Skip to main content

More than 4.5 million young people in the European Union – approximately 20% – are unemployed, and long-term youth unemployment is at a record high. Patterns of employment are often characterised by temporary, part-time or short-term work, and this is certainly the case for young care leavers – if they are employed at all.

At the age of 18, care leavers are more likely than other young people to not be in employment, education or training, to be socially excluded or homeless and make up a disproportionate percentage of the prison population. It is therefore crucial that public social services meet the needs of young care leavers so they have the necessary skills to access employment or continue with education and secure housing.

The assessment of support services for young people in care is a key area of our work at the European Social Network, an organisation which promotes knowledge exchange among local public social services to contribute to effective policy development.

In our recent report, Investing in Children’s Services, Improving Outcomes, we looked at the legal provisions for young people leaving care at 18 across 14 European countries. We found that in most EU countries – such as in the UK, Germany or France – local councils are required to support young people leaving care until at least the age of 21. In Romania, young people can remain in care until they are 26, if they continue in education or are considered to be vulnerable to marginalisation. In Poland, young care leavers who turn 18 have an “empowerment guardian” who drafts an individual empowerment plan with them.

A report (pdf) into educational pathways for care leavers in five European countries – England, Denmark, Sweden, Hungary and Spain – found that around 8% access higher education – about five times lower than young people overall. When it comes to employment in Austria, Croatia, Germany, Hungary and Norway, the gap between the estimated unemployment rate for care leavers and other young people is close to 20%, according to a recent publication by SOS International.

These poor education and employment prospects are increasing awareness across Europe about the need to improve the support provided for young people leaving care. This support may take several forms but it should always be part of a coordinated and combined effort between social services and housing, mental health, and education and employment services.

We have identified some of these support programmes in a series of workshops. In northern France, Pas de Calais county council’s Garantie Jeunes – the French version of the Youth Guarantee EU-funded employment programme for young people – has been reinforced with a care guarantee, specifically designed for care leavers aged between 18 and 21. In the north-western region of Galicia in Spain, the Mentor programme – funded by the European Social Fund – also includes provisions for young offenders aged 16 to 25.

But possibly the most comprehensive model is 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 apartments managed by non-governmental organisations, an education, training and employment project, and an economic support allowance for care leavers linked to their personal project funded by a bank. The data from the initiative shows that two thirds of those leaving care are either in training, preparing to access higher education, or are attending university.

The need for young people to have an appointed professional to bring all this together is a common denominator across these programmes. It is usually the role of the social worker to help the young person assess their situation, produce their personal plan, be their first point of contact, and coordinate services with other professionals.

In every model, a key element for success is not only to prepare the young person for their transition into adulthood, but to support them throughout the process. This all shows that with a well-planned and coordinated effort, the lives and opportunities of these young people can be transformed.