The pandemic has hit the young people we’re working with extremely hard. Many of them have lost their jobs right at the beginning of the crisis in February-March, especially the younger ones 19, 20 years old.
A lot of our young people are given a council flat or studio at a young age, which means that they’ve a lot of financial responsibilities like their rent, utility bills, maintenance. Several of them have additional caring duties looking after young children, siblings or sick family members.
The sheer number of people who suddenly became completely reliant on benefits added even more pressure onto these young people. With the system being overwhelmed with applications, they’d have to wait for weeks to receive their first Universal Credit payment. With no savings or family support, most of them are left with nothing in the meantime, leading to an increase of anxiety and depression.
It’s not easy to see people struggle so badly, especially when you’ve spent so much time with them, seen them move into jobs and finally get a grip on life. I can’t even imagine how hard this must be for my colleagues on the frontline, those working with individuals intensively 1-2-1, knowing their stories and seeing their pain. I still feel grateful that we were able to offer young people financial assistance throughout this crisis, thanks to the generosity of Drive Forward’s supporters who donated to the #Becausewecare fund.
Listening in times of crisis
As the weeks and months went by the Drive Forward team worked hard to keep our young people engaged and motivated, but our first and upmost priority was and still is to keep them safe. We saw so much enthusiasm from volunteers and corporate partners who offered their support; from virtual mentoring, to career insight sessions, even dance classes with West End show stars! Some of our young people would happily take up those opportunities to stay busy, increase their knowledge and improve their skills.
However, many others don’t have the headspace or resilience to pursue alternative activities when they’ve been impacted so harshly by the pandemic. They’re dealing with so many issues that have all been exacerbated throughout the crisis. From one day to the next our Employment Consultants had to completely reinvent their roles and the way they worked with young people. Of course, worries about employment, money, and a future career don’t just go away, but what our young people now needed more than internships and job opportunities was a listening ear, a shoulder to lean on and someone to have their back.
“Life goes on, pandemic or not,” says Felix, one of five Employment Consultants at Drive Forward. He had been working with a young mother for about 4 months before coronavirus hit the UK. “Cathy* is an incredibly hard working and motivated young women. She had only moved into her own council flat in January this year and was making a real effort to make it a proper home for herself and her two children. No floor in the bedroom, no white goods, leaking taps…”
Persistence and support are keys to success
Cathy had made good progress over the first couple of weeks of living in her new house; getting friends to help her sort out the flooring and finding cheap second-hand furniture and white goods online. There were some things, however, that were just too complex, and also dangerous, for an amateur DIY person to work on their own. Electric cables and water pipes had not been fitted properly and posed a continuous danger, especially to her two young children. Cathy had informed the maintenance team of the building in February already, but these things take time at the best of times and with the onset of Covid-19 it looked like a hopeless situation. When her washing machine started leaking as well, Cathy became more and more desperate. The fact that she wasn’t able to seek out friends or even have a face-to-face conversation with her social worker due to the lockdown exacerbated the situation.
Suffering from extreme loneliness, feeling isolated and left out is a common risk for care-experienced young people. Coronavirus, the lockdown, the global scale of the pandemic have all led to a sharp increase of anxiety, depression, and other mental health issues young people were already struggling and learning to live with. Access to adequate mental health services had been limited before the crisis, now, it has become close to impossible for them to get the support and medical attention they need.
Showing strength by asking for help
Thankfully, Cathy was able to do the one thing many care leavers can’t; she reached out for help and called her Employment Consultant, Felix.
Now, Felix is neither a plumber nor does he have a magic wand, but he always picks up the phone. He listens, he acts, and he is persistent. Cathy hadn’t had a response from the council maintenance team in weeks, despite electric cables posing a risk to young children. Felix identified line managers in social service and housing maintenance teams, and for two weeks supported Cathy to compose strategic emails that resulted in electric cables, water pipes and washing machine getting fixed.
This isn’t just about helping a young mother fix a maintenance issue in her house. It’s about standing with someone who has nobody else to turn to. It’s about letting that young person know that they’re not alone. It’s about showing that you care, giving them hope, and about them feeling valued.
Getting results from engaging with what had seemed like faceless bureaucracy was inspiring and reminded Cathy of how hard she had worked to gain a degree while looking after two infants.
Today, Cathy is looking forward and preparing to apply for the Care Leaver Civil Service Internship scheme this coming autumn; she has found her motivation and is confident again, only waiting for an opportunity to thrive.
*To ensure the privacy of the people working with us names, ages, and other characteristics have been changed.