The Staying Close service supports James into his own flat

Suffolk Staying Close service aims to improve the experiences of young people moving from residential care to independence. It provides a stable home, opportunities to maintain important relationships, and tailored support. This pilot is running thanks to support from the Department for Education Innovation Programme.

Staying Close Suffolk is one of eight national pilots, developed to  improve the lives of young people when they are moving out of children’s homes. The scheme offers children and young people living in children’s homes a chance to move on to their next transition with familiar faces from the residential home remaining in close contact throughout, in essence mirroring how a parent would support any child leaving home for the first time.

Staying Close implemented by Suffolk County Council also looked at varying ways to support individual young people and called upon The Benjamin Foundation’s Heart and Home service to provide some additional Housing Management and tenancy support for some young people who were eligible for the scheme’s support.

In August 2019 Support Worker Emma* met and began to support a YP called James*.  James was still living in the children’s home and Staying Close had located a property for James to move into and had agreed to be the Guarantor.  The support sessions began prior to move in and focused on Emma and James decorating the property together, cementing a trusting relationship in addition to the workers from the Staying Close team.  James was also able to demonstrate these new skills and gain various AQA Awards (via the Assessment & Qualification Alliance) in decorating and gardening, which could be added to his CV.

James was able to choose the furniture for his new home at The Benjamin Foundation’s Restore second-hand furniture store in Norwich and before long the property soon began to look more like a home.

Move in day arrived James couldn’t wait to finally have his own place and stability. Over the next few months Emma worked with James setting up all the utilities and budget planning. The support sessions involved working on improving independent life skills such as shopping and batch cooking, general upkeep of the property and maintaining and learning how to be a good tenant.

The Benjamin Foundation Heart and Home team worked closely with James’ Social Worker at that time to gain insight on his background and understand how best to support him.  The Social Worker commented on Emma’s role:

“I was always pleased to have you on board when J was allocated to me, I knew that any tasks that you were given either by other professionals or by J were completed in a timely manner.  I feel that J knew this also and trusted in you.  You built a very positive trusting relationship with J, you were able to motivate and guide him when things weren’t going so well.  You were very patient with J and continued to steer him in the right direction when he went off track.  You also liaised with his adoptive family in an appropriate way, guided by J’s wishes with regard to communication.”

Emma supported and empowered James to make good life choices. James trusted Emma and stated to another professionals that Emma would ‘always fight for him’ and he appreciated this as he had never had that before.  James said that Emma ‘takes the time to really listen and understand him.’  James rated the Heart and Home service as ‘5 stars’ and said Emma ‘was the best Support Worker he had ever worked with’.  James said he trusts Emma and can be honest with her whether its ‘good or bad, she has never judged me’ and ‘supported me through my moves’.  James said there is ‘mutual respect of each other’ and he appreciates this.

James was gaining great feedback from his college tutor and James took enormous pleasure in showing Emma his reports. Before Emma began working with James his college attendance was around 35% and from Sep 2019 -July 2020 James’s attendance had risen to 98% and in July 2020 he passed his college course.  James was elated. He now showed passion and drive to achieve his goals when he had previously spoken to Emma about how in the past he would drink and take drugs and sometimes felt suicidal, resulting in not making good life choices and getting into trouble with the law.

James struggled a lot with his mental health and he was seeing a therapist and taking medication.  James is passionate to have a career in the armed services and didn’t want his mental health to hold him back but over time he felt well enough to come of his medication with the help and guidance of his GP and Emma.  James has been off his medication for 9 months now and although he has periods of time where he struggles, he can and has accessed metal health and well-being services with Emma’s support, demonstrating that he learnt and is capable of seeking out services when he needs to rather than suffering in silence. This demonstrates incredible personal growth from James and has been particularly key during the pandemic and periods of lockdown and limited contact.

The support package around James has gradually decreased over time, in line with his needs and when Emma began working with James he was adamant he never wanted to live on his own due to suffering with anxiety and paranoia.  However, two weeks ago, James signed his own tenancy for a one bed flat located through The Benjamin Foundation’s Rent Deposit Scheme. James took the skills he had learnt from his previous accommodation and transferred them into setting up his utilities in his own flat.

James has gained in confidence and maturity and at the age of 18, in the last 16 months James has moved from the children’s home into independent supported living to living completely independently.  With each transition he has gained vital transferable life skills with support and guidance from Heart and Home.

Comments from Staying Close team; ‘Emma has been a great support to one of our young people, he has not wanted to see any staff from his previous placement but has gained a great trusting relationship with Emma, she has helped him move twice, helping him with his bills, food shopping, relationship advice and education and appointments. Emma is approachable and will help where she can.’

This process has not been without its challenges but James handled each situation with maturity.

He has also learnt how to budget properly and not waste his money – after experiencing some weeks when he has prioritised spending on non-essential items. James has learnt to keep his meters topped up in order to have energy and warmth. James demonstrated what to do in the event of a fire and acting according from the teachings of Emma when smoke alarms were activated when an oven glove was left on a hob.

James continues to learn and grow every day and has achieved so much over recent months, we are all extremely proud of his success.

*Names and image have been changed

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