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Wed, 06 Jul 22 11:59

A meeting with the Children’s Commissioner

I had a very productive meeting this week with Anne Longfield OBE. Anne is the new Children’s Commissioner for England and we talked about areas of shared interest between our two organisations.

We are keen to make the most of this synergy by finding opportunities to work collaboratively together, where this is helpful to both organisations. To that end we discussed the main policy areas that ADCS are focusing on in the coming year and those of the Office of the Children’s Commissioner, which includes: child abuse in families, forced marriage, young people’s mental health in gangs, online safety, asylum seekers and, equally important, the educational outcomes for looked after children.

The area which has particular resonance for me is the work around internet safety. I shared with her details of a recent discussion between the Kirklees Youth Council and elected members about ‘keeping safe.’ The internet featured heavily in this conversation and the use of social media in particular. As you would expect, they are very knowledgeable about the use of these channels and it was interesting to hear their views on how young people can be vulnerable to abuse, exploitation and radicalisation. It brought home to me the risks inherent in this way of communicating. Anne’s office will be working with young people to understand the issues and consider how best to take this important work forward and I look forward to hearing more about this as plans develop.

We also talked about ‘Staying Put’ and the importance of this being extended to all young people, whatever their circumstances. We touched on some of the big practical issues involved in shaping this much needed support for young people leaving residential care, outlining the critical impact this would have on the market for children’s residential care and partnerships with providers.

There are challenges around the range and quality of provision which is currently available. Whilst there is some excellent residential care available it has to be said that overall quality is variable. It has been something of a Cinderella service, often suffering from lack of investment in training and support for the staff who work so hard in this sector. So, associated with finding the right way of developing new approaches, will be a wider challenge of ensuring that this vital work attracts the investment and status it truly deserves.

If we are able to gain support for the extension of ‘Staying Put’ it will be vital to recognise the scale of the challenge but this is not to say we should shy away from making this happen.

North Yorkshire County Council, for example, has received money from the DfE’s Innovation Fund to develop a residential care and leaving care project called ‘No Wrong Door’. This approach will ensure that young people can access the right services to meet their changing needs, at the right time and in the right place through a single key worker. A big revamp of existing residential care provision, with the goal of providing intensive support for young people in residential care to move on to their birth family, a foster family, or independent living will also be available. We will have much to learn from this and other creative approaches.

It was great to meet with Anne and to have such constructive discussion and I look forward to working closely with her in the year to come.

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