When the going gets tough

The Columba 1400 programme has improved prospects for some young care leavers

At least 60 per cent of care leavers who participated in a Columba 1400 programme for young people from "tough realities" went into education, employment or training, a new report* has found.

The figure compares with national statistics showing that 37 per cent of young care leavers were in Eet (education, employment and training) last year. Some 78 per cent of the participants moved to or sustained positive and stable living environments, the evaluation of the Columba 1400 care leaver programme said.

The study, which tracked 317 leavers from four participating local authorities (West Dunbar-tonshire, Dumfries and Galloway, Highland and Falkirk), compared their views, experiences and outcomes with those from two non-participating authorities (Glasgow and Edinburgh).

It found the young care leavers (YCLs) in the programme benefited in a number of ways. "Most could point to areas of 'self-improvement' which they felt had helped, or would help in the future, with their Eet and independent living status.

Participants who had a history of mental illness, offending behaviour, or drugdrink dependency did not appear to have less success graduating from C1400 than their peers.

Of the authorities, two "embedded" the approach in their practice and had the greatest "conversion" of youngsters from Neet (not in education, employment or training) to Eet. Buy-in to the Columba approach at senior council level was seen as critical to long-term success. Participants rated staff and accommodation highly.

"For many YCLs, this was a clear signal that they were being treated well, and were highly regarded and respected. This had a positive effect on the young people and was a key influence on their self-esteem and confidence being boosted." They said they felt on the same level as the staff; another key element was the expectation that they be positive and supportive of each other.

"These issues demonstrate that many of the young people taking part in C1400 arrive with very low self-esteem, poor self-image and confidence issues. The academy builds these up over the week by encouraging dialogue and honesty within the group setting. This has a powerful impact, with sustained results," the report said.

But the culture and ethos within some authorities remained a "challenge".

"C1400 appears to be viewed as 'too radical' for more risk-averse practices in some local authorities."

The programme is based on the principle that, by tapping into participants'

natural leadership qualities, individuals can be encouraged to develop an understanding and acceptance of six core values: awareness, focus, creativity, integrity, perseverance and service.

Columba 1400, based at Staffin on the Isle of Skye and founded by Reverend Norman Drummond, offers parallel leadership programmes for headteachers, teachers and pupils.

The Scottish Executive provided pound;1.2 million over two years. Some 317 YCLs were expected to have taken part by the end of 2006 - 78 per cent of the executive's target of 408. The approximate cost for each is pound;4,300 -research estimates the lifetime resource costs of being Neet at Pounds 45,000.

The report concludes: "As long as C1400 is an important component... in sustaining or making the transition to Eet, or if it is the decisive component for at least one-sixth of young people, it justifies the expenditure."

* Evaluation of the Columba 1400 Careleaver Programme: Final Report. York Consulting Limited. Scottish Executive Social Research 2007

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