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Sweet 16? – Designed by society

Sweet 16?

Enabling young people to assess their readiness to leave care


Many young people in Scotland leave home when they are 26; however young people who are looked after by our care system tend to leave aged 16 or 17. Making this transition at such an early age can lead to young people experiencing difficulties sustaining education and work, maintaining nurturing relationships, and managing a home. Approximately a third of young people who are care experience become homeless. A shocking statistic when you considered children and young people are cared for by the state so they are removed from vulnerable situations yet can move through the care system to become vulnerable adults.


People who work in the care system explain it can be difficult to encourage young people who are determined to leave care to stay. Like most 16 year olds they are keen to assert their independence, some hope to reconnect with their birth parents, and others experience a cultural message – reinforced by the design of our care system – that when they are 16 they are expected to leave the home they have been living in.


These issues are widely known by people who work in the care sector and a range of organisations and institutions are working to ensure that young people can be cared for until they are ready to leave the home they are living in. However this change involves a huge culture shift in the way people think and practice. With no knowledge about how young people and leaving care workers’ experience and engage in conversations about when a young person may leave care this project focused on this particular conversation.


This work started by interviewing young people who had left care and observing leaving care workers’ engage in this conversation with young people. This design ethnography highlighted that young people and their workers felt anxious and confused during this conversation and found it difficult to make sense of what the other person said and meant. Young people knew very little about the service, their rights, accommodation options and the support they could access. They also tended to have fixed idea about where they would live and unrealistic expectations about when they’d be ready to leave care. This lead workers to persuade young people to think differently, which was sometimes interpreted as controlling and relationships could become strained. These insights signaled that the service design did not offer young people the opportunity to develop their decision-making skills and feel empowered when shaping the direction of their lives; a key aim of the service.


Young people from STAF and workers from a Leaving Care Team at Glasgow City Council used these insights to collaboratively design a new service design. This service design involved workers taking a facilitative role and utilising bespoke products to support young people to share their thoughts and dreams, enable them to assess when they might be ready to leave care, and describe the resources they think they would need to support them during this transition.


Leaving Care Workers trialled this new service design with five young people who were not involved in the co-design work and who had a range of different types of relationships with their workers.


  • Felt by young people

The new service design was described by young people as ‘fun’, ‘exciting’, and ‘a relief’. Young people said it enabled them to feel knowledgeable, thoughtful, listened to and understood. Importantly they described being able to see how this transition would affect their life, and explained they enjoyed working with their worker. Consequently some young people were able to share realistic plans about where they would like to live and why. Others said they needed to learn more before they could come to a conclusion, and some explained they weren’t ready to leave care. Young people attributed the success of this service design to the products they used, the personalised process and workers facilitative practice.

  • Felt by workers

Workers explained that the service design resulted in a shift in power so young people were more involved in the conversation, that difficult conversations were easier, and that they felt as if they were working together.

  • Service outcomes

The re-designed interaction effectively and clearly aligns the leaving care service’s aims with this interactions outcome, and does so whilst strengthening relationships between people. This service design was also found to prompt other conversations – for example about emotional support, dealing with money and caring for ones self – which enable workers to respond more holistically to young people’s needs.


Several outputs were created to support sense-making and enable contextual and personalised interactions. These included

  • Service blueprints
  • Service provision timelines
  • Personas
  • Insights into a range of conversations
  • Bespoke service design (roles, activities, products, anticipated outcomes)


A national funder has awarded funding to continue the development of this work.


The Glasgow School of Art and Glasgow City Council


8 young people who had left care; 10 young people who were talking to their worker about leaving care; 5 young people tested the intervention; 5 workers from the Leaving Care Team and the Leavign Care Team Manager