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. 


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