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.
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