This protocol is for a feasibility study of the Staying Close Programme, which 15 local (LAs) authorities received funding for in 2022-23. The feasibility study aims to develop the theory of Staying Close and refine how the variations of it are understood; and to understand how the impact of the intervention might be robustly evaluated in 2023-24.
Many care-leavers experience a cliff-edge when they leave care and move towards living in independence, particularly as they lack transitional and practical support. The Staying Close intervention aims to address this by providing safe accommodation and specific support to, improve wellbeing, strengthen relationships, reduce housing insecurity, and increase participation in education, employment, and training. Eight small-scale studies of Staying Close were conducted by the Department for Education (DfE) in 2018/19, and findings indicated that the programme showed signs of promise. Interviews with young people suggested that they found the programme helpful in several ways, such as providing support for university applications and combating loneliness. There were also reported improvements in rates of young people in education and training, greater stability in living arrangements, and improvements to relationships skills and wellbeing.
DfE announced the roll out of Staying Close in two stages between 2022 and 2024. In the first stage, 15 local authorities have received funding for implementing Staying Close in 2022-2023, with the programme ‘going live’ in October 2022. DfE expects to provide funding for roughly 25 more LAs for two years between 2023-25. This staged roll out offers an opportunity to generate a comprehensive evidence base for the programme. Our study aims to understand the feasibility of the programme’s implementation at scale and its hypothesised theory of change; as well as the feasibility of a future impact evaluation via an RCT between 2023-25. To do this, we will look at the following two research questions:
- How can we best articulate the theory and range of implemented versions of Staying Close?
- What are the most suitable evaluation methods to capture the possible impact of Staying Close?
To answer the first research question, desk-based research will be conducted to develop a typology of Staying Close variations, followed by interviews and workshops with professionals and young people with experience of Staying Close, to interpret its theory and identify the best methods of data collection for the main evaluation.
For the second research question, we will conduct scoping desk research and workshops with internal and external researchers, collect administrative and survey data from LAs and young people to test the quality of our hypotheses, and explore linking LA data with national datasets to understand the feasibility of a quasi-experimental design to supplement the main impact analysis.
As part of our broader organisational strategy, we have committed to prioritising equality, inclusion and equity within our protocol and maintaining rigorous ethical standards (see protocol draft).
The final report of the feasibility study, including recommendations for the impact evaluation design, is expected to be published in April 2023.