New Belongings progress at half-time

With only four months to go before the end of what we hope will be just the first phase of New Belongings, this is a quick overview for followers of practical steps already taken to improve services for care leavers across authorities

The New Belongings pilot authorities met at the end of March to review their plans and effectiveness at the halfway point in the project which will disseminate its results in October 2014. Here is just a selection of the positive changes in behaviour and action since 2013, reported at the seminar across a number of authorities as a result of engaging in the project:

·         better engagement of care leavers and their involvement in decisions e.g. having care leaver 'champions' and setting up specific consultative groups of care leavers. All authorities have carried out surveys of care leavers in their areas and have reflected the results of those surveys (and the discussions they engendered) in their plans;

·         securing apprenticeships and work experience for care leavers

·         ring fencing some apprenticeships in council departments for care leavers;

·         building expectations about providing work experience and apprenticeships for care leavers into council contracts;

·         closer working with DWP to minimize the difficulties associated with  transition.

 Initiatives by individual pilot authorities

Whilst continuing to work on a whole range of activity, some specific issues are being tackled in depth in individual pilots and are of interest more widely:

·         Portsmouth have identified improving access to Further Education as a significant issue for their care leavers. The local university has secured recognition through The Buttle UK Trust of how it has improved access to HE by care leavers. The authority has successfully engaged with the key 6 local colleges who are now meeting on a regular basis to share ideas and plan improvements. Some are going for the Buttle UK Quality Mark before it ceases  in July but all are putting together the actions plans to embed the criteria from the standards.

·         Trafford have focused on financial support (as their contribution to the North West cluster) and have tackled the level of bureaucracy in the allocation of the care leaving grant. Rules about exactly how it is spent have been removed and the authority is able, by telephone, to transfer money to a card, held by the care leaver, to enable effective payments;

·         A 'buddying' system has been developed by a care leaver from the panel, working with the North West cluster, so that the experience and advice of older care leavers can be used to help younger care leavers making the transition from care.

New Belongings Authorities are also currently working on:

·         Better links with local businesses to provide the basis for improved access to mentoring and work experience for care leavers;

·         Critical reappraisal of suitable accommodation and preparation for living independently;

As we move through the project we will be able to draw out more features to identify what works and what kind of support is required to drive forward change at local level. We are also beginning to identify common themes on the more difficult issues to address e.g. mental health support. Although this project only lasts one year, we are very pleased to note amongst authorities the enthusiasm for change and their commitment to long term improvements and sustainability beyond 2014.

Reflections on New Belongings a week before the ‘half-way action day’ from Advisory Group member Susanna Cheal


How do you take a fresh approach to developing more responsive services for care leavers, embed change and retain enthusiasm and commitment throughout the project? That was the challenge facing the New Belongings Project team when planning a way forward for 9 pilot local authorities after the national launch last September, followed by all the local launches, organised individually by pilot authorities, which took place between September and November 2013. They were generally well attended by care leavers, local authority officials and partners, supported by their chief executive and leader of the council.

All the pilots have signed up to the principles of the Charter for Care Leavers  designed by care leavers on the Ministerial Advisory Group, meeting regularly with Tim Loughton MP (previous) and Edward Timpson MP (current) Children's Minister.

 n order to help embed the principles of the Charter in local authority services, the project team decided to focus on improvements to influence positive change based on the experiences of care leavers working in the project team and those in the pilots. Following the local launches, discussions were held with pilots to take a fresh approach through five key areas of action.

In Step 1 all pilots were asked to conduct a simple local survey comprising 7 questions*, with the help of their own care leavers, to get an up to date and immediate snapshot of local experience. They were encouraged to reach out to unheard voices and to make sure a wide range of care leavers  were included in the survey. Incorporating their own local findings would be essential to inform planning for improved leaving care services, thereby demonstrating a positive response to local views. Nearly all pilots have completed their surveys. The views expressed in the surveys, and subsequent discussions with care leavers in the pilots, have sometimes been surprising to people who deliver services in the pilot areas.

In Step 2 the project team suggested that pilots explore thoroughly the complex issue of entitlements from the care leavers' point of view. We know there is a wide variation of experience, which can seem like a labyrinth to negotiate for both care leavers and Personal Advisors working in local authorities for their benefit. The position on entitlements which have been granted in policy and legislation, needs to be consistent, fair, up to date, communicated well and definitely not a battleground.
The information provided through steps 1 and 2 is core to the planning process in 2014 which is underway in all pilots. The findings of the surveys are critical in setting the priorities for the pilots and the continuing engagement of both the care leavers in the pilot area and the support of the care leavers from the New Belongings panel is crucial in creating and delivering the action plans for the pilots. Many pilots have submitted in step 3, for review and comment, their first scoping of broad action plans with milestones, which they will develop further during the year. The project team is looking forward to seeing local innovation taking shape in practice.

Key to local change are step 4 – the role the Chief Executive will take in enabling departments to work more closely together to join up services and step 5, involvement of the Leader in engaging the wider community in each pilot area to encourage lifelong care and support. We will keep you posted on progress after our pilots all meet each other in March 2014.
 *Survey questions

     ·         What were the three best things about leaving care?

·         The three worst things about leaving care?

·         Three ways in which you could have been better prepared for independence?

·         What advice would you give to a fellow care leaver?

·         Three things you would like to change right now for yourself on leaving care/having left care? 

·         Three things all local authorities should change?

·         Is there anything else you would like to say?

New Belongings Local Authorities: Herefordshire; Portsmouth; Walsall and Staffordshire; Sheffield; Trafford/Cheshire East/Stockport/Wirral

Blog from Tom Riordan, CEO Leeds City Council

As chief executive of a large local authority that has set itself the even larger ambition of being ‘the best council in the best city in the UK’, I'm often challenged about what we mean by 'the best'.  We're not talking about one single measure, or some league table. But the challenge is a fair one, and we've put our cards on the table in the form of our 'best council plan'. This has six big themes where we will change how we work - and become the best. Among these themes is our ambition for Leeds to be a truly child-friendly city...somewhere young people enjoy growing up, and achieve their full potential.

As we say in our plan, "Leeds has historically had higher numbers of children looked after than similar cities with the significant social and financial cost implications that are associated with this. Therefore, we are aiming to safely reduce the numbers of children looked after by implementing a comprehensive programme of actions". And we are already making progress. For example, one of those actions is to work with organisations and communities across the city to encourage and support more families to become foster carers.

In the current economic climate, there is an obvious financial driver for doing this. I'm just as interested, though, in the social benefits because I spent a few short spells in care myself as a child. I know, from personal experience, how a network of support around families and children is vital to provide the right outcomes.  

What happened to my family - difficult times and illness - could affect any family at any time. Without the support of children's services and the care of my gran (who later moved in to live with us) my life could have turned out very differently.

My experience gave me an insight into what it means to be a foster carer and the commitment, skills and values this requires. In my role at the council it can't help but colour my support for all the work children's services does. Being in a position of influence I have been able to oversee the growth of partnerships within the city which can really benefit looked after children. A good example of this is the work with Leeds Rhinos and Leeds United who are both providing rewards, such as free match tickets, for existing foster families and working with teams in the council to recruit more foster carers. We're matching this with free or discounted access to our own gyms, pools and leisure activities.

As a leading employer in Leeds, we are also showing how employers in the city make provision for those who choose to foster or adopt by making carer-friendly HR policies and making allowances for people to attend the meetings and training they need to in order to become carers.

We've still got lots of work to do in Leeds, especially in making sure people coming out of care get the right opportunities and support.  This mixture of changing how we do things, influencing businesses and involving people and communities is how we are trying to do more for less. It's an approach we call 'civic enterprise'. I believe it will help the council and the city achieve our rather bold ambitions, but more importantly I know it will help other children and young people come through difficult times and succeed. 

Blog from Sally Ellis, Service Development Officer, Staffordshire County Council

Today (Tuesday 5 November 2013) is the start of an exciting journey for Staffordshire County Council and its partners, as we begin to look at how we can together improve the guidance and support young people receive when they become ready to leave our care. Later today Staffordshire County Council will launch its New Belongings Project, which seeks to re-address the support provided to our care leavers.

Together, all Staffordshire County Council employees have a responsibility to help towards improving the lives and futures of the children and young people the authority looks after. It is everyone’s job to do what we can for looked after children, young people and care leavers, just as we would for our own children and family. We call this our 'corporate parent' responsibility. Here in Staffordshire we take these responsibilities seriously using the benchmark of “would this be good enough for our own children”?

It is quite a challenging time for our care leavers; however, many of our young people do survive and succeed. Through the New Belongings project we will be able to learn from these successes and refocus what we do in the areas that matter, to ensure our young people get the best start in life.

In Staffordshire we already have so much to be proud of but we must do more and that’s why we will be looking to improve young people’s accommodation, improve opportunities to learn practical independence skills and encourage more of our care leavers to go onto university.  We will continue to build on the outstanding Families First Foundations 2 Employment project, which provides a young person with a supported work experience placement. And we will continue to improve the information available to our young people building on the success of the recently launched care leavers information pack Any Other Business.

Blog from Matt Langsford, New Belongings Panelist

Last week I travelled to Sheffield for the local launch of the New Belongings Project.  When I arrived with my colleagues, the energy and excitement about the possibilities of this project where clear, and overwhelming. Several members of the local authority's senior management team and other agencies where present, along with some Sheffield care leavers.

What has impressed me is the openness and willingness in Sheffield to try new things to make life better for care leavers and those leaving care. I believe nothing is being brushed under the carpet.

We discussed a snapshot overview of the service at present, and what the team and I can do to support and enable the city to improve and develop their services for care leavers. We then spent some considerable time talking to the local care leavers present about how they see things and what they would like done to improve services and support.

Surprisingly, none of them made the usual comment 'I need more money' and
they gave practical examples of how they could be better supported. Over the next 12 months my colleagues and I will be working closely with Sheffield to provide advice, guidance and best practice examples to make this happen.

My only concern with the project overall and not just specific to my region, Sheffield, is how the wider community and society will react when they are asked to take a more active role in the lives of care leavers.  However, with the skills, knowledge and experience of the whole New Belongings project team I believe we can make the project a success in Sheffield and the other pilot regions, to create the Gold Standard for leaving care services across the whole country.

Blog from Sam Olsen, Director of Strategy and Development, St Christopher’s Fellowship

The New Belongings initiative has provided a fresh focus on services for care leavers and an impetus to improve them. Key to its vision is involving care leavers in developing services that are fully integrated and easy to access.
St Christopher’s is absolutely committed to those objectives. We work closely with our young people and with local authority commissioners to deliver high quality services that meet both their needs.
We aim to be a great parent for the 16 to 21-year-olds in our care. And, like any loving and supportive parent, we will fight to keep them safe and ensure they get the best possible start in life.
Back in 1870, we were among the first organisations to recognise the challenges facing vulnerable younger people and help them improve their lives.
That work continues 143 years on. This week – National Care Leavers’ Week – we opened our latest 16+ transition service in West London which will support young people towards independent living.
It has been developed in consultation with London local authorities and we will be working intimately with them to ensure the service meets the needs of the individual young people they refer.
It is equipped to support needs including emotional and behavioural problems, substance misuse, mental ill-health, chaotic lifestyles and offending behaviour. Its layout has the flexibility to enable young people to “step down” from high support to medium support as they progress.
The West London service follows the success of our Lewisham 16+ service, Knowland House. In Camden, North London, we’re working with the council to provide an assessment centre – first part of its highly-regarded young people’s pathway.
Many of our services take “spot purchase” referrals, a model that allows local authorities to commission from us care which is exactly right for each individual young person.
Through our C4C (Challenge For Change) programme we involve our young people in every aspect of the services we provide, including interviewing new staff. We listen carefully to what they say and act on it.
For instance, when young people told us they found our information leaflets boring and unhelpful we enabled them to produce a series of short films on the issues that were important to them. We’ll be showing them at a special West End premiere in November.
St Christopher’s is proud to live the values behind New Belongings and support National Care Leavers’ Week 2013.

Blog by Jill Varndell of Portsmouth City Council - their involvement in the New Belongings project

Portsmouth City Council and partners have a strong commitment to improving outcomes for ‘looked after’ children and care leavers.  For a number of years, the City has had a multi-agency corporate parenting board (chaired by the leader of the City Council)

In Portsmouth, at any one time we have around 300 children in care. Each year around 30 young people leave care.  We are currently supporting 93 care leavers.

We know, however, that there is still more to do and in particular we want to do more for, and better by, our care leavers. Our starting point for this renewed and revitalised energy around care leavers was the agreement in the Spring of 2013 for the local corporate parenting board to sign up to the Charter for Care Leavers.  This is why we wanted to be involved in the New Belonging initiative in Portsmouth.  We have our local launch on the 18 October and have invited members of the corporate parenting board and the public services board.  We will be joined by key people from the Care Leaver's Foundation and project group of the New Belongings project.

In terms of outcomes regarding our involvement in the New Belongings project, we want to see improvements in:

  • Take-up of education and employment opportunities.  
  • Progression through, and beyond, further education.  
  • Accommodation options and support for young people with more complex support needs.
  • Care leavers moving up the agenda across other council departments and in particular with partner agencies. 
  • Stronger engagement with voluntary and private sector partners in the City, to offer more apprenticeship opportunities for care leavers. 
  • Greater consistency in the local authority’s and partners' offer to care leavers.  
  • Stronger engagement of the communities that care leavers live in.  
  • External challenge from the national expertise of the Care Leavers Foundation.

We are currently facilitating our survey of care leavers by care leavers. The survey will be asking care leavers the following questions: 

  • What were the three best things about leaving care?
  • The three worst things about leaving care? 
  • Three ways in which you could have been better prepared for independence?
  • What advice would you give to a fellow care leaver?
  • Three things you would like to change right now for yourself on leaving care/having left care? 
  • Three things all local authorities should change? 
  •  Is there anything else you would like to say?

The findings of the survey will form the basis of our work plan for the New Belongings project for the next year.
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