Wirral Council is pioneering an innovative model of service delivery through the placement and employment of looked after children and care leavers into frontline Streetscene and place based Services. Originating as a methodology by which the Authority could maximise the benefits of its apprentice levy, the programme has evolved to provide genuine, paid, permanent employment solutions for some of the most challenged individuals that have passed through the Council’s care system. In a matter of months, two of the country’s biggest providers of environmental services have now employed four care leavers on a permanent full time basis supported by a tailored training and development programme and pastoral care from within the local authority. This has succeeded in not only providing these young people with a rewarding and life changing career path but also reducing the growing financial burden on the Council as the numbers of looked after children continues to increase both locally and nationally. The Council has incorporated measures to include employment of Care Leavers by suppliers into its Social Value Policy and is now looking to grow the project to involve other service partners across place, people and corporate services and has already secured the support of more national organisations including Lloyds Bank and Unite the Union.
Local authorities have Corporate Parenting responsibility for our young people who are children looked after and care leavers. Being a corporate parent means doing everything we can for every child in the council’s care – and every care leaver – to give them the opportunities that other children get. This covers everything from monitoring their progress at school, to looking after their health and wellbeing, to preparing them for life as independent adults – and supporting them when they get there. Councils should be ambitious for them, encouraging them to dream big and take chances, even if they do not feel like that its been an option in the past, safe in the knowledge that when bumps in the road come along they will have our support.
The corporate parenting principles apply to the whole of the local authority and key partners, not just Children’s Services Departments, and will therefore guide how care leavers are supported across all of the local authority’s functions in respect of looked after children and care leavers. It is estimated that the full cost of providing a full financial package under our corporate parenting responsibility for an individual care leaver who is not in education, employment or training (NEET) is between £20,000 and £25,000 per annum.
Wirral has a higher proportion of children in care than many of their neighbouring authorities, than the regional average and higher than the national rate. In 2013 Wirral had a rate of 98 children in care per 100,000 children. The current rate works out at 120 per 10,000 youngsters – which is double the national average. When these children leave the care system in Wirral – in line with the national statistics – they are three times more likely to be NEET than their peers. Currently 45% of Wirral’s care leaver population are NEET. All Care Leavers receive the support of a Personal Employability Coach to help access employment, education or training opportunities. Due to the significant barriers some Care Leavers face, they often need intensive support not only to access but also to sustain opportunities.
As part of the corporate “Wirral Plan”, the Council has pledged to prepare young people for adulthood and enable vulnerable children reach their full potential and have formed the strategy to support our young people to manage the transition into adulthood and secure a successful future. These pledges inform the strategies and approaches taken to support care leavers as they move towards independence. This includes not only the local authority but also partners and key stakeholders.
In March 2018, Wirral Council’s “Commissioning Services Team” and the “Young People’s 14-19 Service” discussed the adoption of a new approach to support Care Leavers into opportunities with a couple of frontline service providers/ partners who hold council contracts.
Through the relationship that Commissioning Services have with stakeholders both internal and external to the Authority, they have been able to use their influence to encourage them to consider Care Leavers as potential employees.
The initial approach considered the opportunity for Biffa Waste Services to use their apprenticeship levy to support the employment of individuals, however due to a lack of existing apprenticeship infrastructure in the industry since the apprenticeship reforms and the move from frameworks to standards, Biffa felt that this would not provide the ideal environment in which to employ and develop young people at this stage. Biffa have nevertheless provided positive feedback and alternative mechanisms by which employment can be created, whilst at the same time, leaving the door open for future apprentice opportunities.
In reality, this has enabled better outcomes as Biffa have committed to providing a full training and development programme, treating the individuals as regular employees, with the eventual aim of full integration into the existing workforce. The Children’s Services Department will work with the employers throughout the programme to support the individuals and provide any “over and above” requirements that will aid and develop their progress such as travel to work and driving license opportunities.
Joint meetings between the two services and Biffa established the rationale for working in partnership and collaboration, the barriers care leavers face in accessing employment opportunities, corporate and social responsibility. Wirral council values and the potential that care leavers have. This has led to the creation of ring fenced opportunities for our care leavers. Biffa included their principal trade union Unite as part of their discussions. Unite fully and wholeheartedly supported the initiative and could see the social and future benefits it could bring to a modern day workforce.
Following the conversations and initial principles established with Biffa, the team approached Continental Landscapes, another large national employer primarily in the grounds maintenance and horticulture industry. Continental advised that they faced extensive challenges in recruitment of apprentices with a desire to pursue a career in horticulture, and as such, were concerned about a future skills shortage.
Adopting the same model as that pursued with Biffa, Wirral worked with Continental landscapes to enable the placement of two care leavers with the company on a full time basis as permanent employees.
There are now two young people from within the care system who are now paid, full time employees of Continental Landscapes and form part of the regular workforce. Both the company and care leavers are astonished at the progress that has been made in such a short space of time, and in a matter of weeks, the care leavers have been trained in a number of key areas of operations including machinery handling, turfing and arboriculture.
“I have been both surprised and heartened by the level of commitment, dedication and professionalism shown by our two employees in such a short space of time. Both in their late teens, therefore the youngest in the workforce, they have been exemplary models towards their older colleagues, and always keen to learn new skills at the earliest opportunity. With continued training and commitment from both, I think they will have a long and bright future within the industry. It has been a pleasure to of been part of this pioneering programme with Wirral and to see two young men both with excellent attitudes aspiring to be the best”
- Alan Roberts, Contracts Manager, Continental Landscapes Ltd
Complete apprenticeship opportunities with requisite qualifications are now also being offered to the employees. This has been achieved in less than two months of intense discussions and commitment from all parties and the company are looking as to how similar models can be incorporated into their work nationally.
The young people feel valued and supported, optimistic about their future and recognise the benefits and values of being in full time employment whilst being less reliant on the support of the local authority. Both are also being paid at the National Living Wage rates of £7.83 per hour for over 25’s rather than the rate commensurate with their age of £4.20 per hour. Upon receipt of their first ever wage, one employee commented to the manager:
“I’m made up Alan, I can buy things now”
Biffa Waste Management
An Open Day showcasing opportunities with Biffa exclusively for local care leavers, followed by informal and light touch interviews informal interviews took place in July 2018 following which the company started two full time care leavers as employees in September 2018. These employees will follow a full industry standard training programme with full company benefits. Biffa will also look to provide individuals with a “workplace mentor” that will support their progress, act as a friend and ensure their smooth integration into the workforce.
It’s important to recognise that this approach is new. All partners involved see this as a first step of a longer term vision so that more opportunities are created through working closely with our providers as relationships and the approach become more established. This is also a clear example of how a “whole council” approach to corporate parenting can work to support our Care Leavers with tangible outcomes for both the Care leavers and the wider Council. Due to speed at which this programme has commenced and developed, the financial impacts and benefits are still being mapped, however one thing is for certain – that sustained and progressive implementation of this scheme will undoubtedly change the lives of some young people forever. Nonetheless, this pilot project has delivered almost £50,000 of social value benefits and Wirral now has ambitions to incorporate similar models into its new service contracts going forward enabling growth and sustained social benefits going forward.
The growing “care crisis” is one which continues to place an ever increasing financial burden on local authorities up and down the country and whilst this initiative should not be considered as a panacea for this, it does provide evidence and measurable, tangible results as to how innovative thinking coupled with public / private collaboration can make a real difference to people’s lives.