Action for Children's Two of a Kind service matches care-experienced Independent Visitors (IVs) with young people in the care system. Operating in London it is funded by The Go Play Foundation. The service aims to enhance the life chances of children in care by facilitating access to education, reducing isolation and providing long term stability/relationships.
The service also trains and supports people who have been through the care system to become IVs hence improving their confidence and skills. As such the service also aims to break down negative stereotypes about people in care. The IVs are trained through a structured schedule. Their own experience of care enables them to provide empathetic, tailored support. The service has successfully appealed to 'harder to reach' young people, i.e. those involved in criminal activity or not in education, employment or training. This initiative aligns with NICE Quality Standard 31 for looked after children and young people, statements 4, 7 and 8.
Aims and objectives
- To enhance the life chances of children/young people looked after by local authorities across London by matching them with a volunteer IV who facilitates access to the widest range of educational, leisure and recreational activities as well as providing vital long-term stability, practical and emotional support and guidance.
- To train, equip and support young care leavers and adults with experience of being in care to fulfil the role of IV for their younger peers thereby building their own confidence, self-esteem and skills to contribute and find their place in society. In this way, both the Two of a Kind IVs and their matched young people will gain from the supportive, trusting and encouraging relationships between each other.
- To continue to break down the negative preconceptions and expectations around the lives of people in care and to promote the positive aspects and benefits of a peer mentoring scheme.
Reasons for implementing your project
In 2010 Action for Children was approached by 'The Go Play Foundation' to develop an innovative service that met the needs of vulnerable young people. The chosen service would become a pilot scheme and receive two years of funding, on the basis that the provision would not normally receive mainstream funding or be a service easily funded by other charitable trusts. In response to this offer, our staff and service users worked in teams to develop ideas which they then pitched to a selected panel, in the style of 'Dragons Den'.
The 'Two of a Kind' service idea was selected as the winner. The idea came from a number of young people who had experience the care system and a member of staff who had also been in care, who all believed that receiving regular visits from an IV that had been in care themselves would be beneficial and make a difference to young people. The concept they designed was simple; all IVs needed to have experienced the care system to offer a unique insight and empathy with the children/young people they mentor. The project was piloted for the two years working in conjunction with Action for Children's existing London Independent Visitors project working across 8 London boroughs.
Currently in its fourth year of funding, the project has grown and thrived. The trustees have met and discussed the programme with many inspiring IVs who have committed their time, effort and passion to helping their young people, relating to them in a way that others simply cannot. Every IV in the Two of a Kind programme says the same thing - that they wished they had had the opportunity to have a consistent adult in their lives who understood their circumstances and was there, just for them. The project was piloted for the two years working in conjunction with Action for Children's existing London Independent Visitors project working across 8 London boroughs.
How did you implement the project
The key difference between the Two of a Kind service and other IV services is the use solely of volunteers drawn from the adult care leaver's population providing peer support for young people within the care system. The benefits of peer support and befriending are widely recognised with it being a known mechanism for building up trusting relationships.
There is reason to believe that young people want IVs who are adult care leavers. 'Future Rules', a consultation with looked after young people on how they are looked after undertaken as a duty of the Children's Rights Director, found the top choice of children and young people is for people who have been in care themselves to become IVs for children in care (Ofsted, 2009).
'Listen Up', research with adult care leavers, found a willingness and understanding that they had a lot to offer young people in the care system now, with one of their key messages being: "There needs to be recognition that care leavers of all ages have a wealth of knowledge and experience that can benefit current practices and practitioners. In light of this, there needs to be greater involvement of care leavers of all ages in research, policy and practice" (Duncalf, 2010).
- By using this approach, Two of a Kind aims to accelerate the development of the relationship between the young person and their IV enabling outcomes to be affected sooner for increased sustainability. The focus of the IV intervention is spending time with the young person on their terms. Dependent on the young person's interests and expressed needs these interventions fall in to the following areas:
- Emotional support.
- Positive role modelling.
- Being interested in the young person.
- Support outside of face to face meetings (text, e-mail etc).
- Positive empathic use of own care experience.
- Support in education/training (homework etc).
- Support in activities of their choice.
- Support for life skills development.
- Exploration and support of hobbies and interests.
In order to be considered for Two of a Kind, as opposed to the normal IV Scheme, the young person needs to meet at least two of the following criteria:
- Poor relationships with professionals.
- Low self-esteem (particularly around identity).
- Anxiety/negativity about the future.
They also need to express that they either want an IV who is and adult care leaver or they are open to having one.
For our exclusion criteria, please see the supporting material.
A theory of change has been developed for the service and an interim evaluation was part of the process of assessing the impact it has had o with a view to replicability in the longer term. In the interim evaluation information was analysed from just the Two of a Kind service, the same information was collected from the traditional IV service with a view to this being used in the next stage to identify if having a care leaver as an IV has any greater impact than the standard service.
The latter study has not been completed. he interim evaluation involved IVs, young people, social workers and foster carers. The interim evaluation found:
- Young people have stated that they find it easier to talk to their IV because they have also been in care.
- Of the young people surveyed 100% felt that their IV was someone they could talk to and that they had helped them to feel positive about their future and had provided them with opportunities to try new hobbies and learn new skills.
- 75% said their IV helped them with school or college work.
- Social workers told us in all of the cases where attendance was an issue prior to having an IV, young people' attendance has increased.
There have been improvements in the areas of:
- Relationship skills
- Managing challenges in education/training
- Talking positively about their future
- Participation in decision making.
- 3 young people had been involved in criminal/anti-social behaviour prior to having an IV. Since having an IV only 1 young person had continued to be involved in this behaviour.
- 2 young people had committed criminal/anti-social offences and neither has reoffended whilst having an IV.
- 1 young person expressed suicidal or dangerous thoughts prior to have an IV, but has not since having an IV.
Key learning points
The service experienced initial start-up issues that reflect the unique status of the service. For example:
- Initial adverts to recruit care experienced IVs were used in the wrong media so finding and securing IVs initially was unsuccessful and took longer to establish.
- Some early recruitment identified younger aged IVs who were perhaps still not at a stable point in their own lives and not ready to undertake the commitment of being an IV and matches were unsustainable.
Funded by the Go Play Foundation. Action for Children was one of the first core partners that Go Play supported and through the partnership they were able to undertake funding decisions.