Berlin Blog

Berlin Blog

YPBMF and NLCBF go international and take a trip to Berlin!

From 1961 until 1989 Germany was a divided country. A wall 3.6meters high was constructed as a physical barrier above ground separating the East from the West; on each side of the wall people were going about their daily business in two very different versions of what had previously been one country.

For care leavers, living in any country, life may often feel like there is a wall dividing them from their communities; people not adequately recognizing or addressing the specific vulnerabilities that arise when a young person has experienced the trauma of being separated from the families who introduced them to the world.

“The Reliable Transition Structures for Care Leavers Conference” was hosted in Berlin on 18th March 2019. Welcoming delegates from across Germany and beyond, practitioners, academics and care experienced people came together to celebrate good practice and learn from each other about the systems supporting care leavers. It was evident that despite differing practice there is a shared vision to ensure that young people feel active participants in planning their futures, being supported to work out how to be resilient adults playing a positive role within their communities.

Being part of a UK system that provides statutory duties for children in care to experience a supported transition to interdependence can only be a positive. Whilst at times this can feel fraught with complexities that are impacted on by reduced resources and perceived limited commitment from wider communities, it was refreshing to realise that the UK is actually further ahead of other countries in how we make provision for our care leavers.

There were two key areas of practice that sparked my curiosity and feel pertinent to share;

  • Germany;

Many of us may have experienced that during times of our greatest need, human nature will encourage us to push away from our networks and support systems that surround us, refusing the help offered even if we know it would be better to accept.

In Germany care leavers can refuse to work with the support on offer and this refusal will be accepted; if they do not want to do any direct work, accept contact or make a support (pathway) plan then worker persistence is not encouraged and the young person will be detached from the support. On the surface this may sound an empowering model, however, as we are all aware persistence can prevail and will often lead to a can do relationship.

In the UK we may sometimes feel constricted by the boundaries of legislation and the requirement to maintain contact with our care leavers even when they say they do not want it, yet this is the essence of protection for young people to experience their own value and worth.

  • Canada;

A vast country made up of 3 Territories and 10 Provinces Canada has a limited national strategy to support its young people as they transition through the care system.

“Youth ageing out of care” is a term used in Canada, effectively demonstrating a system that ends abruptly at the age of 18 years. Although young people can request short term continued support, a limited mandate for continuing services was demonstrated very powerfully within a workshop utilising “STRING THEORY” a complex series of professional networks all ending at the point of reaching 18 years and “out of care”.

Positive transitional work is attempted by workers in Canada, who undertake comprehensive plans to connect young people with family and friends, who offer non paid continued supportive relationships when services are no longer available. Although trauma informed practice appears to be on the radar in Canada and with indigenous young people being over represented in the care system many of those “ageing out of care” become very much part of the wider welfare network and the specific vulnerabilities of having experienced a childhood in care do not appear to be addressed through to adult hood.

In the UK we are developing our understanding and practice of enabling our care leavers to re connect with people important in their lives, through initiatives such Lifelong Links Coventry  However, the support of statutory services continues and feels crucial to not only safeguard our care leavers but to also support what can be complex ongoing relationships.

The distance we have travelled in the UK to ensure that we acknowledge the relational needs of our care leavers never felt more relevant than when facilitating a workshop and the conference provided an arena from which to exchange experience.  As the practice development manager for NLCBF it was thought-provoking to hear how other countries strive to provide services to support care leavers. Knowing that at times of austerity people can be enabled to think outside of the box, to develop innovative ways of working I am hopeful that the ideas we shared will go some way to enlightening practice.

The city of Berlin was an intriguing and stimulating place to visit. Delivering the workshop in English with mainly German speaking people was truly inspiring; it was a fantastic opportunity to be with likeminded people striving to ensure that care leavers receive the very best of support and guidance, communicating a shared passion for improving the life chances of all our care leavers wherever they may be living in the world. For those of a certain age the song from the band of the same name sticks in my mind – Berlin you certainly did “take my breath away”.

Lisa Holland – NLCBF Practice Development Manager

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