Health: A brighter future for children in care

Barnardo's Futures service volunteer Jackie Robinson (left) with Kirstie Wood and her son McKenzie.

Barnardo's Futures service volunteer Jackie Robinson (left) with Kirstie Wood and her son McKenzie.

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Nearly 65,000 children are in local authority care across the country.

For teenagers who have spent much of their life in care, moving into adulthood can be difficult.

Katie Baldwin met one Leeds woman who has opened her door to make crossing that bridge easier

KIRSTIE knows that if she hadn’t come to live with Jackie, her life could have turned out very differently.

Aged 16, Kirstie Wood had been living within foster care but wanted to leave. Luckily Jackie Robinson was there to give her a home until she was ready to cope on her own.

Jackie is a volunteer for Barnardo’s Futures, which is based in Headingley and provides accommodation, education and support to young people.

One of its services is supported lodgings, where householders provide medium to long-term accommodation in their own home to 16 to 18-year-olds who are leaving care.

For Kirstie, it was just what she needed.

Previously she’d been living with up to seven other youngsters and didn’t have much privacy or freedom.

At Jackie’s she was given more space and respect, though with boundaries too.

“It was better for me because there was that freedom. I was left to do my own thing, though I did get told when I had overstepped the mark,” she said.

Though she knew basic skills like washing clothes and cooking, her confidence was low and she needed help to manage her money.

“I got a flat afterwards and it was definitely easier because I had had that independence.

“It also helped my confidence because my self esteem was not brilliant.

“If I had got my own place straightaway I would’ve lost it.”

Kirstie said she was starting to “go off the rails” before staying with Jackie, but the support and guidance helped her learn the importance of working and managing her money.

Now she considers Jackie a friend and credits that support with helping her rebuild her relationship with her own mum.

Kirstie, now 23, is a mum herself to 21-month-old Mckenzie, and lives in Middleton. She’s doing an access to nursing course at college and hopes to start university later this year.

Jackie started volunteering for Barnardo’s over 10 years ago as her friend was a supported lodgings provider. She wanted to help young people, but also worked so she wasn’t able to offer foster care.

“I used to start work early in Leeds. As I walked through town at 7am I would see young people sleeping rough in doorways. It made me think how lucky I was and I wanted to help them,” she said.

After contacting Barnardo’s Futures, she went through assessments and training before she was ready to welcome the first young person to her home in Harehills, Leeds.

Matched

Young people are matched with the volunteer by the Futures team to ensure they are likely to get on.

“It’s a slow process – you’d meet the young person for a coffee and see how you get on,” she said.

“Then they’d come round to the house and have tea, maybe an overnight. I have the final decision about whether I want to place a young person, and they also have a say, and if we both agree they move in.”

The supported lodgings scheme aims to offer a bridge between the cocoon of local authority care and the wider world where care leavers will often be living independently.

“I see it more as a home than a room,” Jackie said.

“It all depends on the young person and what they need. They might need their confidence building. If they need it, I’ll teach them how to do their washing, clean, cook, budgeting their money - getting ready for independence.”

As with any home there are house rules, but the young people can also have their freedom. Placements can last anything up to three or four years and Jackie is still in touch with several of her former houseguests.

One was a particular challenge.

“She said to me a few years ago that she knew she’d not been easy and that she was sorry, she really appreciated what I did for her and she loved me. That makes it all worthwhile,” Jackie said.

Looking after another young woman meant a steep learning curve for them both.

An unaccompanied asylum seeker escaping from war in The Congo, Angele had only been in the country for about six months when she turned up at Jackie’s door aged 15.

“This very frightened looking girl came into my home. She couldn’t speak English and after the worker had left, we just sat looking at each other,” said Jackie.

“She was so vulnerable and scared, I just wanted to help her. After three days I wanted her to stay longer and Angele did too.”

To help Angele develop her independence, she visited local African shops to find a Congolese speaker so communication would be easier. That led to her meeting other people from the same background which helped the teenager to feel less isolated.

She ended up staying over three years and had a baby while living with Jackie. Angele now lives nearby.

Jackie, 47, has now supported 13 young people in her home and has even changed careers after she realised how much she liked working with them.

“Because of the experience I gained as a supported lodgings provider I was able to get a job at a children’s home. Barnardo’s provided me with that stepping stone. Not only that it’s given me the opportunity to help change someone’s life for the better, it’s very fulfilling.

“I just like helping young people and giving them the opportunity to move on with more confidence and more skills,” she said.

“The reward for what I do is seeing young people come on, gain confidence and see them flourish. You want to see a young person grow so they can go on to live independently.

“If anyone out there is thinking of becoming a supported lodgings provider, I’d say go for it.”

Jane Smith, senior practitioner at Barnardo’s Futures, said they were looking for more volunteers to provide supported lodgings. Training and 24-hour support is provided.

“We could not do it without people like Jackie,” she added.

* For information, contact 0113 275 7314 or visit: www.barnardos.org.uk/futures

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