From education to employment

Government funded Care Leaver Covenant asks for care leavers to be shown more empathy

Matthew Gordon, Chief Executive of Spectra, delivery partner of the Care Leaver Covenant

Care leavers must be shown more empathy, is the message from the government funded Care Leaver Covenant (@CareLeaverCov) for National Care Leavers’ Week (26 October – 1 November). 

The Care Leaver Covenant – funded by the Department for Education and delivered by social value agency Spectra – is a promise made by private, public or voluntary organisations to provide support for care leavers aged 16-25 to help them to live independently.

On Thursday 29 October, the Covenant is holding The Empathy Summit, where it will ask education and business leaders to be more empathetic towards care leavers, and provide specific opportunities for them. Examples include businesses offering recruitment schemes tailored towards care leavers and education establishments delivering specially designed support packages featuring, for example, extended accommodation during holiday periods.

The Empathy Summit will explore the innovative diversity and inclusion initiatives currently being provided for care leavers by leading universities, employers and public bodies. It will also feature specially arranged music, film and poetry as well as engaging panel discussions. In addition, those attending will hear how the government is looking to shape policy to increase support for young people leaving the care system.

Approximately 10,000 young people leave care each year. Around 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are Not in Education, Employment or Training (NEET) – compared to 13% for this age group overall; 25% of the prison population is care experienced.

Hosting the free online event is TV personality Sue Perkins, with speakers including Sir Peter Bazalgette, Non-Exec Chairman of ITV; Lemn Sissay MBE, poet and Chancellor of the University of Manchester, who is care experienced; Julie Towers, Managing Director and Board Director of Penna PLC; Sarah Howls, Head of Access & Participation of the Office for Students and Professor Steven Spier, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University.

The event is held in partnership with Universities UK and The Guardian Jobs and supported by the Mayor of London.

Matthew Gordon, Chief Executive of Spectra, delivery partner of the Care Leaver Covenant, said:

“The Empathy Summit is primarily about raising awareness of the challenges young people leaving the care system face and asking business and education leaders to consider how these challenges can place them at a disadvantage in college, university, employment or the jobs market.

“Things usually taken for granted, such as a long-term permanent address or financial and emotional support from parents, are missing for these young people through no fault of their own and their absence can massively impact personal and professional development. 

“We are asking all education and business leaders to recognise they can play a role in improving prospects for care leavers by introducing packages of support which level the playing field for them and ensure they have the same opportunities as all young people so that they can lead healthy, happy and successful lives.”

Professor Steven Spier, Vice-Chancellor of Kingston University, commented:

“I am delighted to take part in The Empathy Summit as it is imperative that we recognise and value the experiences of all to have a positive impact on society. Care leavers and those who are care experienced are woefully underrepresented in higher education. However, in our experience at Kingston University, they are among the most determined and resilient students we have, and by supporting them to reach their full academic potential they will help shape society for the better.

“By embracing this diversity of experience, businesses, universities and other education providers will enrich their communities and, as we begin to recover from COVID-19, this is more important than ever. I would urge you to join this online summit and hear from the perspectives put forward.”


Cast members of new show The Ballad of Corona V by North London theatre The Big House have shared their feelings on the challenges and pleasures of returning to rehearsals during the pandemic ahead of its first night on 28th October, with press night 3rd November.

The Big House opened its Islington venue in 2018 and offers training and workshops to young people who have been through the care system, aiming to unleash their creativity and build confidence through theatre. These young people become The Big House members by taking part in weeks of workshops and rehearsals, before eventually becoming the theatre company and producing a new show.

After a long period away from the theatre during lockdown, TBH members shared their thoughts on returning to rehearsals and live theatre during COVID-19 for new production The Ballad of Corona V.

The 19 person cast combines stars including Eleanor Wyld (Misfits, Lovesick, Thirteen, Johnny English Reborn) and Jermaine Freeman (Nicholas Hytner’s A Midsummer Night’s Dream at The Bridge Theatre and Steve McQueen’s A Small Axe) with exciting new talent from The Big House’s young members.

Member Megan Samuel said: “It’s really difficult, I’m not gonna lie, when I started the Open House Project we were preparing to do a different production and there were a group of about 15-20 of us. We could touch each other and greet each other properly, now there’s six to a room and no human contact. But do you know what, if you were to ask anyone of us we’d say, ‘We’d take this over Big House being closed any day’.

I feel euphoric knowing we are still being given the opportunity to perform. I know Maggie and everyone has been working tirelessly to give us the chance to do this and complete the project, overall it feels amazing to be back and getting back to work, it’s amazing to see people even if I cant hug them… For a lot of us Big House is a saving grace and I can definitely say Big House has saved me.”

Another cast member Chad Mbuini said: “I feel very privileged to still be able to practice my craft and be creative even in times like these. There are many guidelines and restrictions but, we were still able to work together to create some beautiful work.”

The Big House member Sian Leigh-Moore added: “Due to the pandemic and not being able to be in the room where all the magic happens, it’s been quite daunting. Rehearsals in Big House are fun and energetic. We get straight to work to get the best outcome in our performance.”

Written by David Watson and directed by Maggie Norris, the show is an immediate, darkly comic response to the COVID-19 crisis. Limiting audiences to six per scene with distant start times, the play itself incorporates social distancing rules for both actors and the audience.

The result is a free-wheeling, funny, angry, moving and musical show about the times we’re living in – all at a two metre distance. With stories from the local community to across the globe, The Ballad of Corona V examines the comedy and tragedy of the pandemic and our response to it.

Care leaver facts and stats

  • There are around 70,000 young people in care in the UK. Roughly ¾ predominantly in foster care and ¼ in Local Authority residential care.
  • Around 10,000 leave care each year, becoming care leavers.
  • Around 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are NEET.
  • Only about 7% of care leavers begin university degrees.
  • Roughly 25% of the male and female prison population are care experienced.
  • Roughly 25% of the homeless population are care experienced.

The Care Leaver Covenant in action:

  • More than 200 organisations signed up to the Covenant, including Trowers & Hamlins, Barclays, Reed, Superdry, Amazon, ENGIE, PGL and Compass Group.
  • 1,000 plus opportunities created for care leavers.
  • 152 councils with Children Services departments to support the Covenant.

The Care Leaver Covenant, launched in October 2018, is funded by the Department for Education and delivered by Spectra, a social value agency based in Wolverhampton.

It was launched to tackle the disadvantages that young people leaving care face when they become independent adults. Around 10,000 young people leave care each year. Around 40% of care leavers aged 19-21 are NEET; 25% of the prison population is care experienced.

Organisations in the private, public and voluntary sectors sign up to the Covenant and create practical, tangible offers and opportunities for care leavers relating to employment, education and training, safety and security, health, financial independence and independent living.

There are over 160 published offers on the Covenant’s bespoke app and website and more than 200 organisations have signed up to the Covenant. 

Covenant signatories that are deemed to go above and beyond in their outreach to the care leaver community are called Signatory Partners, they include Amazon UK & Ire, Compass Group UK & Ire, Engie, Lendlease, Metro Bank and Tuckers Solicitors.

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