How an Ealing care leavers project scooped the top prize

Community Care’s Maureen Oswin Memorial Award goes to projects that involve users particularly well. The 2006 winner is a partnership that uses young mentors to improve educational outcomes for looked-after children. Natalie Valios reports

The young people and staff from Ealing Council may have been shocked when they were announced as the winners of the Maureen Oswin Memorial Award at Community Care’s 2006 awards ceremony, but those who have seen their work first hand wouln’t have been.

The purpose of the prize is to reward projects that put service users at their heart and this is amply demonstrated at Ealing where the social services department and its young people have developed a partnership with the local university, Thames Valley, and Ealing Schools Aim Higher project to deliver improved outcomes for looked-after children and care leavers.

This impressive project – which was also highly commended in the Improving Outcomes for Looked-After Children category – is in its second year and targets underachieving groups, such as black boys, in the care system. The model is based on a mentoring scheme delivered by Ealing’s older care leavers currently at university.

There are 35 Ealing care leavers at university, two of whom are on Masters courses. This means an astonishing 14 per cent of the west London borough’s looked-after children are in higher education compared with a national figure of 1 per cent.

Of these 35, 10 have become mentors and their role is to contact each of Ealing’s year 10 and year 11 looked-after children. They explain the process of selecting universities, support them through the application process, and motivate them to study for the grades needed for entry. A highlight of the programme is an annual residential weekend at Thames Valley University where mentors and mentees work together.

In October 2006, one mentor, Katie Davies, was employed full-time by the council during her gap year before she goes on to study for her Masters degree. Her role is to extend the mentoring scheme with a project called Me (My education).

Having a full-time co-ordinator on board means that the project can reach and support more young people far more regularly.

The 10 mentors are all involved and they are having a day’s training in peer-to-peer mentoring in January before the Me project starts in February. The plan is for mentors to study for a qualification in peer mentoring in the workplace during the year.

Meanwhile, Davies has her hands full with the associated paperwork, working with the foster care team, social workers and the education team and weekly meetings with the mentors in preparation for the Me project being up and running.

“For the first few meetings we’ll do leisure activities like go-karting and paintballing so they trust each other and bond. Then we’ll pair off the young people with mentors,” says Davies.

Marcella Phelan, Ealing Council’s assistant director, children and families, says: “The energy, enthusiasm and sense of reality that Katie is able to bring to the work is making an incredible difference.”

Employing Davies, with her passion for the role and the project, has inspired the council to set up a formal apprenticeship scheme. Through this Ealing Council will take on 20 young people each year. “They may not all be in care, but they will be vulnerable young people,” says Phelan.

As for how the £8,000 prize money will be spent, this is down to the young people, says Phelan. The plan is for it to go on  activities, education materials and equipment. Also, for the past two years the young people have had a day out to a Eurostar destination in Europe to celebrate the end of term and their hard work. So if they’d like to do further trips, some of the money could be spent on this, says Davies.

She adds: “The job is really rewarding. I hope that I live up to the expectation that comes with the award.”

● Find out more from

● The project is led by care leavers and they understand the experiences of the children they are mentoring.
● A partnership approach between social services, young people, the local university and Ealing Schools Aim Higher project.
● An annual residential weekend at the university where mentees hear first-hand what university life is like.

Contact the author
 Natalie Valios

This article appeared in the 11 January issue under the headline “Raised Horizons”

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