The government makes no bones that educational achievement of
children in care remains far too low. Its 2003 target of 75 per
cent of young people leaving care with at least one qualification
proved to be nearly twice as high as reality.
However, the trouble with such attainment targets is that they fail
to take into account factors that might affect exam-based
performance: confidence and self-esteem, for example, both of which
can be influenced outside a classroom. And that’s where staff in
Calderdale, West Yorkshire started to look.
“We know we were very focused on education and needed to look
outside of that for life chances,” says Sue Steven, service manager
for the looked-after children’s education (Lace) service.
The Friday Club was launched as a result of a social work post
being created in September 2000 and a desire to promote positive
involvement in leisure activities. It provides young people with a
chance to take part in evening activities, including swimming and
Robert Glover, senior practitioner social worker, says: “It’s what
young people want. We’re saying to them, ‘Why don’t you come out on
Friday night because we’re rock climbing or trampolining. The
strength of it is that young people come and see that there are
lots of others in care who are similar to them.”
Glover’s view is echoed by foster carers Robert and Janet Taylor.
“It stops them being stuck in and thinking there’s only them in
that situation, and it’s a chance to make new friends outside
school,” says Robert Taylor.
Janet Taylor agrees: “It’s really helped our youngest boy come out
of himself. He took part in a Stars in their Eyes show. Most of the
young people sang in twos and threes but he was the only one who
sang solo. If you had not known him six months earlier you wouldn’t
have seen the difference it made – and it was the Friday Club that
The club also serves as a venue for sibling contact. “It’s not
one-to-one and it’s a lot less pressurised,” says child care
assistant Damian Reid. “It also encourages positive relationships
between peers and adults. A good knock-on effect for me is that
they don’t see me as the social worker-type person but as part of
leisure.” Indeed, Reid used to work in leisure services, but so
enjoyed being with looked-after children at the Friday Club that it
inspired him to move into social care.
The club has provided paid work for young people too. Glover says:
“Some of the older ones will help out – put equipment out, lead
some activities. The younger kids think the older kids are
Older children, such as Martin Daley,* a regular Friday Club
worker, appreciate the value. He says: “Some kids live in the
middle of nowhere so this is their one chance to get out each week.
I get a lot of job satisfaction.”
Leisure development officer Pete Richardson says: “It works because
it’s disciplined, there’s a good mix of girls and boys aged eight
to 14, and it’s a level playing field for them all. There’s a good
And he’s right. On the evening we attended the Friday Club –
trampolining and football, by the way – the young people had a ball
(and not just one to kick around), as some of their comments
confirmed: “I like it because we do fun things” (an 11 year old);
“I love the trips” (eight); “If I didn’t come here, I’d just be
sitting down watching telly” (nine); “It’s great doing different
things and meeting my mates” (11); “The staff are all right”
Glover is proud of the relationship Lace has with young people. “If
they’ve got things to do and have friends they feel better about
themselves – which means they are more likely to be in school doing
Although the effective approach of Lace has few frills, it has for
the young people concerned been one full of thrills.
* Not his real name
- The best advert for looked-after children is the children
themselves. Senior practitioner social worker Robert Glover says:
“As an adult it’s very easy to say to young people, ‘Despite your
problems if you work hard at school things will get better when
you’re older’. But when they see some of our older young people
being paid by us, that’s more powerful than a thousand
- Be bothered about looked-after children. “If they were an hour
late to school they know that we’d know about it – and although we
wouldn’t make too big a deal about it, we’d have some banter around
that which helps them think, ‘Well, all right, someone’s actually
taking notice of me’,” says Glover.