Care leavers

Man on phone at desk

NHS Employers recently ran a focus group with young people who have experience of being in care, to understand the barriers they face when seeking employment in the NHS.

This information is based on the findings of this focus group, to help you recruit care leavers into your organisation. 

Did you know?

  • A care leaver is defined as any adult who spent time in care under the age of 18. This care would have been approved by the state through a court order or on a voluntary basis. It can range from as little as a few months to as long as a whole childhood (18 years). Read more on The Care Leaver’s Association website.
  • Around 8,700 young people aged 16-18 years old leave care in England each year. Read more in this Department for Education briefing.
  • The government published a study offering insight into numbers of care leavers not finding work and potential benefits of recruiting care leavers.


Thinking about how and where you are advertising new roles can be crucial in allowing you to recruit to the widest variety of people possible. Things to consider:

  • Care leavers may have contact with their local council, so make connections with your local council to advertise roles. 
  • Host recruitment days where care leavers can visit different parts of the organisation to see the varied roles the NHS can offer.
  • Advertise any staff benefits that are available such as discounts or travel loans for public transport. 
  • Advertise if there is a flexible working option to the role.
  • Clearly show a name and contact number offering candidates the opportunity to discuss any matters further before applying.


The recruitment process can be long and stressful for many applicants. To make this as smooth and stress-free as possible, you could consider the following: 

  • Be clear when you are asking for previous experience – consider whether the sorts of experience you are asking for are required for the job, and if they are reasonable for the grade of role. Candidates from underrepresented groups are likely to have faced difficulties accessing opportunities to gain formal work experience, so consider if personal qualities and experiences could also be included in the requirements for the role. 
  • Make the initial interview (where possible) more informal and encourage the interviewee to ask questions about the role and the organisation.
  • Highlight any information and support your organisation may offer for care leavers in your organisation – this could be in the form of mentoring or peer support.
  • Provide space for candidates to talk through any previous convictions they may have and what impact it could have on working for the organisation. This gives you the chance to consider whether the conviction is relevant to the post advertised. 
  • Make sure your recruitment practices are fair. Take a look at See Potential’s step-by-step guide to open recruitment. 


Not all care leavers will need all the support listed below, but these are some suggestions which could enhance your candidates' experience:

  • Provide as much information as you can before the candidate starts at the organisation, such as, where to go, who to ask for, what is available on site, will there be amenities for them to use.
  • Be very clear on the organisational policies and how they may impact them. 
  • Show clear routes of progression for the employee. Not only in the department they work, but in other areas of the organisation too.
  • Care leavers may need flexibility around start and finish times to attend appointments with case workers so try to accommodate this.
  • Provide uniform (if the role requires) and wherever possible provide spares. 
  • Be respectful of a care leaver’s desire for their situation to be kept confidential and be flexible that their opinion on this could change.
  • Avoid trying to over empathise or state that you understand a care leaver’s situation, instead, unless you do have a similar personal experience to share, explain that you appreciate their situation and discuss the support you can offer.
  • Make a quiet space available for confidential phone calls to be made/taken. 

Further reading

Factors that influence young people leaving care
The Joseph Rowntree Foundation has produced guidance around what helps and hinders young people leaving care and moving into education, work or training. 
Young people transitioning from state out-of-home care
The Mental Health Academy has produced a journal highlighting the ways you can support employees who have left care.
Obstacles to participation in education, employment and training for young people leaving care
The Social work and social sciences review shows that despite an increased policy focus on education and career options, care leavers continue to be disadvantaged and face considerable challenges in terms of entering and sustaining post-16 participation in education, employment and training.
Wheels to Work
Wheels to Work is an organisation that provides affordable transport to individuals who are unable to access training, employment or education, due to a lack of suitable public or private transport.
Opening doors In this blog, Richard Griffin talks about how supporting care leavers into employment requires a different, more open approach to recruitment.


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