Yesterday I wrote about the annual report and review of my Help at Hand service, which will be published tomorrow. A key aim of the review was to hear from children about how we can reach them better, at the right time, and provide a more effective service when they need it. The team wanted to hear from children and young people who are eligible for the service, from a variety of different backgrounds. They carried out focus groups with children in care, children in secure settings, care leavers, unaccompanied asylum-seeking children, children with disabilities, and individuals who had used the Help at Hand service.
It was surprising and concerning to learn that most children and young people the team spoke to didn’t know about Help at Hand.
However, once the service was explained to them, they felt it was very important.
“I mean, if I’d known about it, I would have found a way to contact you whether it was phone or internet or anything, I would have found a way because I struggled a lot […] and I know a lot of other young people who struggle so much that we end up relying on each other…” – Care leaver.
They were also often unaware of their right to advocacy generally, and this is a wider problem that my office will be seeking to address.
I want to ensure we reach more children and young people, particularly through their schools and colleges. Many of the interviewees told the team that teachers were an important source of help if they wanted to challenge a decision about their social care support and, if they did not want to call Help at Hand themselves, they would want someone from their school to do this.
Children also said they want to be told about Help at Hand (or other advocacy provisions) at key points in their life, particularly when they first come into care, when they have any significant changes (such as moving home), and when they are leaving care.
“Social workers should give it as a pack to all children who go into care at that moment, without waiting for a crisis point” – Care leaver.
“… when you go into a new placement […] because if the young person doesn’t like where they’re actually going, and they don’t have a choice … and you usually just accept it because it’s just a place to live. It’s a roof over your head” – Care leaver.
They want to be able to access information about the service in many ways, including videos, leaflets and by phone.
“I’d like a film on there telling me about Help at Hand” – Disabled child.
“… it’s always better speaking to someone on the phone, so we can get our point across straight away” – Child in secure setting.
Importantly, children living in secure settings told the team they want to be visited.
“… visiting places like education, STCs, YOIs […] that shows us that you’re not just doing it over the phone, you’re taking your time to come and show us that you’re actually there and you actually care” – Child in secure setting.
For children who had used the service, their experience was overwhelmingly positive, particularly the team’s knowledge and the consistency of speaking to the same person. They also commented on Help at Hand being a child-centred service, which they found very important.
“I just feel like it’s a really good service and I found it really helpful, and it gives you confidence in approaching and backup and it’s really good to have that when you’re dealing with the LA, so it’s being dealt with fairly.”
For many children and young people, Help at Hand was able to achieve a good outcome.
“I would have been taken off the social housing list … I wouldn’t have been a care leaver anymore, I would just have been a homeless person. They took the stress off. … I didn’t have time. So, Help at Hand being there and assisting with that ensured everything.”
If the team could not get the outcome they hoped for, children told us that they still thought they did everything within their power, and they appreciated that someone was on their side, took them seriously and listened.
Young people and their representatives told us they would like Help at Hand to have more powers to ensure local authorities uphold their rights, act in their best interests, and actually do what they say they will. The review followed this up by looking into how the service can have more impact for children individually and on a systemic level. This will be outlined in the report tomorrow, which sets out plans for transforming Help at Hand so that it can help many more children and use their experiences to create positive, meaningful change within local authorities and at a national level.