A radical approach aimed at improving the life chances of young people leaving the care system is underway at South Tyneside Council.
A group of care leavers are currently employed in services across the Council. By providing the opportunity to gain hands-on experience in paid roles, it is hoped this will significantly enhance their employability prospects.
The initiative is just one element of an innovative programme which is seeking to improve the outcomes for young people leaving care by improving access to education, employment and training.
Funded by the Department of Education, the innovation project - known as The WorkPlace - seeks to raise the aspirations of young care leavers and help them become 'job-ready.'
Housed in the MarketPlace in South Shields, The WorkPlace also provides care leavers with an online labour market tool which helps shape their career aspirations and enables them to make informed choices about their career goals.
There are also plans to appoint a care leaver to a new role of Leaving Care Ambassador who will be tasked with removing barriers faced by those in care and who will look for employment opportunities outside of the Council.
The WorkPlace project also works in partnership with local arts providers to give care-experienced children the opportunity to take part in creative activities which can lead to accredited qualifications.
The project will build on previous improvements made and further help care leavers move on to further education, training or employment. In 2016/17, just 53 per cent of care leavers aged 17-18 were in education, employment or training but the latest figures show this figure rose to 72 per cent in 2017/18.
Councillor Moira Smith, Lead Member for Children, Young People and Families, said: "We are committed to giving all our young people the best start in life.
"We want all our young people to be able to access skills and training to help them achieve their career goals and we appreciate that it can be more difficult for those leaving care.
"By helping our care experienced young people gain a deeper understanding of what it means to be an employee we hope to be able to increase their confidence and self-belief and realise their aspirations."
South Tyneside Council received the funding for The WorkPlace project after being named the region's first Partner in Practice, alongside North Tyneside Council. In addition to receiving funding for an 'innovation project,' the two councils, known as the Tyneside Alliance, work with other local authorities both in the North East and further afield.
Both South and North Tyneside Councils Children's Services were rated 'Good' by Ofsted with 'Outstanding' areas of service. More than half of council Children's Services nationally have been rated 'Requires Improvement' or 'Inadequate' and the Alliance will be supporting some of these councils.
South Shields mum Jasmine Hagan believes The WorkPlace project is helping her realise her career goals.
Jasmine, 21, who has been in care since the age of 15, is keen to work in either youth justice or in a children's home.
She said: "I want to use my experience of the care system to make things better for children in care. I think that young people in care need someone who has been through the system and know what it's like. I feel really passionate about doing this and I'm so pleased I'm being helped to fulfil my dream."
As a result of signing up to sessional roles, Jasmine has received training on child exploitation and spoken at a conference to give her perspective on growing up in care. The WorkPlace has also helped her sort out a placement with the Youth Justice team as part of her foundation degree at Newcastle Sixth Form College.
The mum-of-one, of Biddick Hall, added: "The experience I have gained through the WorkPlace project has really boosted my confidence a lot.
"Going through the care system, you sometimes feel you do not have a say and you can start to doubt that people care. Getting a sessional role makes you feel like you are important and that what you think will be listened to and, where appropriate, acted on. It also gives you experience of being employed and trained which makes you feel that you can achieve what you want in life."
She added: "There is sometimes a stigma around care leavers and this project is helping to break this. In care you miss having someone there to push you to help you realise your potential. This project is helping to bridge that gap."