What is Staying Close?
St Christopher’s Staying Close service aims to improve the experiences of young people moving from residential care to independence. We provide a stable home, opportunities to maintain important relationships, and tailored support.
We wanted expert help to make sure the service is the best it can be – so care leavers and young people in care have taken the lead.
This pilot is running thanks to support from the Department for Education Innovation Programme.
What is life like for care leavers?
In the UK, 50% of young people still live with their parents at 22 years old – but care leavers do not have the same luxury. There is a big jump in responsibility as soon as they leave care.
Suddenly they are expected to manage everything that comes with being an adult, even though they are still very young. They can feel isolated as they struggle to pay bills, stay in education and maintain their accommodation, all on their own.
They want to maintain the relationships they built with children’s home staff, but this can fall by the wayside as the challenges of adulthood take over.
On top of this, care leavers are sometimes given accommodation far away from where they have been living. Being far away from their support network of friends, family and staff is difficult and can make care leavers feel isolated.
They become trapped in a cycle of surviving rather than living. All of this impacts upon where care leavers end up as they progress into adulthood.
It's good to have independence but sometimes you have to do it with someone first. It's that thing about don't run before you can walk.
Why is Staying Close different?
Staying Close changes things for care leavers. The service flips the narrative so that young people are in charge of their transition to independence. They decide what support will help them the most and work with staff to come up with a care plan. This means care leavers know they have someone who they can rely on for when they need a bit of help.
A home in a familiar area
Staying Close provides good quality, semi-independent accommodation that is within walking distance of a young person’s former children’s home.
Unlike other services, we empower young people to own their futures. Within Staying Close, they decide when they are ready to move on instead of a third party making the decision for them.
Maintaining important relationships
When we asked our young people what the best thing in their children’s home was, 100% told us it was the staff. That’s why Staying Close offers planned and regular opportunities for young people to meet with and work with staff from their residential children’s home. Structured, co-produced plans will support these relationships to flourish and resemble those you would find in a family home.
Mental health support
We all know that moving house can be stressful but this can be amplified for young people in care. Therapeutic support is available to help with their mental health needs as they grow towards independence.
Our art therapist provides one to one art therapy sessions with young people to ensure they have access to mental health services.
‘Popping home’ for support and celebration
Beds are available in the young person’s former children’s home for them to return to. This is an option for when things aren’t going so well, but also for when young people want to celebrate something with the people they are closest to. Not only does this offer practical help, it empowers care leavers to maintain the networks that matter to them.
Young people take the reins
Young people’s participation is really important. Only they can know how things really are for them, so we give them the opportunity, confidence and skills to work collaboratively with adults. They create plans to shape the way people work with them and the support they receive.
Care leavers shape the service delivery by taking on a specialist role too. They train as peer mentors to guide staff and ensure the relationships they build are sustainable for life.
Specialist support from staff
Transitioning to independence is one of the biggest challenges a care leaver faces, so it’s important to get it right. A dedicated life skills worker runs sessions to meet young people’s practical needs that they will need for their transition to adulthood.
Partners and funding
Staying Close runs in partnership with the London Boroughs of Ealing and Hounslow and the West London Alliance. The DfE Innovation Programme awarded funding to the project as part of a commitment to improving support for care leavers.
We are one of the only Innovation Programme projects where public, private and voluntary organisations have worked together in such a collaborative way. It benefits young people by providing them with chances to meet others who have transitioned out of care and learn from their experiences.