My name Nicky Hudson. I am the Director of UK Fostering North East and an also an ex foster carer.
I have just been reading an article by the North East Regional Children in Care Council where young people have voted on improvements they would like to see in the care system. I feel that they make several relevant points; in some areas we are ahead of the ball; in others I feel that as an IFA we can implement recommendations immediately and in respect of the remainder we should promote/discuss with local authorities.
Recommendations from young people in care/care leavers include:
Rights and Entitlements• Every council to have a clear policy on how much pocket money a young person should get and at what age; and to help save money for a young person’s future – We already do this as we feel young people shouldn’t have to ask for pocket money. We also feel that it is important to help young people save for their future.
• Every council to have a page on their website where we can find out exactly what we are entitled to ask for and who to contact – we do have a ‘kids zone’ on our website which states that pocket is a right but maybe we should be adding how much young people should receive at what age – we do highlight contact details etc.
• All Care Leavers to get help with travel costs, not just those with a job or going to education, but for things like visiting family, getting to the doctors, going to the gym or library – I feel that we should be discussing this in a young person’s pathway plan. Lots of foster carers continue to support young people when they leave placement and move to independence however, this shouldn’t be a lottery and reliant on a foster carer’s goodwill.
• More help from leaving care team to help us manager our money as we get older, e.g. saving schemes and understanding about debt – again we ask foster carers to help young people with these issues as they get older in order to help prepare them for independence however, think back to your first stab at independence, did you require help from your parents lots of times. I know I did and that my daughter did when she first left home. Help should be ongoing.
• That no matter where you live, such as foster homes or a children’s home, you get the same opportunities as each other, e.g. holidays or joining in activities and clubs – we encourage our foster carers to take their foster children on holiday with them and we ask them to encourage young people to join clubs/activities etc.; surely this should be the same for all children.
Family visits• Councils to have more age appropriate and nice quality spaces for us to have time with our families. Not everyone can go out in the community but still deserve to spend time with people important to them in a nice space – I know this overall, is a council responsibility but we should think about the children with our carers. Several our offices have contact rooms but are they appropriate for both toddlers and teenagers? As an adolescent would you like to be in a small confined space for two/three hours with only toddler toys to play with?
• Councils to think about not using the word ‘CONTACT’ – we think ‘family visits’ sound much better – this links to some research I read recently in which it stated that if you observed children in a school you would be able to pick out the children who were in care without being told. It pointed out that children in care talked of contact instead of visits, siblings instead of brothers and sisters and birth families rather than just family. It would be easy for us to change the word contact to family visits on paperwork and to talk about family visits with the children in our care – what do you think?
• Each council to have a clear policy around family visits, e.g. making sure staff travel time isn’t included in our time with the people important to us – I think it is such a shame when this happens and that we should be raising this issue in reviews. I know that it is often parents who let children down at visits, but we shouldn’t be mirroring this behaviour.
• More visits for young people in care with wider family members and old friends. These relationships are often really important to us and get lost when we come into care or move – I know contact/family visits can be contentious but if a family member/friend is not a risk surely, we should be encouraging an ongoing relationship. This doesn’t always have to be weekly or even monthly but just a couple of times per year; letters and telephone calls can also help maintain relationships.
• To see more done to making visiting family in prison more child and young people friendly. This can be a difficult thing for us and we would like to raise awareness of this with local –
Prisons – apart from raising awareness with prisons which we should continue to do, just arranging a prison visit can be problematic. I can remember when I was a L.A. Social Worker and took over case responsibility for three siblings whose father was in prison; the siblings hadn’t seen their father for over six months as ‘family visits’ were offered on Saturdays. It required two people to supervise and luckily enough the foster carer in this case was happy to help me with the visits – we would make a day of it and take the children out for a meal following the visit. Even now years later the children still talk about how we helped them see their father. Their father who had always been antagonistic toward social workers had a change of heart and thanked us for giving up our Saturdays.
I don’t think that children and young people in care are asking for much – what do you think?