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
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