Being 18 is meant to be a fun age. When you’re in care it’s not fun. You have to move out, you’re scared about how you’ll support yourself, and sometimes you feel like you have no one there to help. It’s a shock. – Emily, care leaver

This is the reality of leaving the care system for many young people. You are passed from a social worker, who had contact with you every two weeks, to a personal advisor, who only has to contact you every two months. Unless you are lucky enough to have a foster family that will keep you on, you have to move out of your accommodation. While adjusting to these changes, the pressure of deciding about your future in employment or education is another big issue to deal with. 

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence reports that around 62% of Looked After Children and 72% of those in residential care have some level of emotional or mental health difficulty. The transition from Looked After Child to care leaver can exacerbate this and make young people feel hopeless and out of control.

Leanne, a care leaver known to Element, had this experience. By 19, a year after leaving care, she had been moved through three different supported accommodation placements due to chaotic behaviour, and finally ended up at a shelter for vulnerable women. She had previously had a CAMHS worker, but had not met the threshold for a referral to adult mental health services and so this support had been lost. By the time she was eligible for adult services she had begun smoking weed everyday and was reluctant to go through the process of re-engaging. Her self esteem was also at an all time low.

This sort of story is not uncommon, and as a result government reports are endlessly recommending more emotional wellbeing support for care leavers. However, this has yet to become a statutory requirement, meaning that it is still not getting the attention it deserves. Education and employment are priorities (as they should be) but it is important to acknowledge how difficult it is to find and sustain education or employment when your emotional wellbeing and ability to self-manage it is low.

With Element we aim to start addressing the gap in provision for emotional wellbeing support. Our programmes cover areas such as discovering your strengths, expressing yourself, managing emotions, thinking positive, relationships and support networks. We use arts based approaches from painting to poetry as a non-confrontational way of addressing these topics, and to make the process of looking after your emotional wellbeing fun and engaging. We focus on tools for self-management, but also aim to facilitate an open and friendly group dynamic that encourages peer support.  

The young people that we have worked with so far have greatly benefited from the programme: all of them have said they can think more positively as a result of participating. They have also produced some beautiful work in the process, some of which you can see on our website. Moving forward we aim to reach more groups of young care leavers in boroughs across London, as well as starting work with young people at risk of expulsion. Please get in touch if you would like to commission us, or just to hear more about our packages and programmes.

Find out more about Element