Children and young people are taken into care because they are considered to be in a vulnerable situation. For example they may have experienced neglect, mental, physical or emotional abuse, or their parents may have died or become unable to care for them any longer1. The majority of young people in Scotland leave the care service aged 16 years2 (in contrast to the average age of leaving home of 22 in the wider population3) and report feeling pushed to leave before they are ready4.
Unfortunately young people with care experience feature prominently in statistics about vulnerable young adults; most worrying is that around one third of people who are homeless have lived in care5. There is a grave irony that a state that takes young people into its care because they are vulnerable becomes a parent to homeless young adults.
Leaving Care Service
In 2004 each of the 32 local authorities in Scotland were required to create leaving care services (LCSs) which are specialised social work service that has a legal duty to support young people as they leave care. One of the responsibilities of leaving care workers (LCW) is to ensure care leavers have somewhere to live.
A literature review6 about LCSs in Scotland did not provide evidence about how LCWs currently provide support to access housing or people’s experience of this service provision. What was known was that young people reported being illprepared and unsupported as they left care7, and practitioners stated that they found this transition difficult to support8.
Service Design Focus
Meroni and Sangiorgi propose four ways to think about service design9. One of these approaches is to design for people’s interactions, relationships and experiences. Effective LCS provision relies on the quality of the relationship between young people and their LCWs, and good communication10. If this relationships and communication is poor it can be difficult for young people to understand and remember the accommodation that is on offer to them as they leave care. This may contribute to them experiencing homelessness. This submission therefore focused upon conversations about where a young person may live as they leave care.
An interdisciplinary qualitative approach was taken to this work. It included three stages.
- Stage 1: Understand people’s current experiences
- Stage 2: Co-design this interaction
- Stage 3: Evaluate people’s experiences of this interaction.
LCW explained that how young people engage with them depends on young people’s lived experiences12 of: being taken into and living in care, working with other social workers, and their readiness to discuss this topic. They explained that this conversation can be particularly tense and stressful for young people.
Therefore minimal interventionist practices were engaged with when observing this interaction, and an interpretive phenomenological analytical (IPA) approach was taken when seeking to understand and design for young people’s experiences. IPA focuses on the meaning people attribute to momentary, immersive and past experiences, as well as their future expectations13. This non-interventionist, conceptual and evidencebased approach enabled this work to respond successfully to young people’s and LCWs complex and nuanced experiences of working together.
LCW explained that how young people engage with them depends on young people’s lived experiences12 of: being taken into and living in care, working with other social workers, and their readiness to discuss this topic. They explained that this conversation can be particularly tense and stressful for young people. Therefore minimal interventionist practices were engaged with when observing this interaction, and an interpretive phenomenological analytical (IPA) approach was taken when seeking to understand and design for young people’s experiences. IPA focuses on the meaning people attribute to momentary, immersive and past experiences, as well as their future expectations13. This non-interventionist, conceptual and evidence based approach enabled this work to respond successfully to young people’s and LCWs complex and nuanced experiences of working together.
The objective of this re-designed interaction was that young people felt safe enough to engage in this conversation, and felt listened to, heard and understood. For LCWs the objective was to feel supported when providing this service and to better understand the young people they work with. To reach this objective guidance was provided to support LCWs to facilitate three activities called ‘explore’, ‘educate’ and ‘plan’. Each of these activities include products that enable young people and LCWs to work through the activities together. ‘Explore’ invites young people to discuss what they think leaving care will be like, how ready they are to make this transition and what they will need when they do. The ‘educate’ activity enables people to learn about housing options, and the ‘plan’ activity collates and summarises people’s views about leaving care and where they would like to live. This plan can then be submitted as evidence to Glasgow City Council’s (GCC) where decisions are made about which accommodation young people may move to.
These are the products that were co-designed to support each activity. Descriptions of these activities, the products, and guidance to refer to when facilitating this interaction were given to Glasgow City Councils Leaving Care Service, and LCWs were trained to facilitate this interaction.
IMPACT OF THE NEW SERVICE INTERACTION
Stage 1 of this work presented a formative evaluation of this interaction and highlighted that during this conversation people tended to feel anxious and confused. As most young people had fixed thoughts about where they wanted to live, LCWs spent time persuading them to think differently, an approach that was not always successful. Add an overwhelming amount of verbal information, the use of jargon, and no aids in place to respond to these difficulties, and the outcomes of this interaction were not congruous with the aims of the service14.
In stark contrast, young people described the re-designed interaction as making them feel: knowledgeable, thoughtful, able to see the ‘bigger picture’, listened to/understood, and through the interaction they got to know their LCW better. LCWs felt that: difficult conversations were easier, there was a shift in power so young people were more involved, and they were working together. Other than these improved experiential outcomes the re-designed interaction effectively and clearly aligns the LCS‘s aims with this particular interactions outcomes, whilst strengthening relationships between people15. In addition to this service improvement, an unintended positive outcome was uncovered which better supports this organisation. The re-designed interaction has been found to prompt other conversations (for example about emotional support, dealing with money and caring for ones self), which enable LCWs to respond more holistically to young people’s needs.
The re-design of this interaction has been embedded in practice as LCWs have submitted young people’s views on their plans to the RPG, adding immediate value to the quality of LCS provision. Other value this work has brought to the LCS is the information shared in the service blueprints, timelines, and interaction guidelines and products as they enable people to see and make sense of a previously hidden service. The formative evaluation provides the first published evidence of people’s experiences of this conversation, which is valuable because it can be used to support other service innovations. Finally the design of this work is valuable as it offers detailed descriptions about a participatory approach to LCS improvement16.
I am currently working with GCC to spread this design to every LCS in Glasgow and generate evidence to support implementation across 32 LCSs in Scotland. This approach has the potential to transform the way care leavers access housing.