Pure Insight was established as a small local charity in January 2013 as a direct response to issues highlighted by local young people leaving care. It works alongside care-leaving teams in the North West, i.e. Stockport, Trafford and Cheshire East. Pure Insight was founded with, and by, people with lived and professional experience of care who are committed to challenging the issues faced by many care leavers. The CEO believes that core funding should be provided by the local authorities but that the charity adds social value by its fund-raising strategy. The diverse range of funding streams allows for the development of sustainable projects to support the needs of care leavers in the longer term.
Staff work with care leavers who are able to shape future projects. Over 150 volunteers have been recruited and trained to work on a range of projects. It has bases in all three areas. Pure Insight consults regularly with the Department for Education and gets involved with national initiatives so it was pleased to support the Care Leaver Covenant.
Pure Insight works with some of the less-well-heard care leavers who may have had up to 30 different placements in their lives. It targets care leavers in the 16-28 age range – ‘a stage rather than an age’ approach. After 28 they can become ‘a volunteer that has needs’.
‘Care Leavers tend to be very disconnected from their local communities and it is a trusting relationship that they need more than anything else’.
Staff agree to meet the young people at times when other ‘services’ are not available such as evenings and weekends because crises are not conveniently restricted to a normal working day. This distinguishes Pure Insight’s offer from that of many other organisations working with this group of young people. The policy is also to keep written records to a minimum and only to share information with other organisations sparingly, and on a ‘need-to-know’ basis. This is because young people tend to be very suspicious of records about them being passed around numerous agencies. It can be a novel experience to start a new relationship with a clean slate.
Pure Insight’s interventions have an impact on the reduction of crisis situations which has a huge effect on front-line services. When young people benefit from a long-term trusting relationship they are less likely to present in crisis to A&E, mental-health services, police, prison and to front-line, social-care services. They are also more likely to become responsible tenants and less likely to be evicted. Pure Insight focuses on the three key outcomes of the Care Leaver Covenant: support for independent living; greater stability, feeling safe and secure; and improved access to health support.
Pure Insight works closely with local authorities’ care-leaving teams in Stockport, Trafford and Cheshire East to enhance their offer to care leavers. There is a proactive relationship with the leaving-care teams which involves co-location for part of the week. There are strong links with senior management to ensure that the ‘care leaver voice’ is fed in at an appropriate level to influence decision-making. For example, the Director of Children’s Services is invited to a coffee evening to hear care leavers, mentors and staff discuss service provision and current issues.
It also works closely with housing providers, supported lodgings, clinical partners, counselling-and-mental-health partners. There is close liaison with probation and youth offending services. Pure Insight also draws in other community and local organisations. e.g. Stockport County Football Club is a key supporter providing free tickets for home matches and a free bus for day trips.
A key goal of Pure Insight is to end the isolation of care leavers by providing numerous opportunities for them to connect with trusted adults and other young people in a similar situation. It has a number of programmes aimed at care leavers. The photograph shows Janine, the care-leaver engagement worker, accompanying Chris, a care leaver, to a national benchmarking forum.
Café Zest provides a venue where young people can meet other care leavers in a safe environment supported by empathic adults. The Café is a commercial operation that allows Pure Insight to take over the premises on Wednesday evenings. About 20 care leavers, sometimes with their children, attend each week and this allows them to get to know each other, as well as gaining access to people who can help them in various ways. For example, a woman who is given food by local supermarkets has a stall at the café.
‘I have been involved with Pure Insight for about a year now after my friend told me about Café Zest. I go to the Café every week to chill and it gives me something to do during the week, especially as it reminds me that the weekend is coming too. If I didn’t go to the Café, I wouldn’t meet other people like myself as I don’t go out much alone. I like talking to young people with similar experiences and to have an opportunity to make arrangements to meet up outside of the Café. Café Zest is good for those people who might not get a healthy hot meal any other time in the week. Everyone knows each other really well and there are adults there to help to sort any problems, especially when people don’t get on.’
18-year-old care leaver in Stockport
The mentoring programme is the largest of Pure Insight’s projects. There are currently 120 mentoring relationships over the three areas. The mentoring programme costs an average of £3,000 per mentee but there are enormous potential savings from avoiding the crises which can burden the public purse. Volunteer mentors work with their care-leaver mentee over two years following the ‘journey’ from living in care to independent living. The requirement is that mentors have 2-3 hours contact time each week. They agree to meet in the evenings or at weekends (as do Pure Insight staff) whatever is best for their mentees. Mentors commit to a nine-week (evening) training programme which involves lots of practical exercises and opportunities to meet, and hear from, young people.
The aim is to recruit mentors who will be in it for ‘the long haul’ and who may stay involved in the lives of their ‘mentee’. The project involves both mentoring and befriending and it is a ‘relationship-based model’ which is built around the needs of the care leaver so every mentoring pair will have different aims and objectives. An important sub-group is care leavers who are parents as mentors can play a vital role in providing support for young families.
The continual support of a mentor helps young care leavers develop coping strategies to deal with both every day, and extraordinary, issues they may be faced with upon leaving the care system. The presence of a consistent adult role model offers invaluable life skills, such as appropriate social-interaction skills, negotiation skills, accepting compromise and creative thinking around problem-solving; skills all young people will need in adulthood.
‘In June this year, I was matched to my mentor, Joanne. I see her as someone who has a lot more experience of life and is just like a friend to me. She is not linked to other services so I know that what I talked to her about is confidential in the same way that I can talk to close friends my age. When we meet up, we both enjoy a good cup of coffee while we chat about life in general or any worries that I might have.’
18-year-old care leaver
A high proportion of care leavers become parents or single parents at a young age so Pure Insight has developed a package of support measures. The Angels Teams volunteers mobilise around a new mum or a mum in crisis. They also offer regular support to mum, which could be emotional or practical, in order for her to thrive, replicating what those with support networks have when they become parents.
‘I wouldn’t have my kids if it wasn’t for ** she has shown me how to be the best mum I can be, I wouldn’t have my daughter back if it wasn’t for Pure Insight.’
Care leaver mum age 22
Support is offered to attend formal meetings such as pre-birth assessments, child protection, parenting assessments or court hearings to get their voice heard and share what they are experiencing (as lots of mums go into ‘freeze mode’ in meetings). Pure Insight also offers long-term support from a mentor who will support the family to thrive. Peer parent-support groups meet regularly to support each other and offer advice and guidance around parenting and important issues such as child development and attachment.
Have your say
Pure Insight has partnered with the Stockport Leaving Care Team to provide a platform for young people to have their voices heard. ‘Have Your Say’ was originally a care-leaver group In Stockport that met to discuss and highlight areas that they feel local services need to focus on. Listening carefully provides real opportunity for young people to influence current and future service delivery in local services that affect their lives. However, Pure Insight now can consult all their care leavers ‘clients’ by asking open-ended questions on Facebook as they run a number of closed care leaver focused Facebook groups.
Pure Insight has developed a peer-mentoring programme that matches older care leavers in one-on-one relationships to provide guidance for looked-after children aged 8 to 16.
Through this special relationship, peer mentors provide advice and support and serve as role models for younger people who need help. Challenges facing those being mentored include problems with schoolwork; social issues, such as pressure to drink or smoke; family problems or tension; and other typical difficulties of growing up. A peer mentor can also simply be someone for a younger student ‘to hang out with’. However, the programme is not currently funded so it is ‘ticking over’ with a small number of matched pairs. It has also been proved essential to have a second mentor, to support their pairing, who is able to step in to support the first care-experienced mentor.
Mental Health Support
Pure Insight works in partnership with Beacon Counselling to refer any young care leaver that feels they will benefit from counselling. The counselling offers an opportunity for self-discovery, inner strengths and helps to understand current problems and challenges then find ways to remove or overcome them. Young people who make use of counselling at Beacon feel more confident, better about themselves and have improved relationships with others (partners, family, friends, or colleagues). Very importantly, they also tell us they feel better equipped and more resilient to deal with future challenges. Pure Insight has also recruited its own Psychological Wellbeing Worker to provide therapeutic emotional support to young care leavers (and a number of other functions).
There is a fast-track trauma counselling service in Stockport and Cheshire East. This can be mobilised very quickly and it is designed to be ‘flexible and creative’. Some mental-health services tend to be ‘too rigid’ which can make them difficult for young care leavers to access. Since July 2018 there have been 32 referrals to the ‘service’ and 16 are working with the Psychological Wellbeing Worker. They may have been given labels but not provided with much help on how they can live practically with the diagnosis. The waiting list for ‘talking services’ is currently about eight months in the local area and this can be devastating for a young person who is in crisis now.
Part of the core mission of Pure Insight is to plug care leavers into a network. Group activities allow this to happen. For example, the annual day trip to Llandudno helps create memories, provide opportunities to meet people who have had similar experiences to themselves, and to escape from their current environment. Group activities are put on about once per month.
‘This is the first Christmas that I haven’t spent alone for years.’
Care leaver age 19
There is a Christmas dinner in Stockport which caters for up to 50 care leavers (from Stockport, Trafford and Cheshire East) who would otherwise be alone on Christmas Day.
The charity is managed by a board of trustees some of whom are care-experienced, others are from business or a health-and-social care background. There are 12 staff led by the Chief Executive Officer who is supported by an Operations Manager. There are mentoring coordinators, Psychological Wellbeing Worker and project workers, again a good number have lived experience.
The key challenge, as with all charities, is ensuring a diverse range of funding streams so that projects are sustainable. It is the case that it is often better to do nothing than to offer something then to take it away after a year.
Secondly, it is a challenge working with different partner organisations that have different cultures.
Thirdly, as mentoring is the largest programme, recruiting a diverse range of mentors is difficult. As with other mentoring programmes, mentors tend to be overwhelmingly female and middle class, while it would be helpful to have more male, working-class mentors.
Tips – do’s and don’ts
DO be flexible and responsive which means being prepared to work in the evenings and at weekends. Local staff and volunteers need to be able to mobilise locally to sort out any problems that arise outside of 9am-5pm. But that flexibility needs to extend to working hours within the organisation in order to ensure a healthy life-work balance.
DO recruit people who are care-experienced as staff and volunteers. They are the people who will be prepared to go ‘above and beyond’ because they know what it feels like to be a care leaver. Other lived experience comes in valuable too.
DO be prepared to challenge and fight for the young people you are working with. It is important to be assertive and strong when not accepting injustice. At the same time, it is important to be able to maintain trusting relationships so as not to alienate people who can make a difference.
DON’T do anything without consulting care leavers about the planning, delivery and evaluation of programmes and projects. Projects that are successful tend to be those that are ‘needs-led’.
DO be prepared to ‘fail-fast’, that is, if something is not working then be prepared to change it rapidly.