Durham County Council: Sessional Employment Programme

Durham County Council delivers a cross-county programme called DurhamWorks which supports unemployed 16-24 year olds to progress into employment, education or training (EET). To date, DurhamWorks has supported 8750 young people with 78 per cent progressing into EET or gaining a qualification. This provides the framework within which the Sessional Employment Programme (SEP) sits.

Background and context

County Durham is a large and diverse county with very dispersed rural settlement patterns which create specific issues, including transport challenges. Income levels are low; the county is the 42nd most income deprived out of 151 local authorities nationally. The not in education, employment or training (NEET) rate is above the regional and national average; with 1 in 4 school children on free school meals, an indicator of child poverty.

Durham County Council delivers a cross-county programme called DurhamWorks which supports unemployed 16-24 year olds to progress into employment, education or training (EET). To date, DurhamWorks has supported 8750 young people with 78 per cent progressing into EET or gaining a qualification. This provides the framework within which the Sessional Employment Programme (SEP) sits.

Description of activity

The Durham Care Leavers Employment Pathway includes the Sessional Employment Programme (SEP) within the Council. This creates supported opportunities for work experience among care experienced young people, aged 16 to 24 to gain skills that will be helpful in their longer-term progression. The SEP initiative, paid for through Durham County Council (DCC), funds a part-time Sessional Employment Co-ordinator (SEC). The SEC, who started in July 2021, facilitates the programme and supports participants by liaising with, the Young Person’s Adviser, DCC Human Resource and DCC Service Managers.

Ten care experienced young people are currently ‘live’ on the programme with placements in areas such as construction, farmers and protective landscapes, quantity surveyor, motor vehicle, human resources and DurhamWorks. Other support that is part of the Pathway for Care Leavers includes DurhamWorks Programme for Schools (for care experienced year 11s), additional support through DurhamWorks, Pupil Premium Plus (PP+) pilot (year 12 and 13), strong integrated working and preparation, ringfencing and support for DCC Apprenticeships.

Impacts and outcomes

Progress to date on the SEP includes:

  • development of joint recruitment and employment processes with HR
  • support from Senior Managers with the implementation of the programme
  • design and delivery of a programme of support to all young people and key contacts in each department from DCC
  • agreement for a ‘Benefits Calculator’ to be completed by Welfare Rights for all participants on the programme.

In terms of other elements of the Care Leaver Pathway:

  • In 2020/21 DurhamWorks Programme for Schools supported 48 out of 53 care experienced year 11 pupils with their transition. Of the remaining 5, DurhamWorks provided 2 with additional support and 3 were out of county continuing educational placements.
  • 58 Young People attending 14 colleges are accessing the PP+ offer which includes a Keep in College payment and support to students to prevent disengagement. On-going benefits so far have been the strengthened links between the Virtual School, Young People’s Service, Progression & Learning, and Colleges and the feedback from young people has been extremely positive. .
  • 7 apprenticeships within DCC, ring-fenced as part of the wider programme for care experienced young people in 2020-21 which included a package of support by DurhamWorks to prepare, apply and maintain any positions secured.
  • Integrated working between the Virtual School, Young People’s Service and DurhamWorks continues to grow and benefit young people. This includes the development of a Senior Progression Adviser post funded part time by DurhamWorks and part time by the Virtual School to help strengthen the post 16 PEP process and ensure co-ordinated support is an ongoing priority for Durham.

Challenges and barriers

Three important barriers faced by NEET young people including those who are care experienced are as follows:

  • A lack of engagement with support services or learning provision (or sporadic engagement) because of low motivation and aspirations to progress, often coupled with poor self-esteem and low self-confidence. For many care experienced young people this can be as a result of past trauma and/or other more complex factors.
  • Accessible and affordable transport - young people who are harder to reach are less likely to progress into or sustain positive outcomes if transport is not easy to access.
  • Mental health issues young people are experiencing have increased, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic.  

Resources and funding are challenges faced by DCC in supporting hard to reach young people. To date they have used Youth Employment Initiative (YEI) and European Social Funding (ESF), which are all short-term and prescriptive, with limits on sustainable influence.

Staff working with care experienced young people face particular challenges, such as resilience and flexibility to adapt to the needs of the young people (which vary considerably, while staff avoid becoming proxy social workers), managing information sharing while working with other agencies and stakeholders, understanding the trauma that the young people have experienced, and building trust and relationships.

Young people’s voices

There is no feedback as yet from participants on the SEP. However, care experienced young people on the DurhamWorks programme have provided feedback. In one detailed case, a young person described how the support had led them to complete qualifications as part of their apprenticeship:

Every time I’ve had a problem or needed help with updating my CV or help with applying for jobs and apprenticeships my DurhamWorks advisor was there straight away to help. They done everything they could to ensure that I got the best possible chance of employment. Through this I have already gained one qualification in an apprenticeship I have completed and now with the help of them again I am currently enrolled on another apprenticeship through Durham County Council doing an apprenticeship in social care.”

Others made positive comments on their experience of being helped by DCC as a care experienced young person, including the support provided.

Children in Care Council (CiCC) is the formal forum that DCC have developed, with the organisation Investing in Children, to access the voice of young people (see inset below). A recent example of the work from this has been the extension to the travel pass for young people accessing Full Time Education. DurhamWorks and Social Care have worked together with the local colleges to ensure Care Experienced young people have a travel pass they can use not only for travel to college but also on a night and weekend. This was by request of the young people themselves.

DurhamWorks staff have tried different ways of engaging young people who access their services and have used initiatives such as ‘feedback fortnights’ to generate interest and stimulate responses. They would like to develop this even more over the next couple of years, particularly on the qualitative side, when it comes to measuring impact and implementing new initiatives, for example, through a youth forum.

Children in Care Council

The Children in Care Council is designed to give children in care and care leavers in Durham a voice and give them a say in how the service is run. They meet every month to talk about what it’s like being in care and what could be improved. They are supported by Investing in Children, which is a children’s rights organisation working with Durham County Council.