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Care leavers

Designing a peer learning programme with National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum

Cropped image of students working on an assignment.

Janet Grauberg, Organisational Learning Consultant and Catch22 Associate, reflects on a session spreading the learning from a peer learning programme she co-facilitated with Darren Bishton for the National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum (NLCBF).

I love talking about organisational learning, so I was delighted to be joined by a large group of nearly 90 people from across local authorities and organisations working in this area to talk about learning from a peer learning programme at a session in May 2022.

The peer learning programme, co-facilitated by Darren Bishton from the NLCBF and me, was generously funded by the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation, and focused on improving employability for young people with care experience.

The session started gently with a quiz – did you know that 27% of care leavers are Unaccompanied Asylum-Seeking Children (UASC), and 24% say they have a disability? – before getting into three introductory presentations.

The Peer Learning programme

I briefly outlined the format of the peer learning programme – two or three people from each of 10 Local Authority areas, meeting six times over a year. Each area worked on an issue that they had identified, about engaging with new businesses external to the council, about creating more opportunities for work experience or employment within the council, and about reaching young people in new ways. Each session started with a case study from a voluntary sector organisation that specialises in this work, or young people talking about their experience.

Participants reported that the programme had helped them build new relationships with employers and colleges and engage a wider group of colleagues across the council, raise awareness about employability issues with social workers, Personal Advisers, Virtual school heads and education professionals, and find creative ways to reach and support young people with a range of needs.

The Local Authority experience – Durham & Devon

Cheryl Temple, Progression Manager at Durham Works (part of Durham County Council) talked about their experience of using the peer learning programme to make progress on a sessional employment programme for care experienced young people within Durham County Council. The programme was developed as a partnership with HR, Social Care and education and is coordinated by a dedicated staff member who is funded for a two-year period. It is available to young people who are not in education, employment or training (NEET) and those at college who would benefit from part-time work. So far, 10 young people have joined the programme. The key learning was that they started by listening to the young person’s interests and aspirations, and then looked for a placement to match, rather than the other way round.

Ellen England, Employability and Partnership Co-ordinator at Devon County Council, spoke about their “Step Forward” employability offer for care experienced young people aged 16-25. They had used the peer learning programme to extend the offer and work with the Virtual School Head and local schools to develop an employability programme for young people in Years 10 and 11. This involved an activity pack to help young people think about their career aspirations, and the Step Forward team attending all Year 10 Personal Education Plan (PEP) review meetings to raise awareness of employability issues and the support the council could offer. 10 young people had taken part in five careers sessions, 3 young people had explored work experience options, and the Step Forward team had been invited to a Fostering event later in the summer.


After the presentation the participants broke into smaller groups to discuss what had stood out for them, and what they might apply in their own organisation. Some of their responses included:

What stood out for you?

  • “The importance of starting where the young person is at, and identifying their interests, rather than identifying placements and allocating young people to them.”
  • “It was good to hear acknowledgement that these activities took time and resources – such as the Durham example of a funded post for Sessional Employment Coordinator.”
  • “Offering work opportunities to those who were NEET and those who were in education was important – often those with college places missed out on employability opportunities.”

What will you apply in your own organisation?

  • “A sessional model – this looked more flexible and more suited to some young people’s circumstances than more structured internship or apprenticeship programmes.”
  • “Taking a more bespoke approach to creating work opportunities – canvassing young people’s interests at the start.”
  • “Making closer links with the Virtual School Head.”
  • “Engaging young people in care earlier, including in Years 10 and 11, to encourage them to think about their career aspirations.”
  • “Including Gatsby benchmarks in Personal Education Plans.”

The participants also discussed who they might work with in their Local Authority area, and left inspired to reach out to schools, HR Departments, Job Centres, senior managers in their localities – and to listen more deeply to young people themselves.

With thanks to Esmée Fairbairn Foundation for funding the programme, the Care Leaver Covenant, Drive Forward Foundation, and Leicestershire Cares for providing inspiring case studies, and to the participants from all 10 Local Authority areas for your commitment to the programme and to improving employment outcomes for young people with care experience.

– Janet Grauberg