This week saw the start of the research element of the Care Leavers Project as part of the Digital by Default programme. This project is looking at how we currently provide support services to Care Leavers, and how we might use digital technologies to improve outcomes for Care Leavers. Over the next three weeks, members of the project team will be spending time with care leavers who have agreed to talk to us and allow us to gather our “user needs”. We are spending approximately 6 hours with each care leaver, seeing how they go about their daily lives, and asking questions about the Care Leavers Service. We want to understand how activities, technology and appropriate support and services can improve future outcomes for Care Leavers.
The first visit took place on Tuesday, with one of the project team from the Observatory spending the day with a care leaver who is a young mother. She used to live with a foster carer in Warwickshire, but now living independantly in a city centre. The day was spent both at their home and shopping with the children, her friend and boyfriend. During this time many questions were asked about how and why she does things, her experience of life and the care services and various topics were covered such as communication, aspirations and attitudes. As you can imagine, spending the day with a young person is a daunting task, especially living in a social deprived area, when it is at times surrounded by gangs.
“The experience was extremely rewarding – yes the area was everything that you would expect but I felt fully protected by the people that I was with when shown around the local area. The care leaver spent the day answering my questions, taking me through a typical day that she would experience, taking me shopping to her local supermarkets (alongside her friend and baby).
I noticed a few interesting things throughout my time with them:
– the planning around shopping at a number of different supermarkets in order to get items at the lowest prices e.g. Aldi for nappies, main shop at Tesco (for value products primarily), Iceland for all frozen food. But no fruit or vegetables! All food was convenience food and easy to cook e.g. beans, pizzas, instant noodles.
– Using top ups to manage her mobile phone – only spending £10 per month getting unlimited internet but typically running out of text messages. She hadn’t purchased her phone from a typical provider but from Cash Generator and her friend agreed this was the cheapest way to get a phone.
– Buying the majority of clothes and some household items from ebay and Gumtree – sometimes getting items for free if they would collect. All of the clothes for the children they buy in bundles on these websites for very small amounts of money.
– Attitudes towards others were very broad e.g. “social workers are all the same”. She had branded everyone with one view based upon experiences with just a couple of people. She had a very similar view towards her neighbours and local people.
– Ability to manage money – as money is tight every penny counts!
– A desperate need to not repeat the life she had for her children. She was trying to seek advice on how to get out to work and have a career that she wanted but felt she was not getting the support to do this.”
The entire experience has been fascinating and a real eye opener for the project team. Pre-conceptions that the team had before they conducted the research are being challenged by many of the people that they are meeting. It is already proving to be a very valuable method of conducting research and engaging with young people that access our services. It has already highlighted ways and methods that we can engage better with care leavers and will ultimately help identify ways that we can help them access services in the future.
This is the first post of many by the project team but hopefully it gives an insight into the very useful research that we are conducting.
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