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.
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