Children in Care - Questions and Answers
This is an opportunity for members of the Children In Care Council (CIA) to feedback on recent activity.
The Chair welcomed LM, CM and JB from Care in Action (CIA) to the meeting and invited them to provide their respective updates.
LM began and said that they had enjoyed attending two Corporate Parenting meetings with officers recently. Members heard that the first meeting had focused on youth offending and explored the possible background reasons for why young people in care commit crimes. LM said that they had found this very interesting, and that they had observed that petty crime was often the most common offence.
The second meeting LM attended focused on the Strengths and Difficulties Questionnaire (SDQ) for LAC. LM explained how the questionnaire worked and outlined that they had taken an active role in the meeting by questioning some of the procedures of the SDQ. Members heard that this included: why in practice only one person tended to complete the questionnaire as this would not capture enough information about the child; whether social workers were qualified to score the results of the questionnaire; why an online version of the questionnaire had not been used; and why Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) support ended at age 18. LM was pleased that officers at the meeting had said that they would address these concerns. LM added that they felt happy to be have been involved in the meetings and that their suggestions had been listened to as they wanted to help to make a difference to other young people in care.
CM spoke about how they had been happy to be asked to help to develop a ‘Readiness for Practice’ module for trainee social workers at Royal Holloway, University of London. They said that they had enjoyed giving suggestions to the tutor and that they felt glad that they had been able to contribute to potentially improving the lives of other LAC in the future. The Committee heard that CM had also been part of the start of the preparations for the ‘Voice in a Million’ concert at the SSE Wembley Arena which gave a voice to children in care all across the UK. CM was excited that monthly rehearsals for the choir performance at next year’s event would begin in October 2017. CM also explained that they had been to a recent CIA meeting for LAC and Care Leavers attended by the Philosophy Foundation. CM said that they had been intrigued by discussions with fellow young people about their different beliefs on issues such as religion, god and hope.
JB spoke about a recent tour of St John’s College at the University of Cambridge, which had been organised by the Virtual School. They told the Committee about how they had learnt about the University’s history and JB said they had benefited from the visit because they no longer viewed University solely as hard work, and that it could also be an opportunity of fun for students. They also spoke about the recent ‘Summer Fun Day’ for CIA young people and their Foster Carers at the Poplar Grove Centre. The Committee heard that there were lots of activities for young people to enjoy, such as: an exotic insects display; being able to design their own t-shirts; learning to DJ; nail painting; egg and spoon races; and kickboxing. The CIA representatives said that they had all enjoyed the fun day, and they were happy that Foster Carers were also welcome to attend.
Members of the Committee thanked the representatives for their updates and collectively agreed that their presentations had been excellent. A Member of the Committee referenced the event which looked at youth offending and asked what conclusions could be drawn from this. LM responded that it appeared that moving placements had an adverse impact on a number of young people in care and that this could lead to an increased risk of crime. It was noted that petty crime appeared to be a particularly prevalent area for youth offences.
Questions also arose on what the representatives felt the effects were on LAC when their assigned social worker had changed. Members heard that this was felt to be very serious as constant change made it more difficult for the young person to form a proper relationship or sufficient level of trust with their social worker. Wider discussions followed on the cause of social worker changes and what the present workforce situation in this area looked like in Brent. Gail Tolley stated that changes had been made to address staff retention problems and that 66% of the social work staff at the Council were now permanent, as opposed to a similar percentage being non-permanent three years ago. She noted that there was a national shortage of social workers but that Brent had strived to make itself more attractive as a place to work through reducing social work caseloads and implementing more permanent management support arrangements. Nigel Chapman (the Council’s Operational Director, Integration and Improved Outcomes) added that Brent currently had a lot of newly qualified social work staff which had also helped to improve retention levels. It was agreed that a report which looked at the social care workforce in Brent in more detail be presented at the next meeting, as it related to Children in Care and Care Leavers.
It was RESOLVED that:
(i) The updates from the CIA representatives be noted; and
(ii) A report which provided up-to-date data on the current social care workforce in Brent and more information on what action the Council had taken to solve any issues with staff recruitment and retention in support of both LAC and care leavers, would be presented to the next meeting of the Committee.