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Children in Care Council question and answer session

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As part of the 'Themed Week' we contacted looked after children and care leavers and invited them to send us questions to put to the Head of Children's Services (Shona Gallagher) and the Corporate Director for Children, Adults and Health (John Pearce).

We asked that the questions were not specific to their cases, but that the young people consider the service they receive and any questions they have about why things happen the way they do.

The young people then invited Shona and John to meet with them at Simonside Lodge on Monday 6 February at 5pm. Two members from MAGIC interviewed Shona and John, using the questions provided by our young people.

We had some great questions, including things like: improving the service, accessibility of services, Life Story Work, and aspirations for looked after young people.

What are your plans for improving the service?

We have recently undertaken a Full Service Self-Assessment which included looking at services for looked after children and care leavers. We identified that Services for care leavers and looked after children need a change.  From the Self-Assessment we have created plans for each of the different areas including Corporate Parenting, Care Leavers, and Participation & Engagement, and from these plans we will start to identify the changes needed to improve the services.

We are looking at our Corporate Parenting Strategy and identifying our priorities as corporate parents. We are developing our Pledge as Corporate Parents and making sure everyone across the whole of South Tyneside Council understands their responsibilities as corporate parents.

Simone Common has recently been employed to look at services for care leavers and to find out where the gaps are and how we can improve on what we do.

We have also recently employed a 'Participation and Engagement Lead' who will look at joining up all of our participation work with young people and make sure the voice of young people is embedded in everything we do as a local authority. 

Why can't we have our own building / space?

We are looking to identify a building that could be accessible for young people with a variety of facilities for looked after children, care leavers and other young people.  We are currently in discussion with Asset Management to identify something.

We would want to hear from young people about what it would look like?  Where would you like it to be?  What would the design look like? 

How can you ensure I have at least one consistent person in my life?

We are working with Placements to ensure that placement type/choice is correct - this will bring more consistency, as for some young people this has been positive, but for others there have been a lot of moves.

We would like to support young people to have consistency within the team rather than a person, as we can't stop people leaving (pregnancy/job change, etc.)  We will definitely include this in the Corporate Parenting Policy.

We know that relationships are very important.  We would like to minimise changes in Social Worker and changes within the Care Team, e.g. not change Social Worker and IRO at the same time.

We would like to minimise the impact the changes may have on young people and ensure we support them through the change.

We try to avoid employing Agency staff as we know that will inevitably mean another change.

Life Story Work / Books are very important to us...why when you are in Foster Care does it take so long to get a Life Story Book?

Adopted young people receive a Life Story Book by a specific date (linked with court) and there is an allocated Life Story Co-ordinator within the Adoption Team. Unfortunately this is not always possible for young people in long term foster care. We are keen for Life Story telling to be more than a Life Story Book, so consideration needs to be given to how this is done, through later life telling, letters, chronologies etc.

We are currently re-modelling the Fostering Service and will consider whether a specific Life Story Coordinator for Long Term Fostering is required.

There are other ways to find out information other than a Life Story Book, e.g. access to records.  Chris mentioned the length of time it takes to access records.  Shona and John are keen to improve this and will speak with the team about this.  We also need to ensure that young people are supported to access their records and that they understand the information that they are reading.  There is currently work being undertaken to ensure that young people's information is recorded correctly/appropriately so that it is easier for young people to read when they access their records.

Why can't my Foster Carer give consent?

We know that the Delegated Authority Tool which means that Foster Carers can give consent to certain things.  

If young people are Section 20 then the birth parents need to give consent.

The main focus needs to ensure that the young people understand who can give consent and the reasons for this.

As the largest employer in South Tyneside and my Corporate Parent, what are you doing to create opportunities within the council for looked after children and care leavers?

This is something that we will outline in our Corporate Parenting Strategy, and ensure that the whole council understands the responsibility of being a corporate parent and what that means.  We are looking to create opportunities for work experience placements for any of our young people who want one.  We are looking at creating Traineeship and Apprenticeship opportunities specifically for our looked after children and care leavers.  Tony Joyce refers to 'The Family Business'.... And we want all within the council to understand what we mean by that.  There are so many different departments within the council and our partners that we should be able to offer a broad selection of opportunities.  It would be great if MAGIC could come up with a presentation which could be delivered to partners to help them understand their corporate parenting responsibility.

We also discussed the possibility of taking this to the next step and asking contractors which the council employ to include 'their offer' to looked after children and care leavers in their tender when they are bidding for contracts.

At present the financial support for HE for a degree differs significantly for Masters. What more could you do to encourage and support Care Leavers to undertake Masters?

We would like to raise aspirations across the board, whether for Higher Education or employment opportunities, as Higher Education/Masters doesn't define success.  The financial support for Masters is agreed based on a financial assessment of need.  I would love all of our young people to go on to attend Higher Education, but there are also a lot of young people who are not doing any Education, Training or Employment so we need to raise aspirations for these young people and support them to engage in something.

Why when we're on benefits do ILAC not provide toiletries?

We need to look at the young people who move out before they turn 18.  Consider the choice and the consequence of that choice - as we would always want to support young people to remain in placement until at least 18.

This is not specifically linked to toiletries but we would look at what the young people needs what financial support they require and what is it for?  This will be around raising aspiration support rather than giving young people toiletries.

Why is the living allowance for a relevant young person reflective of benefits (JSA)? This isn't very aspirational!

This again is linked into the above question... we would like to consider what the young person needs, why they need it, who is providing this and what financial support they require - to ensure they have the wrap around support required.

Why do you send the Police to my friend's houses when I can't be found?

We need to ensure that all of our young people are safe!  If we do not know where you are, then we do not know that you are safe.  It is our responsibility as parents to ensure that you are safe.

Why can't Foster Carers supervise contact?

Foster Carers can supervise contact. There is no reason why they can't as long as they feel confident enough to do that.

Why can't contact be at my parent's house?

This will be different for different young people - this could happen within some family homes, and not within others, dependent upon risk factors etc.

Why are looked after children treated differently by having to attend lots of meetings?

If we don't have all of these meetings - how do we know you have everything you need and that everything is working for you?  We can be creative about how this is done to suit the young person as all young people are different e.g. combining meetings or having visits before or after meetings. 

Workers need to develop their relationship with you, and make sure everything is working for you. We need to make sure you are getting the very best that we can give you and that everyone around you is doing the very best they can do for you.

Why do you need to come out and see me every few weeks if we are really settled and don't want lots of visits?

We need to make sure that we see our young people in order to develop a relationship, but we can be creative about how we do this dependent on the young person's needs.  For example we can add visits on the back of other things, collect young people from school and be flexible with our visits, but we must have regular contact with our children.

What are you doing to make sure the voice of the child is heard throughout the Council? 

We are currently reviewing our Corporate Parenting Policy and the voice of the child will be outlined within that.  We are ensuring our support for care leavers is improved.  We have employed a Participation and Engagement Lead whose focus is very much on the voice of the child and how this feeds into everything we do.  We are working towards creating opportunities for our young people e.g. traineeships/apprenticeships.  We will do what we can to support young people to remove barriers. 

We would really like to support MAGIC to take hold of this and tell us what the young people would like us to do and how you would like to do it.

How can you ensure that young people's involvement is not tokenistic?

This is the same as the above.  Ensure engagement is meaningful.  Be honest with what we can do and what we can't. Some things we won't be able to change. Ensure we feed back to young people so they know what we are doing based on what they have told us.

The Question and Answer Session was something that the young people enjoyed doing.  They said "it was good to meet with Shona and John and it was exciting to hear their plans on working together in the future".

There will be a full write up of the Question and Answer Session and which will be circulated to looked after children and care leavers.  The young people are also keen to do something similar again in the future.

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