young people to gain autonomy and its ability to actively engage young people in decision making”.

The Staying Close model works within four children’s homes in the London Boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow to support young people transitioning from care to independence, with reflective practice facilitated by MAC-UK. Young people co-produce plans for professionals on what they want to support their transition including life skills sessions, trialling move-on accommodation and regular contact with people they care about.

The evaluation explores how St Christopher’s meets the four key aims of the pilot, which were relationship management, stable education, employment or training (EET), independent living skills and wellbeing.

Authentic relationships between young people and their care workers, which develop how relationships typically would outside of the care system, have been key to the success of the project. “[It’s] human, it’s normal, because at the end of the day, if that was your family, and you progressed and you went on to have children, or study, or whatever… that’s the sort of relationship you would have,” shared one young person in the report.

Project partners at Ealing and Hounslow have already implemented policies on expectations and boundaries for relationships based on learning from St Christopher’s Staying Close.

Having relationships with people who want them to succeed has given care leavers support to sustain education, training and employment. The report describes this as “invaluable, with one of the young people stating that they would not be able to go to university if they were not part of the Staying Close programme”.

Support from a dedicated life skills worker allowed young people to feel confident that they could ask for help when they needed it. “Young people benefiting from the project stated that they ‘felt safer’ as it was as though they had a ‘safety net’ but also still had their independence,” the evaluation found.

To improve wellbeing, move-on accommodation and regular, planned contact with children’s home staff allows young people to transition gradually so they can experience independence without feeling isolated. “All of the young people felt that this support was useful, particularly for those with existing mental ill-health issues,” explains the report.

The project is now expanding across all St Christopher’s children’s homes and semi-independent accommodation in the UK.

Jonathan Whalley, Chief Executive, said: “I am thrilled that St Christopher’s Staying Close is succeeding in maintaining those key supportive relationships for young people as they leave care. Thank you to everyone for their commitment in developing the pilot, especially to the young people for their invaluable wisdom and insight.”