Interview: Jenny Corfield on the app that supports young people leaving care

We chat to Jenny from Bristol-based FocusGov on its Care Leavers app that helps young people to better connect with support services from their local authorities
10th April 2017

According to the National Audit Office, around 10,000 16-18-year-olds leave foster or care homes to begin independent lives every year, with support coming from their local authorities up to the age of 21.

However, it’s become increasingly difficult for many young people to get access to the information and support they need. So, Bristol-based FocusGov has built an app – the Care Leavers App – to help young people connect to the support on offer from their local authorities.

“The Care Leavers App enables the Local Authority to stay connected with… young people leaving their care, using the technology they’re already engaged with”

 

The team has already been up and down the country, demoing the app with young people in care and care leavers and has had an extremely positive response.

Check out the video below to find out more about some of the key features of the app:

 

So now, with the team now looking to work with local authorities directly so that the app can help as many care leavers as possible, we caught up with FocusGov’s Business Development Manager Jenny Corfield (pictured left) to find out more.

 

TechSPARK: Why specifically did you choose to build an app as opposed to something else?

Jenny Corfield: We chose mobile app technology to develop our new information and advice tool for care leavers because we feel it offers some clear advantages over more traditional web platforms.

From the users’ perspective, mobile technology is the platform of choice for young people today. Tech savvy and digitally ‘plugged in’, over 90% of 16-24 year olds own a smartphone, so it seems pretty logical that an effective communication strategy for young people should utilise mobile technology.

The Care Leavers App enables corporate parents – the Local Authority – to stay connected with and provide information to the young people leaving their care, using the technology they’re already engaged with.

“The Care Leavers App remains operational even when there is no Wi-Fi or mobile data available”

 

From a technical perspective, the Care Leavers App takes advantage of a smartphone’s native features like GPS, phonebook and camera. This has some great practical use cases, like being able to save details of an upcoming event to the calendar on the device and then using integrated Google maps to navigate to the venue.

Last but definitely not least, the Care Leavers App remains operational even when there is no Wi-Fi or mobile data available. This might not seem like such a big deal, but for Care Leavers who are going through a period of transition and uncertainty, consistency is key. It makes the app a really inclusive and reliable resource, and our research shows that this is particularly important to care leavers.

TS: What are the main features of the app?

JC: The Care Leavers App contains a bank of information, advice and guidance designed to help young people who are transitioning from local authority care to independent life.

There are sections of detailed information about their rights and entitlements as a care leaver, such as housing, money, education and employment. These pages of information are configured to include local data and links to support services and organisations that can offer further help to young people leaving care.

“The feedback we’ve received from young people in care and care leavers has been fantastic”

 

The app also has an events calendar detailing the things happening locally that might be of interest and offers a fast and convenient way to contact their Personal Advisor or ‘VIP’.

Based on the feedback we’ve been gathering, we’re now working on some ‘premium’ app features, including a budget planner, recipe book and even an interactive pathway planner which will help the young person keep track of their agreed upon plan for education, employment and living arrangements post-18.

TS: What sort of feedback have you had about the app from young people at the workshops you mentioned?

JC: So far the feedback we’ve received from young people in care and care leavers has been fantastic. We’ve delivered workshops to young people all around the country from Hartlepool to Bristol, and the response has been better than we could ever have imagined.

Much of the feedback we’ve received has already been implemented. For example, we’ve changed some wording and the ‘tone of voice’, increased the font size throughout the app to improve accessibility and implemented several in-app feedback mechanisms to help create a continuous cycle of improvement.

“We hope that the Care Leavers App will help young people to feel more confident in planning for the next stage of their lives”

 

We are also currently working on two new sections of information specifically designed for asylum seekers and care leavers who are parents; reflecting the particular needs of these groups.

Information and advice for care leavers doesn’t work as a ‘one size fits all’ approach, and mobile app technology provides the flexibility needed to really tailor the content.

And it doesn’t stop there. We’re in the process of conducting a nationwide survey, supported by several charitable organisations, that we hope will give us an even deeper insight into the needs of young people leaving care.

TS: What do you hope the app will mean for the future of young people leaving the care system?

JC: We hope that the Care Leavers App will help young people to feel more confident in planning for the next stage of their lives, and will assist them when making important decisions around things like housing and employment. Care leavers should feel supported by their corporate parents after they turn eighteen, much like their peers who continue to be supported by their biological parents.

“What we really need now is for local authorities all around the UK to get involved in the Care Leavers App project”

 

As one of the most vulnerable groups in our society, we have a duty toward care leavers and to ensure that they are granted the same opportunity to lead successful, fulfilling lives as their peers. Frighteningly, around a third of young people in custody in the UK have experience of care. This is a clear indication that the current system isn’t working – we are letting care leavers down.

Much more needs to be done to support young people leaving care, and delivering good, reliable, tailored information and advice is just one part of a bigger picture.

TS: What will an agreement with local authorities entail – and if successful, what will this mean for the app?

JC: What we really need now is for local authorities all around the UK to get involved in the Care Leavers App project. We’re currently working with Barnardos Bristol to compile a report based on feedback from their care leaver groups, which we will then present to local authorities as evidence that the Care Leavers App is something that young people need and want.

The Care Leavers App is a low-cost tool which, once it has been configured, will be free to all young people living in the locality to download and use. For a very small initial investment, councils can expect to see huge returns in terms of saved time, resource and not to mention vastly improved long-term outcomes for care leavers.

TS: Can the local tech scene get involved or help in any way?

JC: Yes! We need everyone to get talking about the Care Leavers App. This is a scalable project that would be at its most effective rolled out nationally – and we need help to make this happen.

We’re already talking to over 20 local authorities around the country, but there are large areas of the UK where we haven’t yet been able to make contact. Share our stories on Twitter and help us make the Care Leavers App a big step in the right direction for care leavers.

Help the Care Leavers App project increase its reach by following it on Twitter here: @careleaversapp. You can find out more about the app and the organisation behind it on the FocusGov website.