In February 2004, national charity for children in care Voice published the findings of its 18-month Blueprint project into how the care system could be changed to make things better for looked-after young people.
Supported by the National Children’s Bureau, a small team within Voice worked closely with eight local authorities and, having concluded that working in partnership with children was the only way to make lasting improvements to services, came up with four over-arching ideas 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 lives
- Minimise bureaucratic processes to free professionals to spend more time working directly with children
Phase two of Blueprint began last year. Known as Blueprint in Practice, it involves seven local authorities building on the lessons learned in phase one, each concentrating on a different element of the care system.
Here, we hear from three of the councils involved:
Service group manager for looked-after children
“I think we got involved with Blueprint at a point at which we were developing participation work anyway. It hasn’t given us anything magic. That’s not what it’s about. It’s about the whole embedding process.
“I guess we were a little behind, although we have had a rights and participation worker for some years. Blueprint has helped us look at what we need to do, and to work alongside our colleagues, particularly in health and education. It has highlighted to everybody the importance of the issues around participation. I don’t think it would have happened quite so quickly and people wouldn’t have been quite so interested otherwise.
“In May, we organised ‘The Care Factor’, a conference which brought together teenagers in care, senior staff, members, and other professionals to talk about what makes a good professional – be it a carer, teacher, nurse, social worker – as far as the young people are concerned. We are giving the Blueprint consultant some feedback on the day, which we will feed into the renewed action plan.
“I think a lot of the work is down to cultural change. I don’t think we need huge resources. It is about embedding it in the culture; about looking at where we do have good participation already, and making it better and more meaningful. It is about learning from what the young people say, and actually doing something about it.”
Project and research manager
“People have tended to think they have to dream up some complex new project, but it might actually be quite simple. We have got different residential units looking at different things. One unit is drawing up standards for homes, and the young people are drawing up their own standards for staff. Another unit is looking at restorative justice. Another wants to develop a story-telling approach for younger children. So we are seeing different responses to meet their own circumstances. We need to look at what is it we have done that we have enjoyed that we can make sustainable.
“It is early days for the Blueprint work in Derbyshire after a delayed start, but I am hoping the work of the individual homes will not be seen as discrete pieces of work. I do think we will get something out of it. But whether it’s sustainable or not is a different matter. We are hoping it will be. We need to make sure senior managers are involved.
“I like to think being part of Blueprint in Practice is adding value in terms of keeping a focus on it. It is easy to take your eye off the ball around child participation. Blueprint helps us remember what we are all about in terms of child-centred care. However, it is just part of the process, not the process itself.
“The fact that the council had to provide match-funding has helped raise the project’s profile too, as senior managers want regular feedback on their investment.”
Service manager in performance management
“Blueprint in Practice was a very good function for getting children in care to participate in meaningful bits of work. We weren’t running participation groups for the sake of it; it was the beginning of us getting them involved with things that really changed their lives.
“The work now in Southampton is about getting children in care to talk about placement breakdowns and what can be done to prevent them from happening. In the past, we have asked the carers. But we have never asked the children. This has really focused our minds. I can’t imagine doing any future project now without starting with what the children say.
“At the moment, it is only really me leading on Blueprint in Practice. But more and more people are getting on board. I don’t think we could have told people what to do. But as we have moved through the project, people have asked to come along to our meetings, which are much bigger now than at the beginning.
“I also keep the council’s corporate parenting group informed about the project. I have learnt as a manager that you seed ideas, and then these will be reported in various places. I don’t think it will be a quick process though.
“We have looked at what the children have told us in various fora. They want someone to talk to; someone to explain to them why they came into care. I know that, because we keep raising this, our head of service is continually saying ‘How can we make CAMH services more accessible to children in care? How can we provide more therapeutic input to children in care?’ So it is having an impact.
“Without Blueprint, I don’t think the issue of participation would have had the same prominence. Although I had had this thought in my head for a long time, this was a way of giving it a focus, with the support of Voice and our consultant. It helped focus our minds and meant we had to do something about it. And it helped us to focus on one area – placement stability. I don’t think I would have done that if I hadn’t had the Blueprint project.”
- For more information on Blueprint, go to www.voiceyp.org/ngen_public/default.asp?id=44
- For more information on Blueprint in Practice, go to www.childcentred.org/page.php?pageid=blueprint