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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