transition planning from the perspective of a children’s residential practitioner

Transitioning, or to employ a less institutionalised phrase, ‘next step planning’, can be a tremendously unsettling time. From experience it is a period that requires extensive planning and copious amounts of emotional support. There are some key elements in the transition planning that, I believe, can help young people through this process.

A smooth moving on period requires an extensive amount of planning and clear time scales. The time frames should be considered and decided upon early on in the process, a view supported by Nice (National Institute for Health and Care Excellence). As a home we start looking at time scales related to the transition somewhere between 12 and 24 months prior to transition. However, preparing a young person ready for their first steps into adulthood starts from the day they join us.

Of course, the most important person in any process involving a young person, is the young person themselves; their voice is vital, and advanced planning helps to ensure it is centre stage. Moving on to their next steps is a huge challenge for most and many may need a sufficient amount of time to process such a big change. Finding the young person’s voice can be difficult, especially if you are working with strong-willed practitioners involved in their care. This is made doubly difficult if the young person struggles, for whatever reason, to verbalise their thoughts. A strong, trusting relationship is therefore paramount; being alert to the young person’s behaviour around this time is key to understanding what the young person is trying to communicate, especially if they are struggling to verbalise how they are feeling and what choices they would like to make. It sounds obvious, but ensuring there are people in the young person’s support system during the decisions making process, that know them really well helps to bring the young person’s wishes and feelings to life.

An area that is often flagged as not good enough in transition planning is communication between professionals, which leads to services not linking up sufficiently. Advanced planning makes the communication between professionals more effective and gives everyone to put their cards on the table and time to really explore the options that are available to young people. It is up to practitioners to advocate for the young people and ensure communication channels are clear. We can take responsibility in ensuring everyone is informed and that the right services are being called upon.

Nice also emphasises the importance of a named worker. I can attest to this as I have seen this used effectively; it can be overwhelming to be constantly reminded of an anxiety-provoking situation such having to move to ‘semi-independence’ or your own flat. Furthermore messages can be relayed differently from person to person and with a high number of professionals involved in the transition process it is likely that the young person may become confused as to what is happening, and as to what is available as an option to them.

Being creative is also essential when planning for transitions. There will almost always be barriers that need to be faced and as professionals it is our job to think of innovative and supportive ways to overcome these barriers. For example; a young person who can struggle to leave the home for a variety of reasons is likely to need additional support in visiting their new home. Supporting staff can take videos of the the new home, describing the home as part of a walking tour (not too dissimilar to the way in which house viewings have been conducted in the pandemic!). This can then be shared with the young person to view in their own time, taking away the pressure and lessen anxiety.

Effective planning will help overcome other barriers; effective target-setting and support to achieve goals linked to a young person’s EHCP (Education, Health and Care Plan) is imperative, and where a young person doesn’t have an EHCP in place linking goals and targets to tangible and useful skills that will prepare them for their next steps.

Many of the outcomes we see for young people looking to transition out of care will have an end goal of being more independent, however, achieving a high level of independence will not be possible or appropriate for all, and young people are likely to have varying levels of independence in different areas of their lives.  It is therefore up to us as the practitioners to look for services alongside the local authority that may help in adult life. A recent example from our own home was linking up with a service in Wiltshire called ‘Community Connecting’. This ‘buddy’ scheme enables young people to access public transport with support.  Other services often provided by local authorities can include: planning holidays, advocacy, IT skills, budgeting and access to paid social groups. Some of these services may be funded by the local authority and many charities and local community groups also offer life skills sessions or groups to support young people build confidence and gain skills in the areas where they may need additional support.

Nice also highlight the importance of peer support. We have used this as a way to discuss each individual’s experience and also as a way to explore the various challenges that there may be in moving into adulthood. We found this particularly useful for a young person who wanted to know about a ‘shared lives’ scheme, a peer was able to talk about their own experience of this scheme and offer guidance to the realities of living in a shared lives home. We have also engaged with care-experienced adults who have offered to spend some time with our young people to speak about their personal experiences.

A settling in period should also be accounted for, and individuals should be available to emotionally support for the first couple of weeks at least. It may be that the young person needs to spend some time with their old peer group, or support staff.  If appropriate and the young person wants communication to continue then visits to the new home and arrangements for social activities should continue. We give this decision to the young people themselves, offering our contact details so that they contact us if they need us. For young people people living outside of the care system there are always fall back options, relationships remain and many even return home after a period away, therefore we must try, where we can to replicate this and provide positive, lasting relationship.

This piece was written from the opinion of an Assistant manager at a residential children’s home.

The resources used were;

· Moving into adulthood: Young disabled people moving into adulthood | JRF

· Transition from children’s to adults’ services for young people using health or social care services (