Estelle Maxwell reports on a pioneering project to help young people. The street survival skills of London's young homeless are to be assessed in a pioneering course aimed at showing employers the abilities they have developed while living rough.
Staff at the London Connection, a day centre which helps up to 2,000 homeless young people each year, are putting together the system of accreditation which will be linked to the National Council for Vocational Qualifications core skills framework. If successful, its course will help youngsters off the street and into work and could be adopted by other agencies.
Unlike conventional National Vocational Qualification students who must demonstrate competencies in the workplace, the London Connection candidates will be asked to show how they have developed fundamental skills of living in difficult circumstances.
They will choose from modules including: dealing with harassment, discrimination, street survival, understanding homelessness, living in a hostel, holding down a job, and searching for work.
A report by the charity Centrepoint this month showed a large increase in homeless young people in London and the South-east. Its survey of 1,500 young people visiting its six London hostels for the first time in 1993-94 showed the numbers of young women and girls living rough or in hostels had risen from 26 to 43 per cent in seven years.
Forty-two per cent of those questioned were 17 or under, 86 per cent were forced to leave home, and nearly two-thirds had educational qualifications.
Many of the young homeless helped by the London Connection believed education and training represented their way off the streets - but were unable to study with no fixed address.
Pete Husbands, the centre's workspace projects manager who is helping to develop its training materials, said: "We found the core skills of conventional NVQs were inappropriate for our client group.
"We decided to look at producing materials which would accredit the experiences they were going through and put the proposal to the Department of Employment, who have agreed to fund the project for nine months." The centre has now employed a consultant and is evaluating the scheme which it hopes to launch in September. Students will select between 12 to 16 options from a 24-module training manual to complete four assessed NVQ units in core skills: working with others, communication, problem-solving and managing their own learning and performance.
Many of the centre's users were pinning their hopes on getting a job in 1995. Teenage mother Martine White, homeless since October, said: "I would not wish this on my worst enemy. I hope to get my accommodation sorted out in the new year, and possibly enrol on a two-year course or find work - I want to get something behind me and make something of my life."
After a lifetime in care, 19-year-old Darren Hollington is sleeping in a doorway in London's Haymarket. With four GCSEs, he has found it impossible to get work. "I have made about 50 applications for jobs. If I could get a job, then I could move on."