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1.1.4 Kent Specialist Children’s Services Participation Strategy

AMENDMENT

In September 2015, this chapter was extensively updated and replaces the previous chapter - Kent Children in Care and Leaving Care Participation Strategy.

This chapter is currently under review.


Contents

  1. Introduction
  2. Definitions
  3. Participation Values
  4. Participation for Children in Care and Care Leavers
  5. Participation Opportunities for Children and Young People (not in care) Receiving Services
  6. Participation Opportunities for Children and Young People in Care and Care Leavers
  7. Analysis of Our Current Position
  8. Priorities and Actions

    Appendix 1: What Care is About!

    Appendix 2: The LILAC Assessment Report

    Appendix 3: The Care Leavers Charter


1. Introduction

The full participation, involvement and contribution of children who have received social care intervention, including young people in care and leaving care, is crucial. As a council, we are committed to listening to children and young people about their experiences of the services that they receive and the issues that are important to them; and work with them to deliver improvements that reflect their views.

This work centres on promoting positive outcomes for vulnerable children and young people. To achieve this, participation activities should encompass a range of capacity-building opportunities for children and young people including formal accreditation, training, confidence-building, work experience and/or development of new skills.

The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child, in particular Article 12 that states:
"Every Child or young person has the right to express his or her views on all matters that affect them and their views should be given due weight in accordance to their age and maturity."

The UK has ratified the UN Convention, and as a council we are required by law to take seriously the wishes, views and feelings of children and young people.

This strategy sets out the current levels of participation of children and young people in Kent, and their consequent influence on service design and delivery. The strategy then identifies priorities for further developing participation in Kent and mechanisms and structures by which this can be achieved.


2. Definitions

Children and young people

Children and young people are defined as between the ages of 0 to 18. This strategy includes all children and young people 0 to 18 who are in receipt of specialist Children’s Services. This includes children living at home with their families who may have a child in need plan or child protection plan, and all children and young people who are in Kent’s care. Children and young people in care are defined as between the ages of 0 to 18, and this strategy also includes care leavers between the ages of 18 and 21, and up to 25 years if in higher education. Young people may leave care prior to their 18th birthday who will remain eligible for care leaving services and are included therefore in this strategy.

Participation

Participation is the process of involving children and young people in decision making. Participation can happen in lots of different ways, for example, group discussions, questionnaires, individual conversations, art based projects and many more.

Several provisions in the Convention on the Rights of the Child reflect children's right to participation. Participation is one of the guiding principles of the Convention, as well as one of its basic challenges. Article 12 states that children have the right to participate in decision-making processes that may be relevant in their lives and to influence decisions taken in their regard—within the family, the school or the community. The principle affirms that children are fully-fledged persons who have the right to express their views in all matters affecting them and requires that those views be heard and given due weight in accordance with the child's age and maturity. It recognizes the potential of children to enrich decision-making processes, to share perspectives and to participate as citizens and actors of change. The practical meaning of children's right to participation must be considered in each and every matter concerning children.

As a fundamental right of the child, the right to participation stands on its own; it requires a clear commitment and effective actions to become a living reality and therefore is much more than a simple strategy. It was for this reason that the Committee on the Rights of the Child identified the right to participation as one of the guiding principles of the Convention. Participation is an underlying value that needs to guide the way each individual right is ensured and respected; a criterion to assess progress in the implementation process of children's rights; and an additional dimension to the universally recognized freedom of expression, implying the right of the child to be heard and to have his or her views or opinions taken into account.

Respecting children's views means that such views should not be ignored; it does not mean that children's opinions should be automatically endorsed. Expressing an opinion is not the same as taking a decision, but it implies the ability to influence decisions. A process of dialogue and exchange needs to be encouraged in which children assume increasing responsibilities and become active, tolerant and democratic. In such a process, adults must provide direction and guidance to children while considering their views in a manner consistent with the child's age and maturity. Through this process, the child will gain an understanding of why particular options are followed, or why decisions are taken that might differ from the one he or she favoured.

All participation must influence what we do and how we do it as a local authority.

Consultation

Consultation is the process of listening to and gathering children and young people's views. Consultation is seen as one method of participation in involving children and young people in decision making.

The child's participation is a right and children therefore are free to express their views or, if they prefer, to not do so. Children should not be pressured, constrained or influenced in ways that might prevent them from freely expressing their opinions or leave them feeling manipulated.

In a manner consistent with the child's age and maturity, there will be various ways of creating the right atmosphere to enable the child to freely express his or her views. Within age groups, the ability, confidence and experience of the individual child in assessing his or her own situation, considering possible options, expressing views and influencing decision-making processes will all have a bearing on how such an atmosphere can be achieved.

Involvement

Involvement is used to describe any form of engagement with children and young people in Kent participation and/or consultation activities.


3. Participation Values

The active involvement and participation of children and young people is guided by this strategy, and underpinning legislation including the Children Act 1989.

Why involve young people in participation activities?

  • We are a public service and must listen to those we are employed to serve;
  • We have a statutory responsibility to listen to the views and experiences of children and young people;
  • The services that we provide will be more effective and better targeted as a result of young people's involvement;
  • Young people have a right to be involved if they want to be and share their views, thoughts, feelings and wishes;
  • Young people will benefit from services that are improved and more responsive to their needs;
  • Young people will benefit from being involved in decision-making processes by developing their skills and confidence and to build social relationships;
  • Young people's involvement can help to develop a sense of their own rights and responsibilities as 'citizens';
  • We are a learning organisation that seeks to continuously improve its promotion of the best outcomes for children; we believe this is best achieved through asking for feedback and acting upon it.

How does KCC benefit from young people's participation?

  • Young people's involvement brings fresh perspectives and new ideas into how services can be delivered;
  • Young people's involvement allows us to design, deliver and evaluate our services and policies based on the actual needs of young people, rather than on assumptions;
  • It is one of the key methods to ensuring that we are meeting the needs of children and young people receiving specialist Children’s Services.

Good practice principles and our commitment:

  • We use a range of different methods to listen to children and young people on the matters that are important to them, and that affect them;
  • We communicate information and messages from children and young people to the relevant decision-makers;
  • We make sure adults are trained and supported to listen effectively to a diverse range of children and young people;
  • Children and young people's involvement happens at the earliest possible stage of planning;
  • Children and young people's experience of the participation process will be positive and empowering;
  • Children and young people's views are actively considered and incorporated in decision-making at all relevant levels;
  • We show evidence of the impact and influence of children and young people's participation;
  • We check with young people that they know what the impact and influence of their involvement is in their participation;
  • Feedback is given to children and young people in a variety of formats and within agreed timescales e.g. through the Children in Care Council.

Our commitment going forward:

  • A diverse range of children and young people receiving specialist Children’s Services will be involved in participation activities;
  • Participation activities take into account the age, gender, ethnicity and interests of children and young people; and a range of methods and approaches are used to engage them accordingly;
  • In planning participation activities we consider the barriers that may prevent certain children and young people being involved and address these as best as possible. For example transport, access, timing of events, translation and interpretation;
  • Participation activities give children and young people opportunities to try new things, to make friends, to develop their skills and to have fun;
  • The contribution of children and young people is recognised and valued;
  • Children and young people in care's active participation will be rewarded and acknowledged at the annual Achievement Award Ceremony;
  • Children and young people will be given opportunities to develop their skills, confidence and portfolio e.g. receive training and/or accreditation;
  • Resources are put in place to support fun activities either as a reward or as part of the process to engage children and young people effectively;
  • Safeguarding and promotion of the individual child or young person's welfare is the first priority in the planning and delivery of all participation activities;
  • Children and young people are safeguarded throughout the participation process in line with the Kent and Medway Safeguarding Children Procedures;
  • All activities will be effectively risk assessed. This includes addressing the particular risks faced by specific groups of children and young people involved in participation;
  • Information provided by children and young people is respected in line with Kent procedures and standards on information sharing and confidentiality;
  • Informed consent from children, young people, foster carers and social workers is gained for all participation activities;
  • If a young person in care is to have any involvement with the media this will be followed in line with Kent Communication Protocols. The anonymity and safeguarding of children and young people is the priority.


4. Participation for Children in Care and Care Leavers

This Participation Strategy sets out how well the voices of children in care and care leavers are heard within Kent and what the impact is upon services. This reflects government guidance created when the Care Matters: Time for Change agenda was introduced in 2007 and the views of Edward Timpson, the Children’s Minister, that:

‘The key to supporting children in care effectively is listening and acting on their views’.

It also reflects the recent emphasis in the Single Inspection Framework for Children’s Services from Ofsted on needing to evidence the impact that the voice of the child has had both in individual case progression and strategic planning and oversight.

This strategy sets out the current levels of participation of children and young people in care in Kent, and their consequent influence on service design and delivery. The strategy then identifies priorities for further developing participation in Kent and mechanisms and structures by which this can be achieved.

Listening to children and young people is very much at the heart of the Kent Children in Care and Care Leavers Strategy. This is overseen by Kent s Corporate Parenting Panel and Kent’s Corporate Parenting Group. Corporate Parenting work informs the direction and priorities of services in four main ways:

  • By ensuring that there is a strategy with priorities linked to the Children in Care Pledge and the Care Leavers Pledge and work streams sponsored by the Corporate Parenting Panel and Corporate Parenting Group to oversee progress against priorities;
  • By effectively challenging officer and partner reports and scrutinising key performance indicators alongside government guidance and Ofsted / peer feedback;
  • By ensuring effective communications between Panel and Group members and a range of senior officers, elected Members and other agency representatives;
  • By ensuring effective communications between Panel and Group members, the wider group of Corporate Parents, Our Children and Young People in Care Council as well as other children in care, care leavers and parents.

National feedback

National work done with children in care by children’s rights expert Dr. Roger Morgan have identified some of the following feedback from children in care:

  • Treat me as an individual, not part of a mass called children;
  • Take what a child says as seriously as what an adult says;
  • I want a say in decisions – depending on my understanding, not my age;
  • Even if I don’t understand enough to decide, ask me and take account of how I feel;
  • Be better at asking our views and feelings –and feedback what you did with them;
  • Let me contact my social worker easily whenever I think I need to;
  • Give me my social worker’s mobile phone number;
  • My social worker should see me alone, outside the home;
  • Let me have a choice about who is my social worker;
  • Treat our worries confidentially – don’t chat and joke about them. You’re worse at this than you think;
  • Keep in touch, check on us, and deal with problems if we are placed a long way away;
  • Do care planning well – and make sure we know what’s in our care plans;
  • Let us discuss possible complaints before we make them – then respond fast, don’t just write a report - eventually;
  • Make my education relevant to my future;
  • Give us advocates;
  • Don’t brand me with the mistakes of my past;
  • Give me space and the right to be alone when I want.

Our Children and Young People’s Council feedback

Our Children and Young People’s Council (OCYPC) for children in care told us the following about participation and involvement:

  • Decisions about us should be made with us;
  • Don’t tell us it’s in our best interests without asking us first;
  • Give us options, rather than just your choice;
  • Give us information that we can understand;
  • Take time to explain things to us;
  • If you say to us that you are going to do something, do it - or explain to us why it hasn’t been possible;
  • Turn up on time to meetings with us.

A young person in Kent’s care wrote their own presentation about their experiences which is being used to offer insight to the Corporate Parenting Panel about children’s experiences, and used as a training tool (see Appendix 1: What Care is About!).


5. Participation Opportunities for Children and Young People (not in care) Receiving Services

Social Work Visits

Social work visits provide an opportunity for social workers to check on their young person's development, health and wellbeing and to ensure their needs are being met. After making a visit the social worker should identify whether they have seen the child alone and record the issues addressed during the visit with particular reference to wishes and feelings. The social work assessment or report to the Children in Need meeting or Child Protection Conference should identify the wishes and feelings of the child. It is important for the social worker to spend time with the young person and to engage in their interests to ensure the relationship is good and that the young person is comfortable with them. Punctuality and keeping appointments are positive ways of keeping on good terms with the young person. Good practice is that these meetings are young person led and where decisions are required, the young person is involved and has a good understanding about what is being discussed.

Assessments

Social work assessments should clearly identify the needs of the child or young person and how those needs are being met. Assessments should set out plans for families to better meet the needs of their children where this is identified to be problematic or in order to reduce risk to the child. Every assessment should record the wishes and feelings of the child or young person and whether these are being followed. Where those wishes are not followed by the recommendations of the social worker, for example where a young person has expressed a wish to not be made subject to a child protection plan but the social worker may recommend this due to assessed risk, the young person should receive an explanation of this and differing views clearly recorded within the assessment on the child’s file.

Children and young people subject to assessments under Section 47 or Section 17 of the Children Act should understand their right to complain or make representation to a Child Protection Conference Chair, or managers within the social care service.

Advocacy

The Young Lives Foundation is commissioned by Kent County Council to provide advocacy for children in need receiving Specialist Children’s Services in Kent. The Young Lives Foundation are dedicated to making a difference to the lives of young people and can be contacted via their website www.ylf.org.uk.

Young Lives Foundation is a children’s charity that works with hundreds of children and young people in Kent and Medway. The head office is in Maidstone but there are advocates and volunteers all over the county. YLF have experience of working with young people of all ages and disabilities and aim to achieve the best for the young people they work with. YLF provide services for young people including getting their voices heard in meetings, resolving problems, mentoring and befriending, positive activities and supporting young people to make a complaint about the services they have received.

The Advocacy Service:

  • Is a time limited service/intervention;
  • Led by the views and wishes of children and young people;
  • Empowers the child or young person by enabling them to express their views, wishes or feelings, or by speaking on their behalf;
  • Focused on specific issues, with the aim of resolving them as quickly as possible;
  • Champions the rights and needs of children and young people, treating all equally;
  • Seeks the resolution of any problems or concerns identified by the child or young person by working in partnership with them, and only with their agreement;
  • Empowers children and young people to have their voice heard and raise issues and concerns on anything about which they are unhappy. This includes making formal complaints under section 26 of the Children Act 1989;
  • Speak for, support or represent the child or young person at any stage of the complaints process and provide them with information about their rights and options;
  • Is usually confidential, but with safeguarding and protection of the child/young person adhered to at all times, which will be explained to the child/young person by the Advocate;
  • Well publicised, accessible to all children and young people eligible to receive the service (including children with disabilities) and is easy to use.

The Advocacy Service will:

  • Be available during normal office hours, Monday to Friday;
  • Recruit and train individuals to be advocates;
  • Provide advice and support to children and young people;
  • Coordinate and fund interpreter services. This will include face to face, telephone contacts and translation of documents;
  • Provide telephone and written advice;
  • Provide Outreach work including one to one support;
  • Support the child/young person when required to attend Family Group Conferences, Complaints Review Panels, Child Protection Conferences and other similar meetings;
  • Ensure that appropriate assistance by taking into account age, means of communication, language, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, health or disability;
  • Ensure that they provide advocacy if the child/young person is seeking to make a complaint regarding Specialist Children’s Services through the Complaints and Representations Procedure;
  • Ensure there is appropriate level of continuity and consistency of advice provided by the service;
  • Raise awareness of the advocacy service to other professionals involved with children and young people eligible for the service, including Social Workers, Child Protection Chairs, and Family Group Conference Coordinators;
  • Establish effective links with the FGC service and social work teams;
  • Meet with the child, young person or adult after a Family Group Conference (FGC), if they have chosen not to attend the FGC in person, to help them understand the Family Plan;
  • Ensure that appropriate assistance by taking into account age, means of communication, language, sex, race, religion, sexual orientation, health or disability.

Signs of Safety

Kent is introducing ‘Signs of Safety’, a strengths-based approach to child protection work. A key element of this way of working is to ensure professionals remain child-focussed at all times, involving children, and using various tools provided to support them. This will change the way child protection conferences are facilitated and engender greater focus on the wishes and feeling s of the children under consideration. Children aged 12 and above are routinely invited to Child Protection Conferences about them.


6. Participation Opportunities for Children and Young People in Care and Care Leavers

Central to the work of Kent Specialist Children's Services is the opportunity for children and young people in care and leaving care to express their views, wishes and feelings about the care that they receive.

An assessment of Kent County Council took place in Autumn 2014 against the seven LILAC standards which denote a quality participation service for children and young people in care (see Appendix 2: The LILAC Assessment Report) Lilac is a project run by A National Voice. The key purpose of LILAC is to draw upon the experiences and expertise of care–experienced young people to improve the policy and practice of agencies in how they involve and consult with children in care and care leavers. It does this by using a framework of quality standards for involvement which has been developed by care–experienced young people. Young people from care are trained to assess the performance of agencies against the LILAC standards. LILAC involves care–experienced young people:

  • Carrying out assessments of how well services involve and consult with children and young people;
  • Delivering training on participation and the LILAC standards.

The LILAC standards are based on the well–known Hear By Right approach to participation but they have been developed to closely reflect the nature of the care system. They have been developed by care–experienced young people to reflect what is important to them. Each standard is backed by a number of criteria to ensure a robust methodology that focuses on quality over processes. Kent achieved four out of the seven LILAC standards and this strategy will set out further work to do which will contribute to Kent’s progress towards achieving all of these standards.

Messages from LILAC Assessors

“It was evident that some really good participation work was going on”.
“I really enjoyed meeting with the CICC, thought they were fantastic and well supported”.
“There is definitely good work and Kent are heading in the right direction, there are improvements to be made but it is a good starting point to have an independent body come and assess to be able to assist Kent in making improvements”.

In March 2015 a Corporate Parenting presentation was delivered to Kent County Council’s Challenger Group, which comprised 120 senior managers across the council. The presentation focused on the experiences and opportunities arising from apprenticeships opportunities for care leavers. Workshops were run by current care leaver apprentices, and the DVD ‘Care to Listen’ was shown. This event significantly raised the awareness of participation across the Council, and resulted in 27 commitments to explore increasing apprenticeship opportunities for Kent care leavers in varying council departments.

Kent Pledge to Children in Care

There is a colourful Pledge entitled ‘The Kent Pledge’ which has been developed with the help of children in care. The pledge sets out in clear and concise terms what services and support children in care can expect. Its message is “The Kent Pledge is the promise that Kent County Council make to you whilst you are in care. It is there to help make sure that your time in care is the best it can possibly be, to support you to do your best and to have success in your life”.

There is also an ‘OCYPC (Our Children & Young People’s Council), speak up be heard’ leaflet which is currently in draft format but highlights the pledge in a more child friendly version. This contains important information for children and young people in care and how they can join up with the children in care council.

There is also a website ‘Kent Cares Town’, which LILAC assessors thought was’ fantastic and quite creative’. The website was launched in 2012 and provides children in care and care leavers an interactive way to access useful information about services they receive, events, news and opportunities. A link to the website is available for young people to use when and where they require, and they are also able to contribute to the Kent Cares Town section. The website is www.kentcarestown.lea.kent.sch.uk.

Recent feedback from the Children in Care Council during the LILAC assessment included “we do get consulted a lot and I think it is a good thing because we can make a difference”; another young person stated that “The CICC is great, I enjoy attending the groups and its fun and also our voices are taken seriously”.

As part of the Lilac assessment, young people were asked by questionnaire if they had a say in their life. Over 65% of the responses scored 7 or more indicating a high level of involvement.

Kent County Council publish two quarterly newsletters for children in care, one aimed at the junior group and one aimed at secondary school age children. These can be accessed via the Kent Cares Town website: at: http://kentcarestown.lea.kent.sch.uk/our-news. The newsletters are a source of information for children in care, and they are sent to social workers and foster carers via e-mail for children in their care to view and download as well as appearing on the Kent Cares Town website. The Care Leaver apprentices in Virtual School Kent are responsible for producing the newsletters with support from staff. This includes the designing of the layout, colours, text, writing some of the articles and incorporating pictures, poetry, and art work that Kent’s children in care produce during the participation activity days.

There is a DVD which was created by the Children in Care Council called ‘Care to Listen’, designed and produced by some of Kent’s children in care and care leavers to describe from their own point of view of what it is liked to be looked after. The DVD is now used in some part of training for social care staff and other staff members from the education department.

Children and young people and staff across the service were clear that the complaints process is widely recognised and promoted. Children and young people know how to complain and there is a culture of ‘putting the child first’ across the service. The service is very accessible in that complaints can be made in writing, by email or by text or phone. In the children and young people questionnaires 70% said they had been told or seen information about how to make a complaint. The majority of children and young people answering the questionnaire felt that it was safe to make a complaint without repercussions (70%).

All foster carers informed us that young people are told about the complaints process and are asked if they would like an advocate. In our interviews with children and young people majority of the young people knew how to make a complaint and who to approach. Children and young people are informed about what an advocate does and are able to contact one easily. Foster carers promote this service to all their children and it is mentioned in their review booklets. The service is promoted via various means, such as training for carers, events for children and young people, weekly visits to children’s homes, newsletters. Social workers and IROs also pass on information about advocacy to children and young people; this was evident in our live interviews with staff and in the questionnaires, with 70% of staff stating that children and young people are given information about the advocacy service and how to contact them.

Furthermore, 80% of staff questionnaire responses state they have given children and young people information about how to make complaints if they are unhappy. Complaints made about foster carers can be made following the same process as making a complaint about any of the council’s services. During our live interviews it was also evident that they knew how to make a complaint and who to go to. In our live interviews with the Children in Care Council, all the members knew what an advocate was and knew how to make contact with them. However, 50% of children and young people who responded to the questionnaire stated that what an advocate does had been explained to them. Furthermore, 62% knew how to contact an advocate.

Review process - consultation forms – role of the IRO

The purpose of the review is to consider the plan for the welfare of the child and to monitor the progress of the plan and make decisions to amend it as necessary in the light of changed knowledge or circumstances. The aim is that, where possible, all children will participate in reviews. The Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO) will make every effort to enable the young person to make a meaningful contribution to their review be it written or verbal. IROs should also meet with the child in private prior to the meeting so they can express any wishes, thoughts or feelings they would like to raise and how this should be done during the review or elsewhere. If the child or young person is unable to attend this will be done by phone, by text or the IRO will visit on a different day to obtain their contribution.

The Independent Reviewing Officer’s (IRO) minutes should clearly state the known wishes and feelings of the child in relation to each section of the meeting. In the past, inspection reports have sometimes suggested that although children have been routinely consulted about their wishes and feelings this was not always reflected in the case records.

The Lilac assessment found that young people were well informed about their Care Plans and review meetings, reporting that they get a say in decisions that are made. Young people who filled out questionnaires also felt that they generally had a say in their lives and attend their reviews.

The vast majority of children and young people who answered the questionnaire felt that they knew why they were in Care (88%). Questionnaire responses by children and young people also showed that 80% knew what their care plan was, 70% said they had helped to write/agree it, and 71% said that they felt it reflected their wishes and feelings. This was evident in live interviews with children and young people and in interviews with staff this area was very much emphasised and embedded in all interventions with children in care.

LILAC assessors found the various booklets for children and young people to prepare for their reviews to be very useful and child friendly. There are also leaflets and information available to all children about reviews and the importance of getting their views across. 82% of questionnaire responses from children and young people stated that they usually attend their reviews, confirmed by the Children in Care Council members and foster carers. 75% of children and young people knew who their IRO was. The IROs also felt that most young people attend reviews and their views are sought beforehand to inform the process. Methods of being creative about communication include for example meeting the needs of young people with communication and learning difficulties. 60% of questionnaire responses from children and young people stated that they get a choice of how their review is run e.g. where it takes place and who attends. Over 80% of young people answering questionnaires said they are listened to in their reviews. 70% of staff questionnaire responses felt that the local authority allows children and young people to express their wishes and feelings in their reviews. A further 55% of staff questionnaire responses stated that children and young people get involved in organising their reviews.

The IRO service produces quarterly reports and an annual report that is presented to the Corporate Parenting Panel. This report identifies themes arising from the young people’s consultation form feedback at each review.

Apprenticeships within Virtual School Kent

Virtual School Kent run an apprenticeship scheme and currently have 8 apprentices working on participation for children and young people in care. This has included the Kent Cares Town website, organising participation days, activities and events, working with children and young people on consultation activities for example pledges and challenge cards and supporting social workers and other staff to promote and value participation. There are plans to have an apprentice on the Fostering Panels, a young person on Adoption Panels, and all prospective foster carers are interviewed by a Panel of young people prior to being put forward for approval. The apprentices include Kent care leavers, and this work has been recognised as good practice by the recent Lilac assessment.

Participation Events

There are events held across Kent throughout the year to enable children and young people in care to take part in positive activities and express their opinions about the services they receive. These events historically have been targeted at young people aged 16 and under but will include young people up to 18 in the future following the realignment of the Children in Care Teams to provide an all age 0 to 18 service. These events have included themes for example a day led by Independent Reviewing Officers on how to chair your own review, and how to lead your care plan. This work has been facilitated by the Virtual School apprentices.

At these events senior managers and members have the opportunity to meet with young people in an informal setting to build relationships and facilitate discussion and feedback about services. In 2015 a group of members met with young people during the February half term at an activity centre, as part of a Select Committee review of the effectiveness of Corporate Parenting.

Additional examples of participation events include trips out for example to Dover Castle, pantomimes and Christmas parties, and an annual ‘Dreams and Aspirations’ event. In South Kent children in care are written to formally once a year to ask for their feedback, and senior managers meet with them three times a year. Other examples of participation activities include in East Kent, an annual Sports Day and regular meetings between Children in Care Teams, the Fostering Service and the Virtual School Kent apprentices to understand and identify ways of improving the participation of children and young people in care.

A number of focus groups and consultation activities are run with Children in Care and care leavers every year. These activities have a fun and creative focus while allowing young people to make new friends, have their say and feed into important themes and issues about being in care.

Recruitment, Training and Development

The DVD ‘Care to Listen’, designed and produced by some of Kent’s children in care and care leavers is now used in some part of training for social care staff and other staff members from the education department.

Young people in care and care leavers are invited to participate in helping to train social workers and managers. The training aims to improve active listening by key professionals with the children and young people they work with and in doing so encourage greater involvement from children and young people in decisions made about their care.

Young people also get involved in delivering presentations to professionals as part of other events that come up for example social work training, graduate events and conferences such as Kent Safeguarding Board Conferences. Kent has developed a policy for involving children and young people in the recruitment and selection process for social workers and managers. Young people in care and care leavers are invited to help recruit all new permanent social workers and senior managers in Kent Specialists Services. Young people receive vouchers for their involvement. The young people are involved in writing the interview questions and they form their own interview panel. They use competency based scoring to make recommendations to hiring managers about a candidate’s suitability.

The Lilac assessment found that young people’s interview panels are well embedded within the recruitment process for children’s social care staff.

The LILAC assessment also found that new members of staff were interviewed by care experienced young people. Again this was the same with senior management who were in post permanently.

Young people are involved in facilitating activities at induction training for social workers who are new to Kent Specialist Children’s Services. The aim of the exercise is to demonstrate that the views of children and young people are taken seriously and to provide a taster for social workers. It also impresses upon new members of staff Kent’s commitment to listening to children and young people and that they must be involved in decision making processes.

Young people regularly have opportunities to take part in local and national consultation events for Children in Care and care leavers. These include discussion on areas such as the care and support provided by their local authority, supporting young people with their education, employment and training, managing relationships with key professionals that work with them including their social worker and foster carer. This is an opportunity for young people to influence policies for CIC and care leavers at a regional and national level.

Every prospective foster carer must attend preparation training as part of the screening and recruitment process. Young people who are care experiences are involved in presenting their own experiences of being in care to prospective carers. The young person's presentation provides a powerful message for people who are interested in becoming a foster carer and gives them valuable insight into the life of a child who has been in care and the difference that a good foster carer makes.

There are two care experienced persons on the fostering panel and the Lilac assessment had feedback from foster carers indicates that the majority had a care experienced person as part of the recruitment process.

Placements, Decisions and Reviews

The work done by Dr. Roger Morgan on children in care’s rights identified the following national feedback about placements:

  • Changes to my life happen suddenly without warning;
  • Decisions where you had no say can still be right;
  • Sometimes it takes ages to carry out a decision;
  • Some decisions don’t stay made;
  • Sometimes you don’t know what you want;
  • Changing schools spoils education;
  • It can be right not to be with siblings or near home;
  • Arguments are the usual reason for placements ending;
  • Review meetings are difficult with all the people there.

When you place us somewhere:

  • Have a RANGE of places so there’s a choice;
  • Give me a CHOICE of at least two places;
  • Have a BACKUP in case the first doesn’t work out.

The Lilac assessment of Kent found that 60% of children and young people said that they had a choice of which placements they wanted to be in. Furthermore, 57% of foster carers felt that the children and young people had been given a say in their placements. 71% of children and young people also stated that they had a choice in which school they wanted to be in.

Personal Education plan - young person's contribution form

A Personal Education Plan (PEP) is a statutory document for young people who are of school age (5 to 16 years) and in care. It is a planning document to support the educational development of young people in care. Before the PEP meeting and can be filled out with a teacher, carer or social worker if the child or young person needs assistance. It is aimed to be young person friendly and is good for the young people who may find it difficult to speak out openly at the PEP meeting. See Education of Children in Care Procedure, the Personal Education Plan (PEP).

Health Assessments

All children and young people in care between 0 and 18 need to have a health assessment when they come into care. This can identify significant health needs that may have previously gone unrecognised and lead to significant health improvements for the child once appropriate help is provided. An annual health assessment is completed for young people aged 5 to 18 and a six monthly review health assessment is completed for children under 5. Foster carers, social workers and health nurses and doctors work together to ensure these health assessments take place, and the child or young person’s views are recorded within the assessment. It is an opportunity for young people to participate in decisions made about their health for example making a referral for CAMHS input.

Fostering annual reviews - young person's feedback form

Every registered foster carer must have an annual review. As part of this process, young people are invited to give their views about their foster care placement via a young person's feedback form. This provides valuable insight into the support that foster carers provide to their young people and can help to identify any areas where foster carers may require additional training or support. It may be easier for young people to give their feedback through their own review process and during their meeting with an Independent Reviewing Officer about the care that they have received. This feedback can be used to inform the foster carer’s annual review without for example the young person needing to complete an additional consultation paper. Fostering social workers undertaking annual reviews should seek feedback from the IRO and use any consultation papers the child or young person has already completed to inform their work. This can be facilitated by the IRO.

Complaints

Complaints from children and young people have been reported to the Corporate Parenting Panel annually and themes arising considered. The children’s guides to fostering set out how to make contact with the Independent Reviewing Officer service, and the re-commissioned advocacy service will provide support for young people who wish to make a complaint. The annual complaints report is produced in May of each year.

Our Children and Young People’s Council (OCYPC)

There are bi-monthly meetings with young people in care and leaving care to raise issues with senior managers.

In 2009 central government issued guidance for all local authorities to have a Children in Care Council (CICC) to listen to the views of young people in care and for them to meet directly with senior managers and elected members. Kent has been running its own CICC “Our Children and Young people’s Council” (OCYPC) since 2009. The OCYPC is an opportunity for young people in and leaving care to meet on a bi-monthly basis and discuss important issues about their experiences. It also provides a means for young people to suggest ways in which services could be improved for young people and also become involved in shaping services. The OCYPC provides a check and balance as to whether Kent are delivering on their pledge to children in and leaving care and take a role in delivering some aspects of the Corporate Parenting priorities. Members of the OCYPC also meet with elected members and senior managers to input their ideas and the views of young people at the OCYPC and at Participation events which are organised during school holidays Kent is introducing a system of Challenge Cards to be used by children to raise issues that concern them directly with the Corporate Parenting forums.

Young people are consulted upon through the OCYPC when new materials are developed and designed to ensure that they are suitable and engaging for young people. Young people have helped to design and develop young people's review consultation forms, Kent Cares Town website, The Kent Pledge, Care to Listen DVD, and challenge cards. This is embedded into practice to make sure that all new documents are written and designed with young people's input; to make sure they are as effective as possible.

Consultation "This is what it's like to be looked after by Kent"

Kent undertakes a consultation with children and young people aged 5 to 24 years in care and leaving care to find out what it's like to be in care. This is supported by the Independent Reviewing Officers and Virtual School Kent who host the young people’s survey on the Virtual School Kent website to help us look at ways to improve services. Young people in Kent also take part in a variety of ways including surveys, focus groups and creative workshops. Kent Cares Town website.

The Kent Cares Town website was launched in 2013 and provides Children in Care and leaving care an interactive way to access useful information about services, events, news and opportunities. A link on the website is available for young people to use where they require further information or want to contribute feedback.

Meetings between young people in care and the Director of Specialist Children’s Services and Lead Member four times a year.

Young people in care and leaving care have the opportunity to meet with the Director of SCS and Lead Member of SCS in Kent Council every 3 months. Young people are involved in setting the agenda for the meeting and deciding which questions to ask. The meetings allow the Director and Lead Member to have a direct dialogue with Children in Care who are the responsibility of Kent about their experiences. Young people get the chance to speak to the most senior officer of the council.

Meetings with the Corporate Parents (members) Panel four times a year.

Young people have the opportunity to meet with members four times a year. This meeting ties in with the participation days to give a chance of young people to talk to their corporate parents about key issues that are important to them and how services can be improved. It also offers an opportunity for the corporate parents an opportunity to get alongside young people and gain their views and progress of the OCYPC.

Young people inspect commissioned services and help select new services as part of the tendering process.

Young people in care and care leavers get involved in commissioning panels where they help Kent to review and select new services. This experience provides young people with the knowledge and skills to inspect the quality of services provided for other young people. This happens in a variety of ways from sitting on tendering panels; to going out to interview young people who access commissioned providers.

Kent Care Leavers Charter

‘Kent Care Leavers Charter explains the rights, entitlements and promises that a care leaver is expected to receive. The leaflet is designed to be informative in a young person friendly manner and is free from jargon.

Kent has a significant number of UASC and young people who enter care in their teenage years. These young people may have experienced significant trauma before arriving in Kent, and frequently are not able to speak English to a standard that easily assists them to embed themselves in participation or the communities in which they are placed. The Participation Group has made a considered decision to incorporate its consultation and engagement activities with UASC young people into all activities undertaken with children in care and care leavers. This is in line with inclusion principles and will help young people both those arriving recently in Kent and those who have always lived here to form relationships and develop mutual understanding and respect. On that basis it is recognised that UADC young people may need particular support to be effectively included, such as interpreters, preparation, additional social work support and key documents translated into their first language.

Pathway Plans

All care leavers have a Pathway Plan setting out their needs for education, training, employment, accommodation, health care and skills required to enable a successful transition to adulthood. Care Leavers contribute to the Pathway Plan and their opinions should be fully represented within the document. Plans should be completed in partnership with care leavers and other relevant partners. The Pathway Plan is the Care Plan for young people who are 16 years and over and it looks at how a young person is supported with their transition to independence. It is a means for young people to be able to plan and set goals for themselves in all important aspects of their life covering topics like; health, education, family contact, budgeting and ensuring the young person has important documents such as passports and NI numbers. The pathway plan is a good way to get young people to start thinking and planning for themselves and is reviewed every 6 months. There is a Care Leavers Policy setting out Kent’s offer. Recent feedback from care leavers has indicated that the Pathway Plan format does not promote their full participation in the process, and as a result the Pathway Plan format is currently being reviewed to make it more useful for young people.

Apprenticeships within Virtual School Kent

Virtual School Kent currently has 8 apprentices which include some care leavers, who then take on a role to improve participation for children and young people in care. Virtual School Kent has recently expanded its role to include working with all young people in care aged 16 to 18, and in 2015 will take on an additional 2 apprentices who will focus on participation for this age group and care leavers.

The Apprenticeship scheme offers young people opportunities to undertake paid work placements, and gain a NVQ qualification within the council. The programme aims to provide young people with confidence and work based skills and helps prepare them for the world of work. Young people are matched to their placements based on their skills, interests, abilities and talents and provided with appropriate support and guidance to complete their work placements.

Recruitment, Training and Development

The DVD ‘Care to Listen’, designed and produced by some of Kent’s children in care and care leavers is now used in some part of training for social care staff and other staff members from the education department.

Young people in care and care leavers are invited to participate in helping to train social workers and managers. The training aims to improve active listening by key professionals with the children and young people they work with and in doing so encourage greater involvement from children and young people in decisions made about their care. Young people also get involved in delivering presentations to professionals as part of other events that come up for example social work training, graduate events and conferences such as Kent Safeguarding Board Conferences. Kent has developed a policy for involving children and young people in the recruitment and selection process for social workers and managers. Young people in care and care leavers are invited to help recruit all new permanent social workers and senior managers in Kent Specialists Services. Young people receive vouchers for their involvement. The young people are involved in writing the interview questions and they form their own interview panel. They use competency based scoring to make recommendations to hiring managers about a candidate’s suitability.

The Lilac assessment found that young people’s interview panels are well embedded within the recruitment process for children’s social care staff.

The LILAC assessment also found that new members of staff were interviewed by care experienced young people. Again this was the same with senior management who were in post permanently.

There are two care experienced persons on the fostering panel and feedback from foster carers indicates that the majority had a care experienced person as part of the recruitment process.


7. Analysis of Our Current Position

Kent is proud to have achieved four out of the seven Lilac standards in 2014, and committed to achieving the remaining three during 2015.

There are significant areas of excellent participative practice where young people and children in care are enabled to participate and influence services that affect them.

A Participation Working Group has been set up to take forward the aims and objectives of the strategy during 2015. (For membership see Appendix 3: The Care Leavers Charter) This will be supported by Kent’s decision to establish a permanent Participation Officer post to oversee and progress the work streams forming the Participation Strategy’s priorities and actions for 2015-16. This work will continue to be supported by the Virtual School Kent who support and facilitate the apprenticeship programme and the OCYPC including participatory and consultation events for children in care up to 18. The Virtual School will fund an additional two Participation Workers posts for one year providing additional capacity to progress the strategy, and to extend some of the current participation activity into greater engagement with care leavers aged 18 and above.

Kent has a regular ‘Challenger Group’, which is an internal meeting of senior officers and can include members, who meet and consider areas of work that cut across departmental boundaries. The recent Challenger Group (March 2015) examined what Corporate Parenting means for the whole Council. This included table top exercises facilitated by apprentices with care experience, to enable officers across the organisation to identify how they could contribute to Corporate Parenting, with particular reference to providing apprenticeship opportunities for care leavers. This was an extremely positive event which raised awareness and identified resources to increase opportunities for care leavers.

Kent Specialist Children’s Services is also engaging in a transformation programme to change the way in which work is done. This means that processes are being examined, gaps identified and new ways of doing things implemented. The aim of this programme is to improve the quality of services and identify efficiencies for example by undertaking more preventive work, improving outcomes for children and reducing the numbers of intensive interventions. Part of this work will be to increase user voice including children in the design and delivery of services.

The Participation group will strengthen the collation and analysis of currently available information for example feedback forms from children attending formal meetings such as child in care reviews and child protection conferences, and complaints.

The Participation Group has identified some barriers to participation including:

  • Young people not always wanting to be part of organised adult led events ‘too cool’;
  • Foster carers can be reluctant to leave their immediate geographical areas;
  • Young people are not yet routinely on all social work recruitment panels;
  • Young people are not as involved in child protection or child in need processes because we have not yet enabled them to be;
  • Interpreting facilities not always good enough to enable UASC to participate;
  • Insufficient attention has been given to how some groups of young people can be engaged and supported e.g. UASC, children with disabilities;
  • Young people in care or receiving services need to be fully represented in universal young people’s forums including the Children’s Council.

Current strengths in participation include:

  • Activities and events held in different parts of Kent with children in care;
  • Leadership from young people themselves of the OCYP;
  • Commitment of members and senior officers to the principles and values of participation;
  • Apprenticeships scheme within VSK;
  • Embedded involvement of young people in some areas including recruitment, training and development;
  • Additional resources identified from Kent and VSK to further improve participation;
  • County wide Working Group established and committed to listening to young people.

Further areas that Kent want to develop include:

  • Wider representation of all children in care through the OCYPC;
  • Setting up a Care Leavers Forum;
  • Ensuring the voices of UASC young people are stronger within participation, both under and over 18;
  • Greater consistency of participation opportunities and communication channels across all areas of Kent;
  • Seeing greater impact of child voice within decision making forums including Corporate Parenting Panel and commissioning;
  • Hearing child’s voice effectively from children not in care.


8. Priorities and Actions

Priority Action Responsible Owner Outcome
Increase levels of participation for wider range of children in care Recruit Participation Officer, workers and apprentices to establish central point of ownership for participation across Kent Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney /VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner / Safeguarding AD Patricia Denney Kent listens to more children in care and shapes services accordingly
Greater consistency of participation offer across Kent for children in care to increase equality of participation Agree participation structure and resource required to support it from VSK Participation workers and apprentices ensuring areas of Kent working consistently Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney /VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner / Participation Officer

Kent listens to more children in care, children who have not previously had opportunity to influence decision making are heard

Increase participation of care leavers to influence decision making and service delivery Set up care leavers forum to include UASC, facilitating participation sensitively Participation Officer and workers /apprentices /Leaving Care Service Manager Sue Clifton Care Leavers voices influence decision making and service delivery to improve their outcomes
Corporate Parenting Panel and Corporate Parenting Group are more directly influenced by young people’s feedback Young people in care and care leavers are supported to feedback directly to Corporate Parenting Panel Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner Children and Young Peoples’ voices influence decision making and service delivery to improve their outcomes
Make better use of currently available feedback from all children receiving specialist services, to inform service improvement Analyse, present and disseminate findings from young people’s consultation processes (reviews, conferences, complaints) Participation Officer / VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner Better informed workforce understand what is important to children and service delivery is improved
Ensure that new developments in service design are informed by young people’s feedback, especially those receiving community services Incorporate ways of consulting children and young people on new commissioning arrangements for care leaver services, and other transformation changes Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / Head of Commissioning Thom Wilson Young people’s feedback is acted upon and services are higher quality as a result
Develop better communication opportunities for children in care to influence decision makers

Set up Children in Care Pack and other leaflets / communication outlets

Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner Increased feedback through more developed communication channels results in child focused decisions
Ensure children in care know who senior managers and leaders are and can meet them Let children and young people know how to make contact with managers and leaders Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner Increased feedback through more developed communication channels results in child focused decisions
Develop better communication opportunities for children not in care to influence decision makers Improve feedback opportunities for children subject to a child protection plan Develop use of social media Peer Mentoring project

Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / VSK Business Manager Sarah Skinner / Participation Officer / Head of QA Lee Anne Farach / AD Safeguarding Patricia Denney

Increased feedback through more developed communication channels results in child focused decisions
Increase awareness and understanding of importance of participation across staff and foster carers Ensure young people in care / receiving services are part of recruitment, induction and training for all staff and foster carers. Ensure staff and foster carers know how to facilitate participation and are fully aware of pledge for children in care Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney / All SCS Area ADs / County Fostering Manager Caroline Smith Increased feedback from young people results in child focused decisions, better work done with young people by staff and carers
Strengthen the collation and analysis of currently available information by using a monthly Participation Group meeting to take forward this Action Plan The Participation Group will identify barriers to participation and ways to overcome them. Make the Participation agenda and action plan more meaningful to everyone Corporate Parenting Assistant Director Geoff Gurney (Chair of the Participation Group) This Participation Strategy results in tangible outcomes for children and young people


Appendices

Click here to view Appendix 1: What Care is About!

Click here to view Appendix 2: The LILAC Assessment Report

Click here to view Appendix 3: The Care Leavers Charter

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