Digital support for care leavers

Care leavers are getting increased access to digital technology and digital connection to help with their daily lives as well as helping with job and further education opportunities, a committee heard today.

Aberdeen City Council’s operational delivery committee agreed a report which outlined the work to improve digital access for care experienced young people.

The report said at the Council Budget meeting in March 2021, £25,000 per year was allocated from the General Fund to support improving the access to digital technology and digital connection for Care Leavers.

This is in support of creating equity of opportunity and improving the life experiences of Care Experienced Young People, linking to one of the aims of the Local Outcome Improvement Plan which states that as corporate parents, the City Council will ensure 95% of care experienced children and young people will have the same levels of attainment in education, health and emotional wellbeing, and positive destinations as their peers by 2026.

The activities which will improve connections and opportunities include multi-agency Pathway Planning and Aftercare Support guidance have been amended to include assessment of the digital support required by a young person at each stage of their transition from care, guidance for financial assessments to include assessing for digital support, Quality Assurance will be led to proactively identify unmet digital needs, and briefing sessions have been arranged by the Youth Team to support Children’s Social Work colleagues for this work.

Additional activites include planning for the provision of access to a device, data and skills as a key requirement when care plans are being updated, ensuring that at the point of leaving care each young person has a suitable device beyond a mobile phone, provide support to eg purchase MiFi connections and exploring best value options, ensure devices purchased support care leaver circumstances e.g. to study, work, participate socially, financial inclusion, and consult with care experienced young people on how the above approach can be built on and developed over time. There will be links made to partner services who can offer support for digital access, ensuring that this resource remains targeted and directly linked to transition planning.

Aberdeen City Council operational delivery convener Councillor Philip Bell said: “The work being carried out to help care experienced young people get increased access to digital technology and digital connection is of vital importance.

“Not only will it help with further education and improve job prospects, the work will also help with their social and emotional needs which are of utmost importance.

“We welcome the work carried out so far and look forward to getting updates on the scheme in the months ahead.”

The report to committee said structural and pervasive disadvantages experienced by care experienced young people are demonstrated by their over-representation in nationally reported data from Who Cares? Scotland. For example, care experienced young people are more likely to experience homelessness (30%), criminal justice system entry (50%) and have comparatively poorer education outcomes than non-care experienced peers with only 4% moving on to higher education. There is an improving position in Aberdeen, however for many there is the compounding impact of earlier childhood experiences which have been traumatic.

The context of disadvantage highlighted above, was amplified by the impact of Covid19 and care experienced young people have informed their Corporate Parents that earlier trauma was triggered, and for some, this led to episodes of acute emotional and mental health distress. The report to committee said the follow up actions in support of wellbeing and welfare by key corporate parents, identified the significance of maintaining connection and in responding to digital resource and access, served to identify the significant gaps in care experienced young people access to devices and reliable connection.

The context of equality of access has wide ramifications, due to the significance and importance of being digitally connected, to all aspects of everyday life. Many care experienced young people are in employment, attending further/higher education as well as having wider caring responsibilities and interests, which benefit from access to digital technology and reliable connection. The City Council scheme is to ensure that care experienced young people have their digital needs recognised, assessed and responded to at key stages in their pathway plans supporting their transition from care placements and moving on.

The £25,000 per year will support care experienced young people and enable those care leavers who require digital devices and connection to have these requirements assessed and appropriate devices purchased.

The report to committee said experience gained in implementing phase 2 of the Connecting Scotland Programme brought 103 MiFi connections and 83 devices to young care leavers in Aberdeen City between December 2020 and January 2021. This has been valuable in identifying what would constitute a suitable support ‘scheme’ for care experienced young people.

As care experienced young people have a wide range of individual needs and circumstances, this ‘scheme’ has not been developed around a purchasing model, instead an additional practice component has been included in the Pathway Planning activities and aftercare support arrangements already in place and being delivered within Children’s Social Work.