Celebrating Youth Work Week with Young Futures

On a quiet residential street in North Lambeth, tucked away from the hustle and bustle of Vauxhall, we met with Osman and Hywel from Young Futures to discuss the importance of their work with young care leavers. Going above and beyond the organisation’s contractual obligations, Young Futures provides a more holistic and well rounded approach to supporting vulnerable young people and young families leaving local authority care to make the transition to independent adulthood.

It is because of this person-centred, future-oriented youth work they deliver that makes them the epitome of what this year’s Youth Work Week is celebrating – how youth services and workers provide so much more than solely a place for young people to go.

Speaking with Osman and Hywel last week, their enthusiasm and passion was immediately infectious. 11 years ago, Osman set up Young Futures with just a desk and a vision of better support in a small backroom office. Since then, he and Hywel, together with 27 other staff, have been dedicated to ensuring that young care leavers in London make the transition to independent living as smooth as possible – through a holistic approach including quality accommodation, employability and skills training as well as therapy.

Young people in today’s climate of austerity, shrinking public support, inflation and high housing costs, already face a plethora of challenges when transitioning from adolescence to adulthood. These challenges are exacerbated for young people leaving local authority care. The absence of trusting, supportive relationships is a great challenge to care leavers as Hywel underlines. This lack of adult support combined with decreasing social service support leaves many care leavers at the edge of “a steep and crumbling cliff”, unequipped for adult life, and has deteriorating effects on their mental health.

Investing in young care leavers today is crucial as recent data from the Centre for Social Justice demonstrates. Nearly 50% of male care leavers under the age of 21 come into contact at least once with the criminal justice system and 24% of the adult prison population has been in care. 22% of female care leavers become teenage parents. 11% of young homeless people have been in care and 41% of care leavers are NEET (not in education, employment or training), compared with 15% of all 19-year olds. The statistics are disturbing and indicate that for every single indicator, care leavers are worse off than their non-care counterparts.

Taking notice of the lack of consistency and quality care that young individuals receive through government and for-profit services, Young Futures have become the antithesis. Contractually obliged to provide accommodation and support, they have gone out of their way and created “little pockets of excellence” to ensure that young people live in quality accommodation and offer consistency in support, including therapy and more practical support such as financial or life skills. This is, as far as Osman and Hywel are aware, unmatched by other services. Both are convinced that we need to invest in young people now rather than later, so they will have the emotional resilience and skills to lead a successful life – something that accommodation alone cannot provide.

For these reasons, Young Futures is so important. By going beyond mere accommodation provision, they improve quality of life, broaden horizons and spark new interests that young people can continue to engage with after leaving care. In 2017 alone, the group has spent £50,000 on programmes and opportunities designed to engage young people with sports, culture and arts.

To date, Young Futures have supported over 180 young people, working with 40 at any one time, traverse the gap between leaving care and independent living through the provision and operation of around 30 semi-independent, standalone flats as well as Yvonne House – a residential therapeutic unit which opened in July 2016 to provide high quality accommodation and support for up to nine female care leavers. Osman highlights how important good quality is – it makes the young people proud and encourages them to take good care of their studios.

Another striking difference to other services is the commitment to their own staff’s wellbeing. Hywel and Osman acknowledge that burnout can be a problem in their line of work and especially for smaller charities. Therefore, creating an environment where everybody feels supported is a top priority for them. Young Futures offers pastoral services for all staff, an employee assistance programme as well as access to mental health professionals and weekly debriefings. They are also careful to maintain a small ratio of staff to assisted individuals to avoid overwhelming their staff and decreasing the quality of their service. Osman summed up their goal saying “We’re trying to have an organisation that’s properly fit for purpose, because if you’re not contained, how are you going to care for people that aren’t contained.” People, both staff and beneficiaries, are at the centre of everything Young Futures does. This unwavering mind-set of putting people first makes Young Futures vastly different from others in the sector. It is this relentless commitment to the individuals they serve that makes them so unique and a true gift to London.