Eddy Adams, Expert for the ESF Youth Employment Thematic Network, reports from the recent meeting in Gdańsk on the city’s innovative approach to supporting young care-leavers.
Across Europe, many young people struggle to make the transition to independent adult life. Madga (26) is one of the lucky ones. A gastronomy manager in a busy Gdańsk hotel, she is about to get married and she and her husband-to-be are doing up an apartment where they will start their life together.
In most parts of Europe, prospects for young people like Magda are bleak. That is because she spent her childhood in the care of public services, looked after by the local authority, as her parents were unable to care for her. In many countries, the life chances of these young people are poor. Eurofund research shows that they are a consistent sub-group within the overall NEET (not in education, employment or training) figures in Europe.
From yoyo transition to deinstitutionalisation
Data is patchy across the EU but, for example in England, recent data from the Department for Education show that 40% of care-leavers aged 19-21 are NEETs, compared to around 13% of those in the general population. EU-level research shows that only 8% of care-leavers proceed to higher education (the average rate is five times higher) and that many young care-leavers opt for short-cycle occupational training in order to become economically independent as soon as they can. Danish researchers taking part in the study refer to the ‘yoyo transition’ process for many in this group, who repeatedly enrol and drop out of training courses.
In Poland, the Social Innovation Foundation estimates that 46% of care-leavers became unemployed on leaving education. Fortunately for Magda and others like her, recent developments have worked in their favour, in particular Poland's policy commitment to deinstitutionalisation. In cities like Gdańsk, this has encouraged a shift away from large orphanages and care homes to smaller, more manageable units. In Magda's case, this meant spending her early adulthood in a ‘neighbourly house’ with a small group of other children and a 'guide'. Instead of sleeping in a bunk-bed in a large dormitory, she had an upbringing more similar to children in family homes. It also meant that, instead of a constant churn of social support staff, she was able to form strong bonds with her carers, who were there to provide support on all the issues teenagers need help with.
One of those is trying to work out how you're going to earn a living and – more fundamentally – what you're interested in and good at. Magda was lucky again here. Not only because she had an engaged and supportive adult to speak to but also because the social innovation foundation that ran the neighbourly house had branched out into other sectors. One of these is a social enterprise, a charming café set within a well-known green space in the city. Magda started working there as a waitress and soon realised she enjoyed working with people – and that she had an interest in food.
Giving out of care youth a chance
Fast forward to 2018 and we already know about Magda's exciting life plans. She has graduated from college and now works at So Stay, a socially responsible hotel which employs young people leaving care. If they are interested, they can dip their toe in the water by starting as volunteers. An expanding sector in the city, hospitality and its related branches offers the chance to learn and grow. Magda is a good example of this. Since joining she has taken her gastronomy qualifications and has recently been promoted to a management position.
Magda's is an impressive story. But so is that of So Stay and its parent foundation. The hotel is the result of a sophisticated partnership model between the public, private and social enterprise sectors. Gdańsk City authority, with its strong and visionary commitment to social innovation and to the social economy sector, enabled the whole project to happen, using a combination of ERDF, ESF, city authority and third-party funds. Many cities could learn from what has been achieved here, and the organisation's recognition as an URBACT Good Practice, has helped raise its visibility. That award is well-earned.
Young people who are in the care of the state deserve the best chance in life, given the poor hand they have been dealt. But this happens too rarely. The usual pattern is one where they struggle to avoid the disadvantages bequeathed them by their parents. Happily, Magda's story is not unique – in Gdańsk at least – thanks to the vision, commitment and effective partnership at work in her city. Why not drop by and admire their work sometime? So Stay offers the same warm welcome to guests as it does to its new staff.
 See the final report of the YIPPEE project : http://www.kineo.nu/skolfam/moodle/pluginfile.php/35/mod_resource/content/1/Final%20Report%20of%20the%20YiPPEE%20Project%20-%20WP12%20Mar11.pdf