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Young people in Europe are disproportionately more likely to be suffering from the effects of the economic crisis. More than 4.5 million young people (approximately 20%) are unemployed today in the EU, and long-term youth unemployment is still at record highs. Their patterns of employment are often characterised by temporary, part-time or short-term work. This is certainly the case for young care leavers, if they are employed at all. They are more likely than young people overall not to be in employment, education or training, be socially excluded, homeless or overrepresented in the prison population. Therefore, it is a crucial time for public social services to address how to meet the needs of young care leavers so that they are equipped with the necessary skills to access employment, to secure housing, or continue with education.

The assessment of support services for young people in care has been a key area of our work at the European Social Network (ESN). In our recent report, Investing in Children’s Services - Improving Outcomes, we assessed whether there were legal provisions addressing support for young people leaving care at the age of 18. In most EU countries, local councils must support young people leaving care at least until the age of 21, as is the case in the UK, Germany or France. In Romania, young people can remain in care until the age of 26 if they continue in education or are considered to be vulnerable to marginalisation. In Poland, young care leavers who turn 18 are provided with a ‘empowerment guardian’, who drafts with them an individual empowerment plan.

Identifying gaps for young people leaving care

According to the YiPPEE study, which looked at educational pathways for young people who had been in care, around 8% of young people who have been in care access higher education, which is about five times less than young people overall. When it comes to employment, the recent publication by SOS Children’s Villages International highlights that the gap between the estimated rate of unemployment for care leavers and other young people is close to 20%. Due to their weak education and employment prospects, there is an increasing awareness across Europe about the need to improve the support provided for young people leaving care. Examples of this support may take several forms but should always be part of a coordinated and combined effort between social services and housing, mental health, and education and employment services.

Support programmes across Europe

We have identified some of these support programmes in a series of workshops. In Pas de Calais County Council, the ‘Garantie Jeunes’, which is the French version of the ‘Youth Guarantee’ (the EU funded programme supporting young people’s employment) has been reinforced for care leavers aged between 18 and 21. In the north western Spanish region of Galicia, the Mentor programme - funded through the European Social Fund – includes also provisions for young offenders from the age of 16 to 25. The most comprehensive of the models identified is possibly Espai Cabestany, a one-stop shop where care leavers access information, guidance, support and services financed by the social affairs department of Catalonia’s regional government. Services include a set of equipped apartments managed by NGOs; an education, training or employment project, and an economic support allowance linked to their personal project, which is funded by a bank. Their data shows that two thirds of those leaving care are either in training, preparing to access higher education or at University.

The role of social workers

A common denominator across these programmes is the need for these young people to have an appointed professional who helps to bring it all together. This is usually the role of the social worker who works with the young person to help them assess their situation, produce their personal plan, be their first point of contact or coordinate services with other professionals. In every example, a key driver for success is not only to preparing the young person for their transition into adulthood but also supporting them throughout the process. What this all shows is that with a well-planned, coordinated effort, the lives of these young people can be turned around.