Care leavers in Oldham have expressed their delight to a support package put in place to help them live healthier and independently.
The Care Leavers offer includes free prescription charges – a national first in the UK* – as well as council tax exemption, discounted leisure passes and much more for those up to the age of 25.
The move, which involves Oldham Council and NHS Oldham Clinical Commissioning Group (CCG), as part of the Oldham Cares Alliance – along with Oldham Community Leisure and partner organisations, is designed to help young people who had difficult starts in life better adapt to the world outside of the care system.
More importantly, this support has been put in place after listening to what care leavers want help with through Oldham’s Children in Care Council.
Sam Coupe, from Oldham, is part of the local Children in Care Council that helped develop the support package.
The 23-year-old said: “This means a lot to care leavers. When we leave care, it’s often a more daunting challenge for most young people. We don’t have or earn much money when we become independent. We have to live on a tight budget, so every little helps.”
Tia Henderson, aged 17, also of the Children in Care Council and Chair of Oldham Youth Council, added: “It’s fantastic to not only be listened to, but have our ideas become a reality.
“We feel like we have a voice and it’s being heard loud and clear. We’re part of the decision-making process and it’s great to have our views acted upon by these organisations.”
Earlier this month, all of the borough’s looked after children and care leavers were honoured at the local authority’s annual Stars in Our Eyes event at the Queen Elizabeth Hall in Oldham.
Hosted by Sam and Tia, the Oscar-themed celebration was one way of recognising and rewarding their personal, academic and sporting achievements.
Cllr Amanda Chadderton, Cabinet Member for Children’s Services and Oldham’s Corporate Parenting Panel chairperson said it’s about celebrating our young children and care and care leavers, as well as supporting them the best we can.
“We want to put all children and young people at the heart of everything we do and at the heart of decision making,” said Councillor Chadderton.
“We know that care leavers face unique and difficult challenges as they transition to independent living, including financial constraints which can cause them to have to make tough choices that they shouldn’t have to face.
“So, we believe it is our duty, as corporate parents to these young and vulnerable people leaving care – who often face tough upbringings and challenges early in life – that we support them in this way and not on only hear their voices, but act upon them.”
Councillor Zahid Chauhan, Cabinet Member for Health and Social Care added: “We’re committed to taking as much pressure away from care leavers and ensuring they live as independent and healthy as possible.
“We are confident that we are meeting our commitment to provide equitable and fair access to treatment for a group of vulnerable people in our care.”
Oldham has become the first area in the UK to implement free prescriptions for all care leavers up to the age of 25 who are GP registered in Oldham.
Dr John Patterson, Chief Clinical Officer, added: “We are completely committed to investing in and supporting the young people of Oldham and those who face inequity and difficulties in accessing essentials such as prescribed medicines.
“Nobody should be leaving care at 18 and having to face the choice of feeding themselves or paying for medication. This idea was born out of the information we received from the young people of Oldham, and it was our privilege to be able to find a solution to the problems they highlighted.”
Oldham has a dedicated online resource for care leavers, where advice and information is available on subjects including health, wellbeing, managing finances, education and employment opportunities.
Each care leaver also has access to a Passport to Independent Living guide which has been developed by young people in care to help those leaving care to develop skills and knowledge to live independently.
Oldham Council and seven other local authorities across the country have partnered with national charity Coram Voice to develop a model for improving support for care leavers through a new phase of the New Belongings programme, announced last month.
The programme creates and tests different practices to improve services and outcomes for care leavers, some of which have influenced national policy, including the introduction of ‘Personal Advisers to 25’ and Council Tax exemptions.
With funding from the Esmée Fairbairn Foundation and Segelman Trust, Coram Voice, a charity part of the Coram group that supports children in and around the care system, is launching this new phase of the programme, using lessons from the previous phases, to support local authorities to develop their leaving care services with direct involvement from their care leavers.
The full package of support is listed on Oldham Council’s website – www.oldham.gov.uk/careleavers
Visit www.oldhamccg.nhs.uk/careleaversprescriptions if you are a care leaver who needs apply for free prescriptions.