Our Help at Hand advice and assistance service for children in care and the very vulnerable continues to grow. We responded to over 1,500 enquiries last year – the number of cases coming to us is roughly doubling year on year. Among the typical cases we resolved were helping a care leaver whose local authority had failed to get her immigration status established/recorded to remain at university; getting proper education for a young disabled boy at home; and keeping two teenage sisters with the foster family they loved.
Children in the care system are still too often threatened with financially-driven moves, or made the victims of poor planning and decision-making. We are here to help put it right. We have helped homeless teenagers, excluded children, and young offenders leaving secure units with nowhere to go. Both children and the professionals trying to help them contact us for help, and we intervene with local authorities or other services to get them the support they need. The cases that come to us inform the Children’s Commissioner’s wider priorities and help sharpen the focus of our policy and evidence work.
This year, we will continue to help the most vulnerable children, ensuring that we use our expertise and influence to make a real difference for those in the most urgent and difficult situations.
The experiences of children in the care system inform our work on stability for looked after children. Many calls to Help at Hand relate to unwanted placement moves and school changes, and the disruption that these bring. This is why we created the Stability Index to encourage councils to hold themselves to account for children being ‘pinged’ around the system. It measures placement moves, school moves and changes in social worker. This year we will show where there have been improvements or declines in stability, and will also work closely with one council to explore the reasons for multiple moves and their impact on the child(ren) concerned. We will also start work on building sibling relationships into the Index.
In order to join up the voices of children in the care system and give them a more effective national network, we are funding the creation of a digital hub linking children in care councils across the country. This year the Children’s Commissioner office will run the hub, steered by an advisory group of 21 young people in care. We want to explore what children want from the hub, which services could be provided via it, and the possibility of developing a mentoring scheme for children with care experience to help one another. We will be encouraging sports and entertainment businesses to donate tickets and memberships to the hub, to give children in the care system the social opportunities enjoyed by other kids.
We will continue to attend regional children in care council meet-ups around the country in order to meet and learn from looked after children and give them a louder voice in Whitehall.