Care leavers celebrated during #NCLW and #TickTheBox

At the end of October we celebrated National Care Leavers week to help raise awareness of the challenges young people face when they leave the care system. Chief executive at The Fostering Network, Sarah Thomas, summarises some of the events that took place to support NCLW, including our annual #TickTheBox campaign.

Chief executive of The Fostering Network, Sarah Thomas, stands in London Eye pod with Heart radio presenter, Pandora Christie, holding Care Leavers Wanted poster



At the end of October we celebrated National Care Leavers week to help raise awareness of the challenges young people face when they leave the care system. Each year at The Fostering Network we mark NCLW with our #TickTheBox campaign – a week of online activity which raises awareness of the importance of young people declaring they have care experience on their UCAS application. Both campaigns go hand-in-hand as we work towards ensuring care experienced young people have the same opportunities in life as their peers.

For many young people, turning 18 and applying to university is an exciting, although nerve-wracking, time as they prepare for their futures. However, for some young people with care experience it can be a time of extreme anxiety and uncertainty as they prepare to leave the care system without the family support and guidance others might have. 
This is where NCLW and #TickTheBox come in – they drive to raise awareness around the challenges and stigma care experienced young people face, as well as opportunities and support available for them as they move on into higher education. Throughout NCLW staff across The Fostering Network went to a number of events held to mark the campaign, all of which highlighted the drive and determination to improve life for care leavers.  Here are some of the highlights.

Policy makers pledge to make UK the best country for care leavers

We were asked to share our views on the current support available for care leavers at a Roundtable event in Whitehall hosted by Johnny Mercer MP - the new cross government lead for care leavers and attended by other children’s charities in England.

This gave us the opportunity to talk about the Government plans to extend the Staying Put scheme – from 21 to 23, which allows young people to stay with their foster carers past the age of 18. While we welcome these plans, we hear concerns from foster carers who say there several barriers stopping children staying put such as low levels of financial support and bureaucracy around the approval system.  While we were encouraged to hear policymakers’ ambitions to make the UK the best country for care leavers, there’s a lot that needs to change for this to happen. We need to give children the best care experience as soon as they enter the care system and ensure they have the best support possible beyond 18.

Iconic buildings light up for Care Leavers Wanted campaign

On Saturday 28 October buildings across the UK – including the London Eye and Blackpool tower – lit up to raise awareness of the young people who leave the care system each year. It also marked the start of the Care Leavers Covenant’s ‘Care Leavers Wanted’ campaign - which aims to raise awareness of opportunities – from education and work to financial support – for care leavers. I was kindly invited to the London Eye to support the start of the campaign and heard from a care leaver who had recently qualified as a social worker. She spoke about her lived experience of growing up in care and how it helped her get to where she is today. 

At The Fostering Network we proudly support the Care Leaver Covenant and everything they do to support care leavers to live independently, and it was amazing to hear first-hand the impact their work is having.

Breaking the care experienced cycle

Our team in Wales was invited to celebrate the achievements of the National Youth Advocacy Service Cymru’s Project Unity – a Welsh-Government funded project which offers support and opportunities to care-experienced pregnant women and young mothers. 

The event was supported by Jack Sargeant MS and we heard from campaigner Terry Galloway as well as deputy minister Julie Morgan MS. Terry was in and out of care throughout his childhood and now campaigns for care experience to be recognised as a protected characteristic, to help prevent discrimination of care experienced people.
The meeting also marked the launch of Project Unity’s new campaign Trust Us to Care – aiming to break the cycle of the children of care experienced mothers being taken into care. The campaign is calling on Welsh local authorities, third sector providers and Welsh Government to remove barriers and stigmatisation that young women face from the systems around them because of their care experience.

A big opportunity for young designers

Just before the start of NCLW, John Lewis Partnership, The Fostering Network’s largest Fostering Friendly Employer -  unveiled Made with Care – a new lifestyle brand with products designed by people who have grown up in the care system. The first design, a tote bag, was launched at the event – marking one year of JLP’s Building Happier Futures programme   – an ongoing scheme to identify and recruit talented care experienced young people to become partners in the business. I was interviewed at the event regarding our Fostering Friendly Employers scheme, which gave me the opportunity to talk about the impact leaders can have when they provide a platform for care experienced young people to nurture their talents.

It was fantastic to hear from one of the care experienced young people involved in the design work and celebrate the impact Building Happier Futures has had so far. 

Financial support for care leavers in Wales

The team in Wales attended a ministerial event for the Welsh Government’s new basic income pilot – a trial scheme which is giving £1,600 a month to care leavers when they turn 18 to support their independence. They heard from the First Minister and Prof. Sir Michael Marmot who said the pilot had received global interest and shared their vision for continuing to empower care leavers.

Professor Sally Holland provided insights into the external evaluation process which will be crucial for determining the pilot’s success and shaping future Welsh Government policies regarding basic income for care leavers. There were also group discussions with social care professionals who shared insight into how the pilot had impacted the young people they worked with. There were some mixed views on this, as some raised concerns about how young people would be supported once they stop receiving their funding after a year. However, there are positive examples of the support the funding is providing – one young person has been able to go to university and live independently, while another used the money for driving lessons and to buy a car.

Tick The Box in Northern Ireland

Our team in Northern Ireland arranged an open day for care experienced young people at Ulster University as part of our #TickTheBox  campaign. The team have been working with further and higher education providers for over a decade to support young people preparing to leave care and encouraging them to #TickTheBox on their university applications so they get all the support they’re entitled to as a care leaver. 
Young people received a tour of the new university buildings and heard from a care leaver about her journey through higher education. 

We believe in care leavers

National Care Leavers Week and Tick The Box have always been a fantastic way of raising awareness and supporting care leavers. However, this year the support across the country was second to none. We do however still have a long way to go to ensure all care leavers feel supported in the right way to have the same chances in life as their non-care experienced peers. As corporate parents it’s our responsibility to step up and make sure looked after children and young people have a strong support system in place to help them navigate each stage in their lives.

Each of us should be thinking about what we can do to help care experienced young people to thrive.