This item was presented by Wendy Tomlinson, Acting Head of Looked After Children.
Members were reminded of engagement activities undertaken over recent years. The following overview was given of Croydon's Children In Care Council:
- Its membership is made up of young adults rather than children
- Its members y have an interest in sitting on fostering panels, health assessment meetings and other relevant committees and panels.
It was explained that the key priority was to turn the aspirations of CiCC members into an organised whole, as they had expressed a wish for the Council to have more structure.
The challenge will be to identify a resource to make this make this come true. Members were advised that successful CiCCs and initiatives undertaken by such councils typically have staffing support.
In reply to a question about membership, the Acting Head of Looked After Children explained that the CiCC was not reaching all of the 750 Looked After Children in the borough. The Council had a core membership of 12-15 care leavers, some of whom attended regularly. The average attendance at meetings usually varies from 4 to 10.
Corporate Parenting Panel members acknowledged the fact that some young people did not want to engage with statutory services and asked whether they engaged with the voluntary sector. They were advised that the voluntary sector got involved in engagement in a range of ways. The NSPCC runs "return home interviews", some community groups provide specialist support to Looked After Children and some voluntary organisations are commissioned by the council to provide support to Looked After Children. The Rees Foundation project and "Who Cares" Trust were mentioned as organisations promoting the voice of Looked After Children.
Councillors asked young people in attendance to share their stories of engagement with service providers.
Sh. explained that her experience of engagement was "up and down". She felt that many officers "talked at her" and used obscure vocabulary in their interactions with her. They would tell her that they would get back to her with answers to her queries, then failed to do so. In response to her expressions of frustration at the lack of results, they would allege that she had "anger management problems". Sh. finally found an officer who listened to her and understood her, which in turn helped to learn how to express herself better with officers. Sh. felt that "young people bloomed in different ways", which officers had to appreciate.
Ch. explained that she had come into care at the age of 15 and had been involved with the CiCC for three years. She felt that the CiCC was an important channel for young people to express their ambitions and struggles. and that it getting involved with it gave young people a leg up'. She thought that it was important to improve the CiCC and to get new people involved in it. She is happy to help make this happen as she wants to help others just as she has been helped.
Sh. was questioned about her review meetings. The meetings had usually been attended by different chairs but the same social worker. She stated that she had hated them in the past. Big words were thrown at her and she felt that communication was not taking place. Then, at the age of 17-18 she got a social worker who did understand her, with whom she could really communicate and who she considered to be her friend.
Sh. was asked whether engagement and speed of response to her needs suddenly improved when she was able to develop a good relationship with an officer. She explained that, to start with, she did not know what to expect of "engagement". She was faced with endless questions, and did not quite know how to respond to them, but felt that if you did not go with them, the system could work against you. She said that she needed to find a comfort zone in which she could find real, meaningful help.
Ch. stated that the relationship between the young person and the worker was key to progress. If the worker was not confident, the relationship would suffer. She felt that the lack of participation in the CiCC was due to the lack of confidence in the worker involved.
A Panel member suggested that the CiCC might have a political champion, a suggestion which was supported by officers. It was observed that many CiCCs that work well have political champions. Officers were also asked whether Looked After Children knew who their local councillor was. They stated that this was a key piece of work to be done.
Members asked young people in attendance whether their needs were being met. They were advise that progress was being made. The young people added that they would like to have regular - preferably monthly - meetings at the Turnaround Centre to share what they wanted to do.
Barbara Peacock, Executive Director (People), shared her experience of CiCCs. She stated that there were some very good examples of good practice in London, regionally as well as nationally, from which Croydon's CICC could learn. She also emphasised that long-term work planning, shadowing and learning experiences could contribute towards the success and effectiveness of Croydon's CiCC. She commented that it would probably be easier initially to engage with care leavers as they had a greater level of maturity but that younger people also needed to get involved and learn from older members to ensure membership was regularly refreshed in the long term.
The Executive Director shared good practice from the previous CiCC she had been involved in. It had done some work on stigma, particularly as it was experienced by Looked After Children at school. She explained that the young people had produced a DVD on this topic; they had shown it at a full Council meeting and used it in schools and with social workers to provide training to new practitioners on how to communicate with Looked After Children without stigmatising them. In addition, the young people had drawn up a charter of ten things they wanted from a social worker in order to reduce the risk of stigma.
The Executive Director stressed that developing a good CiCC took time. However, she explained that she had been working with the Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Learning to make progress on developing Croydon's CiCC.
Panel members asked whether neighbouring boroughs had CiCCs. They were advised that they did, but that there no current links between them and Croydon's CiCC. It was observed that there existed formal engagement networks for Looked After Children, which young people might consider contacting and visiting with the Cabinet Member.
Officer stated that a meeting was due to take place with the head of service for youth participation to ascertain how Looked After Children's engagement might fit into the wider youth participation context. As stated above, young people had expressed a particular wish for a more structured approach to engagement, and discussions were planned to explore what type of structure would be most appropriate. Plans were also in place to ascertain what key activities young people wished to undertake in months to come. The suggestions put forward by the Executive Director would also be explored further.
Corporate Parenting Panel members reminded attendees that care leavers' accommodation had been flagged up as a particular priority in recent meetings of the Panel, and needed to be prioritised as an issue.
The new practitioner in Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) introduced herself. She announced that she was planning to review mental health services for Looked After Children and was looking to engage with young people to ensure services met the needs of this group. She acknowledged that transition from children's services to adult services was a particular issue and that it was a challenge to support smooth service provision up to the age of 25. Ch. echoed this statement, commenting that help dropped off abruptly after the age of 18. But she understood that there were plans in place to improve matters.
The Acting Head of Looked After Children stated that one member of the CiCC was keen to get involved in the scrutiny of health services, and that a meeting was due to be held with him to initiate this activity.
Members of the Corporate Parenting Pane suggested that there could be a "Meet the Corporate Parent" day for Looked After Children to find out more about the work of councillors as Corporate Parents. This could perhaps be a yearly, or twice yearly event.
The Independent Chair of the Croydon Safeguarding Children Board introduced herself. She stressed the need to engage younger Looked After Children to ensure continuity and highlighted the need to capture the voice of disabled children in care.
Oretha Wofford gave an overview of her role as Quality Assurance Officer. She explained that she had responsibility for Independent Review Officers and was the lead officer for missing children and children at risk of Child Sexual Exploitation. She stated that she had a great interest in hearing the voice of Looked After Children and felt it was important for children to take charge of their own reviews and to train them to co-chair their own reviews. OW stated that she would like to involve Looked After Children in interviews of prospective Independent Review Officers.
Oretha reported that one of the concerns Looked After Children had shared was frustration over discrepancies in allowances for different placements. Oretha stated that she was keen to gain a better understanding of the impact of underfunded placements on Looked After Children and on the likelihood of children and young people going missing as they were unhappy in their placements.
Oretha also observed that work in schools and focus group had revealed that many care leavers became vulnerable at the age of 18 as many support services were cut at that point and the young people were therefore more likely to go missing. As a result of this finding, the Multi-Agency Child Exploitation (MACE) panel has agreed to continue to support vulnerable Looked After Children until the age of 25.
Ch. and Sh. and officers were thanked for their useful input.
The Chair asked the Panel to consider the recommendations set out in paragraph 7 of the report.
1. To identify a specific youth resource to support LAC youth engagement and participation. This is likely to involve exploration of an Apprenticeship scheme.
2. To develop a framework for LAC engagement and participation in collaboration with the key stakeholders such as: Virtual school, Youth Service, Youth Offending Service, Fostering and semi-Independence Providers. Early Intervention Services and Schools. This is likely to be part of a wider engagement strategy for children and young people who use our services.