Today marks two weeks since the findings of the Independent Care Review in Scotland were published. Launched in February 2017, the Review took a ‘root and branch’ approach to reviewing the underpinning legislation, practices, culture and ethos of the care system in Scotland. Placing love at its core and involving care experienced people in every stage of the process, the Care Review has been lauded for its approach, scale and commitment to the voice of care experienced people.
The findings of the review, while powerful, are no huge surprise to anyone working in the sector. Its central messages are that any system designed to look after children should genuinely care, and staff should be supported to develop genuine and loving relationships with the children in their care. Far too often, the bureaucratic and risk averse nature of the system means that staff do not have time to develop meaningful relationships with young people, or indeed are scared to in case it leads to a safeguarding issue or complaint.
The Review calls for a system which places the needs of children and young people at its heart and supports staff to meet their needs, rather than the needs of the system in which they work. This, it argues, will not only provide looked after children and care leavers with the stable relationships and support they need to succeed, but will also create spaces for young people to be listened to and have their thoughts, opinions and experiences taken on board – something which the Review found happens far too infrequently.
These findings resonate strongly with Leicestershire Cares’ approach to supporting children and young people. Our staff take a participatory approach to the delivery of projects, working alongside young people and supporting them to identify issues of concern and how these can be addressed. We aim to enable our young people to find solutions for themselves, take reasonable risks and, in so doing, develop the skills and experience they need to become independent adults who contribute to their local community. Inspired by the Care Review, our Voices project is working with young people, businesses, local authorities and other partners to get at least 80 care leavers’ voices heard by local decision makers each year, so that they improve local policies, practices and services that enable care experienced young people to have the same chances of success as their peers.
The element of our work that goes beyond the scope of the Scottish Care Review is our engagement and partnerships with business. While the Review includes recommendations for all stakeholders involved in the care of children in Scotland, nowhere does it mention the role that businesses have to play in supporting children and young people to develop the skills, confidence and knowledge they need to reach their full potential.
This is a core part of our work at Leicestershire Cares. We exist to support businesses in Leicester, Leicestershire and Rutland to serve their local communities, and draw on their expertise, skills and experience to enhance our support offer to young people. This is something that the Department of Education has tried to formalise through its Care Leaver Covenant, which is attempting to expand the role of the ‘corporate parent’ from being the sole responsibility of local authorities, to one that is shared by all in England, including businesses. This is a worthy ambition and one that Leicestershire Cares is also working towards, with our own Promise to Care encouraging local businesses to commit to supporting care leavers.
Since the Conservative win in December, increasing numbers of professionals, academics and care experienced experts have begun to put pressure on the party to honour their manifesto pledge to “review the care system to make sure that all care placements and settings are providing children and young adults with the support they need.” These calls have come from all sides of the political spectrum, from major Tory donors to editorials in the Guardian. Last month, 632 individuals with personal and/or professional expertise of children’s social care, including Leicestershire Cares’ CEO, signed an open letter calling for an independent, whole-system review of children’s social care in England, which listens carefully to the experiences of those who have been through the system.
We wholeheartedly support the calls for a full-scale review of the care system in England, which places the voice and experience of care leavers at its centre. However, we would also ask that this review explores the role that business has to play in supporting care experienced young people to reach their full potential. We have seen the changes that can be made at a local level when care experienced people are provided the opportunity to share their experiences and concerns; imagine what could happen if the government embraces an ambitious, full-scale, care experienced-led review at a national level. This is an opportunity to enact significant change for the thousands of children and young people who leave care every year, and is one that should not be missed.
Head of Children and Young People