Step Forward - Meet Josh

Josh Knight - Executive Hub Apprentice, Rural Payments Agency

Hi, I’m Josh and I started my new job as Executive Hub Apprentice with the Rural Payments Agency this month. I was supported by Devon County Council via their Employability Programme, Step Forward, to secure this position. This blog tells you a bit about my time in care and where I am now.

When I first went to University I was shocked to find that the term ‘care leaver’ was unknown to a large majority of students and staff outside of the wellbeing office and so I made it my mission there to change that.

Fortunately I was surrounded by the support of some really fantastic staff at our students’ union to put policy through that meant executive officers had to go through mandatory care leaver training. From this stemmed awareness campaigns around what it meant to be a care leaver.

Once I entered the world of work, I faced the same issue.

So, that brings me here, writing this blog. I’m 24 years old and the Rural Payment Agencies newest apprentice through a fantastic scheme called Step Forward, run by Devon County Council in collaboration with Exeter College and the Rural Payments Agency.
I want to say, first of all, that I am one of the very lucky few.

The circumstances that I have faced pale in comparison to the lives of so many care leavers out there. I was born into a single parent environment where my mother’s mental health was unstable, this does not mean that she wasn’t an amazing parent, but she was also just as much a victim of circumstance as I was and many other parents of Care Leavers.
This meant that I was in and out of respite care until I turned 6. At this time I was expelled from primary school due to my violent and disruptive behavior. From there I was sent to two different pupil referral units (PRU’s) as I was also expelled from the first. By the time I was found a full time placement at a residential school for children with behavioral disorders I was also put into full time foster care.

The foster carers I had were amazing. They showed me the same love and care that they had given their own children.

However, due to the relationship between the foster placement, social services and my mum I had to be moved on. Open foster placements in Devon are in high demand and so naturally I spent many weekends not knowing where I would be the following week.
Until my mum begged one foster placement to keep me, despite being outside of their age range. They were equally amazing and I stayed there until I was 14 when my mum had won the court case to take custody of me and bring me back into her care.

This lasted until I reached the end of the first year of my college studies. A plethora of unfortunate circumstances led to my mum having a severe mental breakdown and so I went to stay with my Nana for a short while.

This was when my mum made an attempt to take her own life, this being the fourth attempt in my life time. It was at this point I called my first foster carers to ask for their advice as I had maintained a relationship with them since leaving their care. They took me in despite being at capacity with other foster children.

They then took me to the Civic Center in Exeter stating that the local authority had a legal obligation to house me according to the Southwark Ruling of 2009[1]. However, while the law states that I had to be housed under this ruling, the ruling does not state the condition of the housing.

I was put into temporary accommodation which wasn’t appropriate, where I lived from August until October 2012 when I was found a placement in a family household who gave supported lodgings for care leavers.

This obviously had a big impact on my college studies and I ended up getting below my predicted grades. However, I was lucky enough to get my university place despite this.
Since then I have had periods of my life where I have suffered from various mental health problems. I have struggled on and off with depression, anxiety and sleep disorders since 2015 when I dropped out of university.

Throughout this time I have had to be on different medications and treatments to help this. With the help and support of friends, family and through my own resilience I completed my degree and graduated in September 2018.

I say that I am lucky, because in reality, I am. I have always had people who have loved me and cared for me. I have been to university and gained a degree.
I have never had to sleep on the streets and I have never had to claim financial aid outside of university grants I have been entitled to. If you don’t believe that I am lucky, have a look at the stats below:

In 2018 there were 72,590 children in care. The causes for this is as follows: Abuse or Neglect – 63%; Family Dysfunction – 15%; Family in Acute Stress – 8%; Absent Parenting – 6%; Other – 8%.

Stats for Looked-After Children (LAC):
In 2018: KS1, the percentage of Looked-After Children (in care) reaching expected attainment levels in core subjects was 49% as opposed to 76% for those not in care.[2] KS2, this becomes 46% for Looked-After children as opposed to 74% for those not in care.[3] KS3, data is unavailable. KS4, only 17.4% obtained a passing grade in English and Maths as opposed to 59.4% for those not in care.[4] Furthermore, by the end of KS4 52% of Looked-After children were identified as having a Statement of Educational Needs (SEN) as opposed to 14% for those not in care.[5] On top of these educational stats 7,520 of LAC had more than three placements in a single year[6]

In 2018 31,410 officially left care becoming ‘Care Leavers’.[7]
Of those who leave care at the age of 16:
-      6% went to University.[8]
-      20% are in Education other than HE.[9]
-      25% are in education or training.[10]
-      Make up 25% of the adult prison population and are twice as likely to reoffend.[11]
-      Half suffer with a diagnosable mental health disorder.[12]
-      Two thirds have special educational needs
-      65% of Care Leavers with SEN or Mental Health Problems have not received support.[13]
-      Half of women involved in sex work are care leavers.[14]
-      Make up 25% of the homeless population.[15]
-      7% are in living conditions deemed as ‘unsuitable’.[16]
-      10% are in unknown living conditions.[17]
-      32% smoke marijuana daily[18]

All of these statistic are pretty harrowing and hopefully give you an insight into the disadvantages in life that a Care Leaver faces. There are things that can be done; schemes such as Step Forward can break so many of the poor life cycles that Care Leavers are in by providing training and employment to them.

Through the step forward program I have been able to join the Civil Service as an apprentice. When I was first at University I wanted to join the Civil Service but I had no idea how to do this. Now that I’m in, the opportunities for learning, development and training are endless. The job role is also flexible with working periods so I can fit my work around my life to meet my own needs and requirements which also enables me to work better. Having this apprenticeship means that I can live fully independently without the need to ask for outside help.

People from care backgrounds are no less intelligent, amazing or talented just because their grades say otherwise.
They are no less incredible, hard working or resilient because they don’t have a job, or they don’t have a permanent place to live, or because they don’t have parents to support them.
Care Leavers deserve the same opportunities for training, education, and work as anyone else.

They deserve as much of a chance to succeed in life as anyone else. But they are often forgotten about, cast aside or ignored.

This is why programs such as Step Forward are so important and essential. 

Let’s work together.
Let’s create opportunity.
And let’s make the lives of so many, so much better.

Josh Knight
Executive Hub Apprentice, Rural Payments Agency 


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