Supported by the National Children’s Bureau, a small team within Voice had set out to look at how the care system could be changed to make things better for young people. Working with eight councils, in partnership with children, they came up with four over-arching ideas for making lasting improvements to services (see The Original Blueprint).
More than three years on, and phase two of Blueprint is well under way. Known as Blueprint in Practice, it involves seven local authorities focusing on specific areas of the care system and building on the lessons learned in phase one (see Summary of local projects’ key aims).
“The focus of the original Blueprint was to get new ideas,” says Voice project manager Rachel Griffin. “This time round, the focus is about putting those ideas into practice by recognising that it is the systems and structures that need to adapt.
“It’s not a realistic expectation to just say to front-line social workers ‘off you go and be child-centred social workers’ without support, whether that’s training, getting elected members on board, or whatever.”
So what does being part of the Blueprint in Practice project entail? As a starting point, Voice pairs each of the councils with a specialist consultant experienced in both social care and project management.
“What councils also get from being a part of this is being linked into a network with each other,” Griffin adds. “They get support from us centrally. For example, if a training need arises – as it did at Wandsworth Council, where they wanted to train young people to interview other young people – we can devise bespoke training. In that case, we devised training on developing young people as peer researchers.”
Griffin says there is also an expectation that comes with being part of Blueprint in Practice that things will be done “in the Blueprint way” – namely with everything beginning with the child.
In Kirklees, the Blueprint in Practice work is focused on increasing young people’s attendance of their review meetings. Suzanne Triggs, development officer at Kirklees Council’s children and young people service, says specific work is being done on looking at ways professionals respond to children before and after a review. This includes managers making sure in supervision meetings that social workers are doing the necessary preparation work with a child before their review. A traffic-light system to remind social workers when to send out review forms is also being considered.
Since last October, the council has held a series of events with a group of around 16 children in care to get them to explain how the review process could be different for them. This immediately resulted in the children re-designing the review forms and in the introduction of scrap books so children have got something to show at their review meetings. They have been also been empowered to make certain decisions, such as when a review meeting should be held.
Another popular idea is the “big brother approach” to reviews that is being trialled. “Children can send their video to the review meeting in place of attending if they really don’t want to go, or they can go along to the meeting and play it there,” says Triggs. “We have had a positive response from the children about this. We’ve learned that something as simple as buying five video cameras for our residential units could make a difference.”
Triggs believes that, without the impetus provided by being part of Blueprint in Practice, the changes that have begun might not have happened. And she acknowledges that getting commitment to the project from senior managers from the outset was – and remains – critical to its success.
Social care consultant Richard Rollinson, who is working with Southampton and Derbyshire Councils on Blueprint in Practice, agrees that getting managers on board early is crucial.
“Don’t present it as a gift at the end,” advises Rollinson. “If you have involved them in building the present, they are more inclined to ensure it is carried on because they have been part of the seeding of it. If Blueprint introduced a model that was the best but was held exclusively by Blueprint, then it would be taken away at the end when they left.”
By contrast, Triggs hopes the official end of the project in the autumn will be the beginning of the real work in Kirklees. “We want the 16 young people involved so far to have a realistic, positive experience of the review process,” she says. “Then we are hoping to involve those young people in spreading the word to the 380 other young people in care across the council. This will extend the project way beyond its original lifecycle. But that’s the only way to achieve cultural change.”
Griffin expects each of the seven councils involved in Blueprint in Practice to have such an action plan in place by the autumn, which Voice will then revisit to measure the project’s long-term impact on children’s experience of the care system.
“If, in six months’ time, we go back and find that reviews are still being conducted in the Blueprint way, or social workers are still being trained to be child-centred, we know it is working,” says Griffin. Voice is also planning to set up a discussion forum on the Alliance for Child-Centred Care’s website to allow people to share documents about good practice on involvement.
Thankfully, the small number of councils signed up by the charity in spring 2006 to take part in Blueprint in Practice is more of a reflection of the size of the charity and its reliance on charitable grants for this work than of a lack of interest among local authorities.
However, no survey has been carried out to see just how many of the other 143 children’s services departments in England are implementing the lessons of the original Blueprint off their own back.
In spite of Voice’s best efforts locally, calls from children in care to Voice’s advocacy service suggest there is still much to be done to ensure progress on participation and child-centred work on a national level.
The Original Blueprint (back to top)
Key messages for change:
●Put children’s interests first.
● Recognise the importance of children’s relationships with family, friends and professionals.
● Actively involve children and young people in decisions about their own lives.
● Minimise bureaucratic processes to free professionals to spend more time working directly with children.
Summary of Local Projects’ Key Aims (back to top)
● Derbyshire: to improve the daily life of children in residential care.
● Greenwich: to act on what young people say makes a good children’s professional.
● Kirklees: to increase attendance by young people at their review meetings.
● Leeds: to create a culture of participation across services for looked-after children, including in the recruitment of staff.
● Southampton: to improve placement stability.
● Swindon: to ensure care leavers are heard by their corporate parents and have equal access to mainstream youth services.
● Wandsworth: to seek the views of young people, carers and professionals on the role special guardianship might play in providing permanence, including training young people in peer research skills.
Blueprint in Practice
The Child Minder blog (The Child Minder examines policies, decisions and events affecting the lives of the UK’s most vulnerable children)
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This article appeared in the 12 July issue under the headline “Children make their mark”