Independence is the ability to make our own decisions about what we want, how we choose to live and how we plan our own futures. In an ideal world, everyone would have a level of independence to be “in control” of their life. We all sometimes need a bit of help to achieve this, whether it’s about learning some new skills, gaining the confidence to “have a go” at something new, or finding out where to get help from.
In Conwy, we’ve been making this a priority for people living in poverty, through projects like New Work Connections, and looking at new ways to help young people to gain access to education, employment or training.
New Work Connections
Research tells us that unemployment, lack of education and unhealthy lifestyles result in people living in poverty and often requiring social care support. Mandatory work programmes struggle to engage with social care users, such as those with mental health issues, learning disabilities, a physical disability or sensory impairment, vulnerable families and young people not in employment, education or training.
In partnership with 3 other North Wales local authorities and the Welsh European Funding Office, Conwy developed the New Work Connections project to give us the opportunity to explore innovative, preventative ways of working that could be sustained by social services once the funding ended.
New Work Connections brings different areas of social services together to support vulnerable people, targeting individuals age 16 or over that live in Conwy County and support them to increase their skills, move closer to employment and reach their potential, by providing a range of activities designed to remove barriers to engagement.
There is a single point of access for all referrals to the project, referrals are discussed on a weekly basis to ensure the most appropriate service is secured to meet the individual’s needs, taking a multi-agency approach and avoiding any duplication of service.
The team provide bespoke one to one and group support dependant on need (one size doesn’t fit all, especially with social care users) this includes support to increase confidence, self-esteem and motivation to build routine into their lives, before progressing on to training, work experience and employment opportunities.
Due to the lack of external providers being able to meet the varying needs of social care users, the team have developed a range of 12 low level participant engagement courses, 6 of which have the option of being accredited.
In addition we have a Welfare Rights Officer who provides advice regarding benefit changes and into work ‘better off’ calculations, as well as a Business and Employer Liaison Officer who works with employers and voluntary organisations to support them with equality and diversity training and encourage them to provide practical work experience placements for our service users.
New Work Connections has supported 887 people in Conwy, 778 of these individuals have achieved an outcome following the support for example; gained employment, achieved a qualification, moved onto further learning, volunteered, attended an interview, completed a job application or CV, attended regularly and gained motivation, confidence and self-esteem.
Due to the unique, innovative support provided by the New Work Connection Project as part of the Let’s Get Working Programme in Conwy many service users have reduced their need for social services intervention.
Quotes from service users.
“Really enjoyed the courses I went on, New Work Connections really helped me. I wouldn’t be working without the help I’ve had!” (a single father referred by the Supporting Children team)
“I really enjoyed the course and without your help I wouldn’t be going to college, travelling on my own or working part time, thank you for everything” (Participant referred by the Mental Health team)
“I felt that I have learnt to be more confident and assertive, learnt job search skills on line as well as traditional. I found it useful to interact with people and more ideas about work. I feel that I know what I want to do next.” (Participant referred by Learning Disability Team)
Careers Wales Secondment (impact on NEET)
It can be difficult to engage Care Leavers in things like education, employment or training, but the importance of doing so cannot be understated. Engaging in learning and training are essential if young people are to make a success of their lives and reach their full potential.
No single agency can address this issue alone, and Social Services staff need to work closely with colleagues within local colleges, and careers advisors, to help reduce the number of young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET).
A Careers Officer was seconded to the Leaving Care Team, within Social Services. They hold a monthly panel meeting focusing on young people who are NEET. They have direct access to the social workers who work closely with the young person.
The Careers officer also works closely with welfare rights officer to ensure young people are gaining the best economic and educational opportunities.
What difference has it made?
Young people have been given opportunities to attend apprenticeships, and work experience programmes, and as a result of this coordinated approach, the number of Care Leavers who are NEET, has reduced.
The NEET Panel was established in September 2013. The Panel is a forum with a mandate from the Corporate Parenting board to develop, co-ordinate, oversee, direct and review services for Looked after Young People/ Care Leavers post 16, who are not in education, employment and training (NEETs) and those identified as being vulnerable and at risk of becoming NEET.
The group meets bi-monthly and reports annually to the Corporate Parenting Board and the Children and Young People’s Partnership (CYPP), presenting the case for additional resources where this is necessary.
The panel works in partnership to
- reduce the number of young people (LAC/ Care Leavers) who are or likely to become NEET;
- work towards supporting the CYPP NEETs agenda in Conwy;
- improve and inform the young people of the opportunities available to them and help develop and provide support systems that allow young people to reach their full potential.
The panel is made up of representatives from all key agencies including the Authority’s Education Services Department, Children and Family Services, Careers Wales, Welfare Rights Advisor, Student Welfare Officer, Coleg Llandrillo Group. All Pathway Team Social Workers and Personal Assistants are allotted 15 minute slots to discuss any of their clients who are vulnerable and at risk of becoming NEET.
The panel produces individual action plans for young people identified as at risk and/or not in education, employment or training. It monitors progress of these plans and takes necessary measures to ensure success.
We record the percentage of young people formerly looked after who are known to be engaged in education, training or employment at the age of 19.
In 2012/13, the figure was 50%, and this has risen to 75% in 2013/14. The Welsh average is 56.7%