THE BLOG

'I'm Not Worth It' - Why Care Leavers Sabotage Opportunities

20/11/2015 09:54 GMT | Updated 19/11/2016 10:12 GMT

Imagine you have been shortlisted for a job interview; it's the job you have set your heart on and one which potentially opens the door to your dream career. You have researched the company, re-read your CV, ironed your shirt and polished your shoes. Knowing that this could be a turning point, you would turn up for the interview, right?

If you're a care leaver the answer may actually be no.

At Drive Forward Foundation self-sabotage - behaviour which interferes with and even totally disrupts a person's long-term goals - is an issue we are very familiar with and it's one which seems sadly commonplace among young people leaving care.

Sean came to Drive Forward after completing a college course. He didn't want to go to university but was keen to explore his career options instead.

We spent time with Sean, helping him to identify his work goals, improve his CV and practice his interview technique. His hard work paid off and he secured an internship with a charity, working as a researcher. Initially Sean thrived; not only was he doing a great job but he was genuinely interested in the subject matter.

And then he disappeared.

Three weeks into the internship Sean failed to turn up to work. He wouldn't return our calls, he wouldn't answer his front door and he refused to speak to his social worker. We were all extremely worried about him. When Sean's social worker finally managed to rouse him it was clear he was struggling. He was living in darkness and had no electricity or food. He had taken to sleeping all day.

Sean was aware of what was making him behave this way - recurring bouts of depression - but had no idea of how to ask for help. With encouragement from us and his social worker, Sean finally went to see his GP and has since had therapy to begin to address some of his difficulties. Work wasn't the problem, but turning up each day, fitting in and feeling proud of the job he was doing became a huge hurdle because of the way he was feeling about himself. Like so many of our young people Sean simply removed himself from a difficult situation and shut himself away.

Happily Sean has returned to Drive Forward of his own accord; importantly, he called us, we didn't have to chase him. He is now fully engaging in our employability programme and attending our weekly career club to seek out new opportunities.

There are different theories on what prompts people to sabotage opportunities. For some, like Sean, underlying mental ill health is the cause but we often find self-doubt and low self-esteem are significant contributing factors. These feelings result in myriad behaviours. Care leavers who consider they were abandoned during childhood can end up believing they don't deserve to be happy, and the fear of how their lives might change (even for the better) prevents them from accepting challenges and opportunities in the first place.

The years we have spent working with young care leavers have given us an important understanding of the difficulties they face, but were also acutely aware of what they can contribute. We don't push our young people into a one-size-fits-all programme; we tailor our work to the needs of each individual. Giving people time and space to engage with us at the right time for them is the best way to show them they do deserve happiness and that it's within their grasp.

Drive Forward is shortlisted for the Centre for Social Justice Awards 2015, which recognise UK charities that display innovation and effectiveness in addressing the root causes of poverty, transforming lives and reversing social breakdown. The Huffington Post UK is the media partner for the awards