Staf adapted during COVID-19 to continue to support people and is now looking to the future.
Staf is Scotland’s membership organisation for all those involved in the lives of young people leaving care, with over 70 members across the public, third and independent sectors. At the heart of our work are our practice sharing groups, learning events and participation groups for care leavers. With so much face-to-face engagement with young people and the throughcare and aftercare workforce, we had to work at pace to adapt our offer.
As lockdown restrictions began our project team began sending out care packages to young people involved in our groups, with supermarket vouchers, self-care items and mobile phone top-ups. Since the beginning of the pandemic around 90 packages have been sent out.
Not only did the participation groups begin meeting online but they have thrived. Our Project Return group has had ‘Rock the Lockdown’ sing-a-long sessions, pottery sessions, poetry and much much more. The enthusiasm of the young people involved is infectious!
They’ve also found innovative ways to reach out to their peers who may be feeling lonely or isolated. Our Youth Justice Voices project has created a monthly newsletter for other care and justice experienced young people and Project Return has developed ‘Seeds for Change’ boxes to support wellbeing through growing plants.
You just have to listen to the young people involved to see the difference the groups have made during lockdown, one young person involved in Youth Justice Voices said:
“…if I didn’t have this then I would find it really difficult. It’s one of the most important and valuable services in my life, it’s cheesy but people like us don’t have families who are mature and capable…it’s made me realise how much I appreciate Staf and other services.”
We’ve been working to support the workforce during the pandemic too. Our Focus Groups and Forums continue online as valuable spaces for practitioners and managers to come together to connect and share best practice. We’ve provided them more frequently during lockdown too, with new opportunities to connect between meetings using digital platforms. Our Building Relationships advisory group has also continued to meet online during lockdown developing an exciting resource to support relationship-based practice.
Through the practice discussions at these groups and consultation with the young people involved in our projects, we’ve gathered feedback on the impact COVID-19 and fed this directly into the Scottish Government. We’ve gathered positive examples of good practice through our #WeLove campaign too.
It’s clear that the crisis has shed new light on the issues faced by young people leaving care, issues of loneliness, social isolation and mental health; digital exclusion; food poverty; and financial precarity.
In response, our member organisations, in the public, third and independent sectors are living Staf’s values in their support for children and young people – we listen, we care, we love.
As we begin to cautiously move into a ‘new normal’ the question for all of us is what have we learned?
Firstly, lockdown has confirmed that relationships remain key to improving the lives of young people leaving care. Secondly, we’ve seen the benefits of digital technology in supporting young people but also the challenges of digital exclusion. Finally, and crucially, we’ve seen that when we set our collective minds to it, change can happen with pace.
We intend to keep up that the momentum to ensure we build a better society for the future and deliver the change care leavers need now, developing new projects and an exciting programme of online learning events around the issues exposed by the pandemic.
We’ve proven that change under challenge circumstances is possible, we now need work with the same fierce urgency to ensure all care leavers they have the care and love they deserve.
This article was written by Jo Derrick, CEO at Staf.