Help at Hand is the Children’s Commissioner’s advice and assistance service for children who are in care, leaving care, working with social services or living away from home. Children and their advocates can get in touch with Help at Hand via the freephone telephone line, website or email.
As we look forward to 2024, we want to take a moment to reflect on all that Help at Hand did for children in 2023, which was another great year for the team.
Help at Hand received more than a thousand enquiries in 2023 and many of these relate to more than one child. This is a marked increase from 2022, when Help at Hand received 737 enquiries. This increase reflects the work done following the 2022 in depth review of the service.
Here is some of what the team has achieved this year:
- Training – The team have provided free training on child rights issues to advocates and children’s homes staff.
- Information sharing with Ofsted – From April 1st of this year Ofsted notified us of any children’s homes that have received a provisional rating of inadequate. Help at Hand then writes to the Local Authorities that have a child placed in that home for a reassurance that they have access to advocacy.
- Updated the website – Help at Hand has now got a new page on the Children’s Commissioner’s office’s website, packed with information that both professionals and families can follow to empower themselves about the children and care leavers’ rights and entitlements. We are also completing a new rebranding of the service after suggestions from focus groups with children in care councils undertaken this year.
- Continued to inform the Children’s Commissioner’s reports with the experiences of children who we have spoken to. This has included the 16 and 17 Homeless report Homeless 16 and 17 year old in need of care, “ We all have a voice”: Disabled children’s vision for change ‘and and the advocacy report.
- Published the Help at Hand annual report.
Another big part of the Help at Hand focus this year has been continuing to give a voice to unaccompanied children seeking asylum, and children seeking asylum with their families.
We have maintained regular visits to unaccompanied children across home office hotels and reception centres. Dozens of children told us their frustrations about having to wait so long to be taken into care and to finally start attending education, Help at Hand advocated for these children, making representations to Home Office officials and other decision makers.
Perhaps, the most common issue that has come up for Help at Hand this year has been children in care who are out of school. The frequency of this issue being shared with us is likely tied into the Children’s Commissioner’s work on school attendance. This is an example of Help at Hand’s work on this issue
Lydia (identifying details have been changed) should have been in year 1 when her virtual school head (VSH) approached Help at Hand. Lydia had suffered significant trauma before entering care and had learning needs. Her parent local authority could not find her a home that met her needs locally and so she was placed “out of area”. Her Virtual School Head told Help at Hand they had tried for several months to find a school in the area where Lydia had been moved to with no luck.
Help at Hand found there was an impasse between the Local Authority where Lydia lived and the Local Authority that was responsible for her care, and this appeared to be related to funding. The Children’s Commissioner wrote to both Directors of Children’s Services asking for them to join forces to ensure Lydia would have a school place.
The Children’s Commissioner was reassured a school had been identified and a start date for attendance agreed. Help at Hand also raised the case with the Department for Education to highlight the issues raised in Lydia’s experience.
This is some of the feedback Help at Hand received in 2023:
- “Thank you for your interest in this issue which I’m sure helped to get things moving for this care leaver and he finally got his medical treatment” – An advocate of a care leaver
- Honestly, I appreciate everything you’ve done for me. It’s really made an impact on my life. You don’t know how emotional I’ve been just feeling grateful because it’s been so hard and to have your support even nearby, that’s what made me determined to not give up and I have to fight for myself so hard and to make sure I don’t take no for an answer. Fingers crossed everything goes well. I’ll definitely keep you posted. Care leaver about an accommodation issue
- I am delighted to tell you that we have received the wonderful news that the family have now been offered accommodation and will be moving next week! The boys are really thrilled and excited about this! I am convinced that your support and powers of persuasion have helped to effect change in the LA’s decision making. …. I am so happy that they [the boys] will have their own individual spaces to decorate and so that they will be able to study and complete homework when the next steps of confirmation of education for both boys is achieved. From myself, the Children in Care team …, their independent reviewing officer and especially on behalf of the children and their mum, we give enormous thanks! Social Worker for the LA
- Thank you for this. Your persistence paid off! I spoke with … ; she is happy with how her PA is working with her […] I said that I will keep supporting her for now, until the accommodation issue is sorted out, if that is what she wants and said yes’. An Advocate of a care leaver, also about an accommodation issue
- Without your help XX would have never be able to return to education that quickly and her EHCP would have not been updated in time for a college to take her , thank you so much for advocating for her when no one did! Mother of a child in need.
Help at Hand look forward to hearing from and helping more children and care leavers this year.