UHI Inverness launch programme to support care experienced young people

A PILOT programme aimed at care experienced young people, to support them to engage in learning and employment, has been launched by UHI Inverness in partnership with Highland Council.

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Demi Harrower, a student on the LEEP Ahead programme at UHI Inverness

The LEEP (Life, Education, Employment and Personal Development) Ahead programme has been co-designed with input from care experienced young people and provides the tools and skills to support them to progress positively, whether that’s on to college or university, an apprenticeship programme, training, or work.

Some care experienced young people face additional challenges which can result in disruption and displacement in their education and gaps in learning, knowledge and development.  This can often result in care experienced young people having fewer opportunities than their peers and a gap in successful outcomes. 

Thirteen students enrolled in the 18-week LEEP programme at UHI Inverness in January. The students have been learning about mental health and wellbeing, healthy eating, manging money, building resilience, independence and coping skills, and skills and qualities to prepare for employment. They’re also undertaking subject-based projects to help them find out more about study options and job opportunities.

Amanda Learmonth, Access and Transitions Coordinator at UHI Inverness, said: “College and university can be daunting for young people with care experience, and undertaking formal qualifications and re-engaging in education can feel like a huge step. Care experienced young people have so many skills and qualities to celebrate but often need a little extra support to be able to sustain a full-time course or job. The LEEP Ahead programme provides that wrap around support, helping them to develop the skills they need to support themselves, create a realistic routine, and broaden their horizons so they can see the positive next steps available to them.”

Care, health and wellbeing lecturer Nina Gatt, who was brought up in a children’s home and teaches on the LEEP Ahead programme, added: “This course has been tailor made to support young people with care experience, who often face challenges which can prevent them from succeeding. This course focusses on identifying any gaps in their knowledge and mental health and coping strategies that will build their resilience and make it more likely for them to succeed. It’s also about promoting a sense of self-worth and confidence, so they know there’s opportunities out there for them and they’re achievable.”

Demi Harrower (20), from Inverness, has been in care for eight years. She’s recently moved into her own accommodation.

Demi said: “I was really nervous about starting this course, but it’s come at exactly the right time for me. It’s giving me the skills I need to live independently; it’s got me into a routine and made me want to learn more. I don’t want to move backwards now. I’m really enjoying finding out about the different study options available to me. We’re getting to see a bit of everything, from mechanics to things like hair and beauty. I think it could really benefit so many people. I’ve made new friends and the support has been brilliant. I’ve been able to speak with trained counsellors, which has been really good. I’m just happy to be here, it feels like a really positive thing. It’s also amazing to be taught by someone who has experience of the care system and knows just how difficult it is for us."

The LEEP Ahead programme is just one approach UHI Inverness is taking to widen the opportunities for care experienced young people, and to address the attainment gap for underrepresented groups.