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The voice of Scotland’s vibrant voluntary sector

Published by Scottish Council for Voluntary Organisations

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Reaching Higher for care experienced young people

This opinion piece is over 6 years old

Peter McGregor, employment manager from Who Cares? Scotland, talks about the impact of person centred, supported employment for care experienced young people

Having worked in employment for over 20 years, I know what a fundamental part of someone’s life their career is.

I also know how debilitating the barriers around employment can be for the marginalised groups in our society.

Care experienced young people live in a complex system which touches every aspect of their lives. From their living conditions, financial situations, educational success and mental health, everything is effected by being in care.

Peter McGregor
Peter McGregor

Care is a billion pound a year industry, but the reality is that outcomes for care experienced people aren’t where they should be. Only 4% go on from high school straight to university, compared with 39% of young people who aren’t in care. This isn’t what I would accept for my daughters, and it’s not what I accept for care experienced young people.

Thankfully, I’m able to challenge these outcomes. As employment manager at Who Cares? Scotland, I’m the lead of the team that supports our care experienced Reaching Higher employees.

Reaching Higher is a pre-employment programme, which involves Who Cares? Scotland, Move On and Venture Trust. The five-week programme prepares care experienced applicants for the world of work, with a guaranteed interview at the end. There are a wide variety of positions available at the three charities involved. The successful candidates then receive a year contract in their chosen role.

Too often we talk about employability, a box ticking exercise that ensures young people are put on courses which are seen as a positive outcome, but with no step at the end towards real work.

Reaching Higher isn’t about employability, it’s about employment. We’ve made a conscious decision to put our successful care experienced candidates in a long-term position that will have a marked impact on their skills, and chances of employment in the future.

Opportunity is an important part of progressing in life, but sustained support is often the way we manage to succeed. Unfortunately, being moved from place to place without any warning, being separated from siblings against their will, and many other distressing and distracting life events can be put onto a young person in care at any moment. These situations can have a huge impact on a young person’s ability to maintain their employment status, focus, and do well at work.

Reaching Higher isn’t just about opportunity, it also provides ongoing support. When a Reaching Higher employee comes to me to tell me they can no longer live where they are staying, I can emotionally and practically help them through this challenging moment. This is the most satisfying part of my job. It’s vital to create nurturing, supportive environments for young people in care to thrive, and improve their outcomes.

As employers, I believe we have a responsibility to provide the space, the genuine relationships, support, and time needed to ensure care experienced young people have the chance to begin a thriving career, despite any setbacks that may come their way.

The care experienced young people I work with often tell me that they just want loving, lasting relationships. Sadly, being separated from your family and siblings, and being moved from place to place can make isolation a real issue. Bringing them into a caring working environment can build positive professional relationships, skills, and self-esteem, and have a massive impact on wellbeing, as well as life chances.

I know this, because the Reaching Higher programme has been a success to date, and we’ve just embarked on next year’s recruitment. Who Cares? Scotland currently has over 30 care experienced employees, including those from Reaching Higher.

Their personal experience of care, as well as their insight into the work we do, is a vital part of our organisation. As a charity that advocates for care experienced people, we are led by the care experienced voices of this country. Having a substantial part of our work force being from a care background is an important part of that.

Reaching Higher allows us to support the successful candidates in a way that understands and responds to their care status. Its success shows us that poor outcomes for care experienced people can be challenged, and set on a positive track that can ultimately last a lifetime.

Peter McGregor is employment manager at Who Cares? Scotland.