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A high proportion of care leavers are not in employment and training by the age of 19, compared to their non-looked after peers.

This can be for a number of reasons, including a lack of qualifications and not having the self-esteem, support, skills or experience to find a job. Employment can, for some young people, leave them financially worse off than being on benefits, which doesn’t incentivise young people to get into work.

 

Support with applying for and getting a job

Knowing how to apply for a job, and having a good sense of a person’s strengths and weaknesses are all important things for young people to know, but these can be lacking for care leavers. It may be something that they’ve not been taught at school, perhaps missing out because of frequent school or placement moves. They may not have been taught about employability skills by their carers, and may not have had a part-time job while they were in care. Their personal adviser should be able to support them, but may not have the skills themselves, or the time to help if their caseload is high. If a young person gets an interview, they will need to have smart clothes that they can wear, as well as the finances to travel to the interview. While they should be able to access support from their local authority for these things, young people might not know this.

Young people may also be applying for jobs that have additional costs, for example protective clothing, tools or even the ability to drive. All these can be barriers to young people finding sustained employment.

 

Apprenticeships

While apprenticeships are seen as a good employment option for young people, care leavers can often be put off by the low levels of pay and the entry requirements. Some apprenticeships require applicants to have up to five GCSEs at grade A* to C – including English and maths, which can be a challenge for many looked after children and care leavers.

Apprenticeships, particularly in the first year, are not paid well. The low pay can be a barrier to care leavers because they cannot earn enough to support themselves, while finding that they become eligible for council tax and other bills, at the same time as receiving reduced support from benefits. Taking an apprenticeship can leave them financially worse off than being unemployed.

 

Keeping a job

Poor housing, either because it is temporary or unsuitable, can impact on being able to hold down a job. Young people may have to move around a lot, experiencing uncertainty and unsettledness that makes it hard to get regular and undisturbed sleep, eat well and feel safe and secure, all of which are important to enable someone to perform well at work. Where a young person has to move many times, they may need to take more time off than is expected, making a care leaver seem unreliable. Poor physical and mental health can also make it harder for young people to maintain jobs. They may need extra time off for appointments, and may be unsure of their rights to time off for medical treatment, or concerned about how it may look to a new employer to need regular time off.

Young people may try to conceal mental health problems from their employers because they fear losing their job, or looking weak. Trying to manage their symptoms alone and without support from their employer may lead to the mistaken perception that they are unreliable or not committed to their work, for instance if they struggle to get to work on time, or have to take time off.