We are so excited to announce that Voices, our creative writing competition for children in care and young care leavers is back for 2019 and we are open for all your incredible entries until midnight on 10 February 2019.
Find out how to enter Voices 2019 here
Voices national writing competition
If you are a child or young person up to 25 years old and have experience of the care system, our annual creative writing competition is for you. It's designed to promote a positive image by showcasing young people’s creativity and improving understanding of their experiences.
The theme for 2019's competition is 'Growing up' and you could win a tablet device and up to £100 in shopping vouchers. Shortlisted entries are also showcased on a special app featuring writing from children in care.
Read our Voices 2018 winners and shortlisted entries here
Watch videos featuring previous winners of our Voices competitions
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Local authority children's services departments and schools must increase their focus on educational outcomes of looked-after children, the government has said.
An interim report of a government review on the issue concludes that poor educational outcomes for children in need are not inevitable, but agencies supporting them are not ambitious enough.
"Our findings through the review so far, provide an assessment of why the educational outcomes of children in need are so poor, and what is needed to improve them," the report states.
"Without delay, the leaders and practitioners who work with children in need - in schools, social care, early help, health, police, and beyond - can start to put these findings into practice.
"This is not a change in direction, but an injection of aspiration; safety will always come first but is not an end goal."
The report contains findings on how professionals who work with vulnerable children can better identify children in need, understand the impact of traumatic experiences, and what schools and children's services can do to help them achieve more educationally.
The government plans to support professionals to do this by producing more evidence on what methods work when trying to improve educational outcomes for children in need.
Part of this will come from an already announced pilot project being managed by the What Works Centre for Children's Social Care, involving the co-location of social workers in schools from spring 2019.
It has also asked the Education Endowment Foundation (EEF) to analyse its existing evidence to assess the impact of interventions for children in need from the start of next year.
The DfE said results from another EEF scheme - the Home Learning Environment trials in the North of England - should also be available from autumn 2019.
And the government has committed to expanding its longitudinal dataset and analysing how child, family and school level factors make a difference to outcomes over time.
DfE statistics show that attainment for looked-after children is much lower than for non-looked after children. However, it is slightly higher than the attainment of children in need.
Education Secretary Damian Hinds said: "There is no reason why we should have a lower aspiration for a child in need of help or protection than we do for their peers.
"Whether it is making sure a child has a consistent and trusted member of staff or taking the time to speak to a child the morning after they have witnessed domestic abuse, I hope this practical advice can help those leaders in schools and social care, alongside our hardworking teachers and social workers, understand how we can collectively do to more to support these children."
Sam Royston, director of policy and research at The Children's Society, said that while addressing the challenges children in need faced in education is important, the government also needed to help councils support young people's health, housing, employment and safeguarding needs, as well as consider extending key services to the age of 25.
"Vulnerable young people who have had difficult childhoods need better help as they prepare for adult life and too often, the help they do get falls away when they turn 18 - even though their difficulties do not," said Royston.
"It is crucial that the government also looks at what support children in need require beyond the school gates."
The charity also wants the government to consider making the pupil premium available for all children in need.
Plans to increase support for children in care featured in the Conservative Party manifesto for the June 2017 snap general election. The findings in the report were based on evidence submitted in March by more than 600 school and social care professionals.
Following the publication of the Care experienced children and young people report by the Public Accounts Committee of the National Assembly for Wales, Jackie Sanders, communications and public affairs director at The Fostering Network said: ‘We welcome the recommendations of this child-focused report and its concentration on ensuring that there is an emphasis on improving stability and outcomes for care experienced children. We also welcome the focus on prevention and investment in edge of care services and CAMHS.
‘We are pleased to see that the report recommends developing a set of indicators to assess the outcomes of care experienced children as this will enable an assessment of the value for money of various interventions and activities and allow better comparisons across geographies.
‘One of things we raised with the committee through our evidence was the lack of end of placement reviews, which is statutory requirement in Wales. We believe end of placement reviews are key to improving stability and to ensuring the voice and wishes of the child are heard. We therefore welcome the recommendation that the Welsh Government should evaluate how often end of placement reviews take place and how effective they are, with a particular focus on the impact on looked after children.
‘We also raised the funding and implementation of When I am Ready arrangements which allow a young person in foster care to remain with their former foster carer beyond the age of 18. We would have liked to have seen a recommendation specifically linked to When I am Ready. Recommendation 7 of the report does suggest that the Welsh Government commission a review of spending on looked after children, but we are concerned that When I am Ready will get lost within this review and that the other implementation issues will not be addressed in such a review.’
Almost half of four- to seven-year-olds in care had not had the reason they were in care fully explained to them, while a third of eight- to 11-year-olds also hadn't
Almost half of four- to seven-year-olds in care have not had the reason for them being there fully explained to them, a survey of more than 2,600 children has found.
The survey, carried out by Coram Voice and the University of Bristol and published as part of the Our Lives, Our Care research series, found a third of eight- to 11-year-olds likewise felt they hadn’t had the reason they were in care explained to them. Among 11-18 year olds meanwhile, 18% hadn’t.
“I would like to know more about why I am in care and why I am not living with my mum,” one child was quoted as saying by the survey.
Throughout the study, respondents were broken down into school ages, four to seven (key stage 1), eight to 11 (key stage 2) and 11-18 (secondary school).
The report said one in five of four- to seven-year-olds didn’t know who their social worker was, but that these younger children were still the most likely group to trust social workers.
More than a quarter (27%) of 11- to 18-year-olds had had three or more social workers “in the past year”. Trust in social workers was nonetheless high – 88% or above – among all children surveyed, researchers found.
Responding to the findings, Brigid Robinson, managing director at Coram Voice, said it was “concerning” so many children interviewed “lack a stable relationship with their social worker”.
‘Lives are improving’
Professor Julie Selwyn CBE, director of the University of Bristol’s Hadley Centre for adoption and foster care studies, said: “While there is still much more local authorities can do to improve services, it is important to recognise that most looked-after children and young people felt that their lives were improving, felt satisfied and were positive about their futures.”
Selwyn referenced wellbeing scores from the survey which, while identifying groups of vulnerable young people who needed additional support, represented a positive picture for young people in care.
Of 11- to 18-year-olds, 15% had low wellbeing, while 34% reported “very high” life satisfaction scores, compared with 36% of 11- to 17-year-olds in the general child population in England.
All in all, more than four in five (82%) of children and young people who participated said they felt life was getting better – though 59% of those in the two older age groups said they often worried about their feelings and behaviour.
Selwyn said that young people with levels of low wellbeing need to be identified and additional support provided to ensure their self-esteem improves and positive relationships can be built with adults.
“Those with low wellbeing were disconnected – lacked friends, had no trusted adult in their lives and felt unsettled and unhappy,” she said.
The government has launched a commitment to help care leavers access education, employment and training, following a two-year delay, announcing an aim to create 10,000 "work opportunities" for young people.
Plans to create a Care Leaver Covenant were first announced in May 2016 by then Prime Minister David Cameron as a way to encourage organisations to offer more support to care leavers in England. It was due to launch in October 2016 but has suffered a series of delays.
Launching the initiative today, children's minister Nadhim Zahawi said a total of 65 organisations including businesses such as Amazon, Rolls Royce and Barclays Lifeskills, as well as charities, and every government department in England have signed up to the document, with dozens more committed to sign.
A Care Leaver Covenant website has been set up with details of the initiative. Signatories have pledged to give care leavers access to work placements, internships or training sessions.
Government figures show that in the year to 31 March 2017, 40 per cent of care leavers aged 19 to 21 were not in education, employment or training (Neet) and the status of a further 10 per cent was unknown. This compares with a Neet rate of 12.7 per cent of all 19- to 24-year-olds were Neet during January to March 2017.
Zahawi, said: "Becoming an adult is a daunting and challenging time for all of us, but I know from speaking to many young people leaving care, this transition can feel like facing a cliff edge.
"This is a landmark moment on how businesses can support care leavers, who through no fault of their own have been dealt a difficult hand in life.
"Young people leaving care have often overcome huge challenges but struggle to achieve the same positive outcomes in life as their peers, which is simply not fair. When we talk about burning injustices, this is what we mean - so we need to be more ambitious for these young people.
"Working with businesses, charities and every government department, our new covenant will improve the offer we make to these young people, through work placements, skills training or access to university so that they can fulfil their potential and flourish as adults."
The package of support for care leavers includes:
Javed Khan, chief executive of Barnardo's, which has signed up to the covenant, said: "Sadly young people leaving care often struggle to gain good qualifications and get their foot on the career ladder. That's why Barnardo's is committed to offering high-quality work placements as well as specialist advice and support.
"We believe that all young people deserve the opportunity to follow their dreams. That's why our ambition is for care leavers to have the same life chances as other young people, including access to employment, education and training."
Fostering News: A huge disappointment and a wasted opportunity - The Fostering Network's response to the Government's Fostering Better Outcomes report
The Fostering Network is disappointed with the Westminster Government’s response to the fostering stocktake and education select committee inquiry in England, Fostering Better Outcomes.
Put simply, although there is very little in the report that we fundamentally disagree with – and indeed a number of recommendations which we support - it lacks teeth.
It fails to set out an ambitious plan that will create the much-needed systemic change in the fostering sector, and we do not believe that it will achieve the improvements that are desperately needed to ensure that foster care is the best it can be for children and the families that look after them. We are concerned that they have fundamentally misunderstood the role of foster carers and what they need to be able to do their job properly for children. We believe the continued insistence of referring to ‘foster parents’ ignores the wider role and responsibilities of foster carers and the skills and experience they bring.
While the report does lay out a vision for foster care – it begins with five excellent over-arching ambitions – it is not clear how this will be delivered in concrete terms. Moreover, the Government appears to be taking virtually no responsibility for the delivery of this vision – phrases such as ‘we will urge’ and ‘we will encourage’ run throughout the report with no explanation of how those being urged and encouraged will be supported financially and practically to achieve this change or held to account. The apparent complete lack of scrutiny means that the current status quo will be too easy to maintain. In terms of recommendations, the report also sets out very little that wasn’t already known or isn’t already happening.
During the consultation process for both the stocktake and enquiry, The Fostering Network and our members were very robust in our responses. This included over 2,500 foster carers expressing their views through our State of the Nation survey. Although the report does pick up on our Foster Carers’ Charter and our Keep Connected campaign, it appears to gloss over the most important issues raised in our responses – allegations, respect, the professional role of foster carers, pay and allowances, a foster carer register – while highlighting areas like physical affection which, while important, are not the issues which are going to lead to a step change in fostering. We are staggered to think that after two years the Government believes that foster carers feeling more empowered to hug the children in their care is one of biggest issues facing fostering.
Our current State of the Nation survey, which is still open for foster carers to take part in, shows that only four in 10 foster carers feel that the allowance they receive is actually covering the costs of looking after the children in their care. The report ignores our call (and indeed the education select committee’s) for a review of the national minimum allowances, meaning that foster carers are having to subsidise the care of young people on behalf of the Government, the children’s corporate parents. In the same way, the report ignores our call for foster carers to be paid properly – which we know is a major issue for many foster families – simply passing the buck to fostering services. Indeed, the lack of funding is ignored throughout the report, as it turns a blind eye to any financial issues facing fostering services and foster carers
Staying Put is another area that the report takes only a cursory view on. We are pleased that the report says that the Government will “refine the policy to address some of the most significant practical barriers” but we have been very clear that the primary practical barrier is the lack of funding for Staying Put. The report does not address funding at all, and without this, the wellbeing of future generations of young care leavers is being jeopardised.
We are also surprised at the lack of focus in the report on allegations. Nearly four in 10 of the 2,500 foster carers who have already taken part in this year’s State of the Nation survey say that they have had an allegation made against them. In any other area of work, this would not count as “infrequent”. It is absolutely not enough for the Government to “urge LAs to ensure their allegations processes are fit for purpose and ensure the well-being of foster parents throughout” without any plans to hold local authorities to account when - as happens all too often - these processes are not followed. Again, the lack of scrutiny and taking responsibility is abundantly obvious. Allegations have a significant impact on foster carers and the children they are looking after. Nothing this report suggests will, we believe, change the current situation for foster carers facing allegations.
We are disappointed that the report makes no recommendations about a register beyond saying this is to be explored. Surely the last two years has been the opportunity for exploration, and now should be the time for action. We remain convinced that a national register of foster carers would raise the status of foster carers, increase their portability and help increase the safeguarding of children.
We welcome the focus on stability, and the introduction of the National Stability Forum, as well as the promise to tighten up some guidance. We warned the Government after the publication of the stocktake report that it was not evidence based nor would it create the necessary change. We are pleased that the Government has ignored some of the more controversial recommendations from the stocktake report, such as the dispensing with the role of independent reviewing officers, but this was a chance to radically overhaul the fostering system to make foster care better, but it feels like an opportunity missed.
There is no sense of the Government taking ownership of improving fostering, nor of the urgent need for change. The voices of foster carers have largely been ignored and the tens of thousands of children and young people in their care have been let down.
We would encourage all foster carers to take part in our current State of the Nation survey. 2,500 foster carers took part two years ago and it is now all too clear that those voices were not loud enough for the Government to listen. We need more people to take part this time so that their voices cannot be ignored.
Children and Families Minister Nadhim Zahawi announces new measures to improve foster care, as part of the government's response to two fostering reviews
Foster families are to receive clearer advice on physical affection so that they can feel more confident to hug and comfort the children in their care, as the Government sets out new measures to help children in foster care experience loving and stable homes.
The new plans outlined today (20 July) focus on the experiences and outcomes for children in foster care, helping to support those who may have had a difficult start to lead fulfilling and normal lives.
Foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care, including simple but important things like being able to take children to get their haircut, allowing them to go on school trips or to be able to go over to friends’ houses.
The Department for Education will also explore ways digital technology can enhance the foster care system and consider how it could help tackle challenges such as recruiting more families to become foster parents and have access to training and resources to support these families.
Minister for Children and Families Nadhim Zahawi said:
"We want every child in foster care to have a loving, stable home and trusted relationships so they can have the ‘normal’ life they desperately want and experience the same opportunities as other children.
We also want to support and empower foster parents to make the daily decisions they would for their own children and make sure they receive the recognition they deserve for their incredible work."
The department’s response to the independent review, Foster Care in England by Sir Martin Narey and Mark Owers and the Education Select Committee’s fostering report, sets out six priority areas for the government’s vision for a better care system, driven directly by children’s needs and views.
These priority areas include:
A Young Person’s version of the government response has also been published today to engage children and young people in foster care directly and help them to be more involved in the care system.
Harvey Gallagher, Chief Executive of Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said:
"A real sustained focus from government on building on the strengths of foster care and improving the lives of children placed in foster care is of course most welcome. The Government’s emphasis on genuine collaboration between local authorities and independent fostering providers is a breath of fresh air and I know many of our local authority colleagues will feel the same.
Commissioning of foster care placements can only begin to be effective with this kind of sea change in relationships between commissioners and service providers."
Alan Wood, Managing Director at FosterTalk, said:
"FosterTalk welcomes the Departmental response to the independent review and the Education Select Committee’s fostering report. We view this as an opportunity to investigate and improve further methods of good practice to ensure that children in the care system are placed at the center of the decision making.
We particularly welcome the recognition for greater placement stability and more emphasis being placed upon the child’s wishes with greater control of their own care planning. We owe it to all children within our care system to act on the evidence and recommendations from the two reviews to improve practice and ultimately provide the opportunities that our children deserve. We all need to play our part in realising this potential to make a difference to the child in care."
John Simmonds, Director of Policy Research and Development at CoramBAAF, said:
"The Department’s response sets out a strategy that directly reflects those concerns – that at the heart of fostering is the creation of a family life for a child – in the short or the long term – that will directly influence them for the rest of their lives.
Government could not have a greater responsibility or opportunity to ensure that this drives what has been too often a complex, risk adverse and systems focussed model. The objectives set out in the Minister’s response directly reflect these concerns. The sector needs to grasp the opportunities being made available to ensure that every child placed in foster care results in them feeling protected, listened to, supported and above all encouraged and valued."
Foster families are to receive clearer advice on physical affection so they can feel more confident to hug and comfort the children in their care, the government has said.
Responding jointly to the recommendations of the fostering stocktake and the education select committee inquiry on foster care, the government said foster families will also be empowered to make more day-to-day decisions in the best interests of the children in their care.
This will include "simple but important things" like being able to take children to get their haircut, allowing them to go on school trips or to be able to go over to friends' houses.
The Department for Education said it will also explore ways digital technology can enhance the foster care system and consider how it could help tackle challenges, such as recruiting more families to become foster parents, and have access to training and resources to support these families.
Children's minister Nadhim Zahawi said: "We want every child in foster care to have a loving, stable home and trusted relationships so they can have the ‘normal' life they desperately want and experience the same opportunities as other children.
"We also want to support and empower foster parents to make the daily decisions they would for their own children, and make sure they receive the recognition they deserve for their incredible work."
In addition to clearer guidance for foster families, a new training package will be created for social workers to help more children have long-term foster placements.
The DfE will also work with a group of councils and agencies to develop best practice for foster care and reviewing guidance to make it clearer on practice issues, as well as funding new approaches to commission foster placements for children.
Harvey Gallagher, chief executive of the Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers, said: "The government's emphasis on genuine collaboration between local authorities and independent fostering providers is a breath of fresh air - and I know many of our local authority colleagues will feel the same.
"Commissioning of foster care placements can only begin to be effective with this kind of sea change in relationships between commissioners and service providers."
Rachel Dickinson, vice president of the Association of Directors of Children's Services, said that while the importance of placement and social worker stability is raised a number of times in the government response, the plans outlined will not address the underlying drivers of instability including a national shortage of foster carers and of social workers.
"ADCS members also remain concerned about the significant surpluses being made by a small number of organisations from fostering. Such practices cannot be justified, and we reiterate our earlier call on government to replicate the Scottish legislation which prevents for-profit operations in this area.
"The five ambitions outlined in the response are difficult to argue with as is the focus on advocacy, on the smarter use of contact and the use of fostering as a respite option for children and families at times of crisis."
Today the Westminster Government formally announced how it will introduce the 15 extra hours of free childcare for fostered children in England from September. Responding to the announcement, Kevin Williams, chief executive of The Fostering Network said: ‘We warmly welcome this announcement which comes following a campaign led by The Fostering Network and our supporters. We were dismayed when we first realised that fostered children aged three and four in England were initially excluded from the additional 15 hours of free childcare a week that had been made available to parents since September 2017. Today’s announcement is an important milestone in rectifying that exclusion and we welcome the receptiveness of the Department for Education to our campaigning.
'We have been working closely with the Government to assist their development of this new policy – especially given there are particularly complexities for foster carers. We know that not all foster carers will be eligible (which is also the case for birth parents) and that the 15 extra hours will not be appropriate for all fostered children, but to automatically have been excluded was discriminatory and inexplicable. We believe that it should be left to the judgment of the foster carer and the social worker as to whether taking up these extra hours is appropriate for the child or not.
'We also believe that some foster carers, particularly family and friends carers and those offering long-term fostering, will need or want to combine fostering with work outside of the home because they already have a job when they start fostering, they want to model going to work, they enjoy working or, because of financial pressures, they have to go to work. This extension of the 15 extra hours to foster carers will enable them to be able to do so. This is particularly good news for the recruitment of foster carers and is consistent with the message from Government that fostering can be combined with other work.'
Dr. Jane Herd
As the children who are placed in foster care appear to be more troubled and vulnerable many services and commissioners begin to use the discourse of providing or requiring therapeutic placements. But what do we mean by this? Does offering a carer support group facilitated by a psychologist or direct therapy by a psychotherapist to some children make a service therapeutic?
For me providing a therapeutic service is to offer something which will allow children and young people over a period of time to experience real and lasting internal changes to the way they think, relate and feel. It is not chiefly about trying to manage or alter behaviours though this is a very useful and welcome side effect. It is about providing a complete social and relational environment in which a child’s emotional distress and way of being can be held, understood and processed. Where the adults who work with them see behaviour primarily as communication from the child or young person, about how they see the world and what it is they are struggling with and where carers can use their own thoughts and emotions to further understand and explore what might be going on for a particular child. Children will often be neurologically stressed and firstly need to feel safe and contained, they can be overwhelmed by complex thoughts and feelings which make little sense and they need help to understand these better and this all this needs to be provided within a relational context which takes account of culture, community and environment.
There are many models which can be useful in providing therapeutic care but it seems essential to consider neurological, attachment, psychotherapeutic and sociological perspectives. Whatever models are privileged children and young people require a high level of emotional containment, care and understanding but so do the carers who look after them so the therapeutic environment needs to extend from the child, to the carers and throughout the whole organisation.
Dr Jane Herd – Completed her Doctorate on Hard to Reach adolescents at the Tavistock and Portman and is the Founder of Orb8 which provides a range of services for hard to reach, traumatised and marginalised children and young people and the organisations, staff and carers who work with them email@example.com or https://www.orb8.org/
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