The Drive Forward Foundation started in 2010 as a bespoke recruitment service for young people leaving care. However, from this work Drive Forward rapidly realised recruitment support on its own would not be sufficient to improve outcomes for care leavers. The Foundation therefore began to offer additional services, working as holistically as possible to provide the practical and emotional support necessary to help those who had experienced care to fulfil their full potential.
The need for this work is stark. The latest statistics show only 6% of Care Leavers aged 19-21 year olds will go into higher education, and that looked after children are 13 times more likely to be criminalised. Drive Forward’s Ambassadors are determined to raise awareness of the problems facing care-experienced young people, and to challenge the systems which create and embed disadvantages. The Listening Fund is supporting the work of the Ambassadors, and in particular their policy initiatives which seek to ensure that the expertise of those who have experienced care is included in the development of improved systems and practice.
We recently met with Rory Morgan who talked us through the Ambassadors’ exciting work to date and outlined three lessons that Drive Forward have learnt so far:
1 – Drive Forward’s Ambassadors started as an Advisery group for the charity, one which could help inform their approach to policy and the overall direction of the organisation. However, it quickly became clear that in this capacity, the young people who had previously used Drive Forward’s services were not particularly engaged and that the group needed greater purpose if it was to thrive. By giving the young people greater agency – for example, asking Ambassadors to help devise solutions to problems, not just illustrate them; by including them in meetings with key individuals and organisations; and by letting them choose which aspects of policy they wanted to respond to, Drive Forward now has a flourishing Policy Forum which is having a positive impact on other aspects of their work, including peer-to-peer mentoring.
2 – the young people Drive Forward wants to work with often have busy and complicated lives. As a result, their ability to commit time to voluntary work fluctuates. By building flexibility into their work with Ambassadors, allowing ambassadors to ‘go quiet’ for periods when other commitments require their attention, or if a particular area of policy is of less interest, Drive Forward is able to benefit from ambassadors’ perspectives and insights for much longer, whilst ambassadors feel valued and respected.
3 – although the Policy Forum is ambitious about change in the care system, and although there are many aspects of care which Ambassadors would like to revolutionise, some of Drive Forward’s Ambassadors are cautious and ambivalent about the realities of changing such a large, complicated and under-resourced system. Drive Forward have therefore worked with the Ambassadors to identify policy areas where a more immediate impact is possible, to develop a manifesto and to build partnerships across the UK to ensure that the views of care-experienced young people are at the heart of conversations about the system.
Over the next twelve months, Drive Forward hopes to further develop its listening work, growing its nascent reverse mentoring programme and involving a greater variety of voices in the Ambassadors group, whilst continuing to ensure young people’s expertise is heard during some very important policy debates. It will be a fascinating year.