Leicester’s fresh produce

How is the Children’s Fund supporting projects on the
ground? Kate Coxon visits Leicester where the fund has been running
for three years, and witnesses a high degree of partnership

Start A Fresh is one of 50 projects in the Leicester area
supported by the Leicester Children’s Fund. Leicester was
among the first programmes to get off the ground following the
national programme’s launch in 2000.

This is how it works, in the words of one child who has used the
service. “When I was in year seven I was missing out on a lot of my
education and I was being bullied and never wanted to come to
school. I joined Start A Fresh and got to meet new people and make
friends. I was in Start A Fresh full time for two weeks and then
gradually we were back into school. A learning mentor helped me for
two weeks after the programme and I am now in the support group
giving circle time and group work activities to new Start A Fresh
students. I am also a leader in the friends against bullying club

Like Start A Fresh, the focus of the Children’s Fund is on
prevention – it aims to address the gap in preventive services for
5-13 year olds and their families by providing more and better
co-ordinated support before they reach crisis point.

In Leicester Children’s Fund, the same voluntary body –
NCH – is both the lead agency and the body accountable for how the
money is spent. Judy Hardman, programme manager for Leicester
Children’s Fund, explains: “It is unusual for a voluntary
organisation to hold both roles, but this has advantages. The
Children’s Fund is supposed to develop the role of the
voluntary sector, and with NCH as lead agency it puts the voluntary
sector right in the strategic planning arena.”

It can also speed things up: negotiations between the lead
agency and accountable body can often take up a lot of time and
with one organisation occupying both positions, this is kept to a
minimum. The Leicester Children’s Planning Partnership which
drew up the initial delivery plan had a good relationship with
local voluntary sector organisations. It was also committed to
developing community capacity and providing a mixed economy of
services, says Hardman.

Meanwhile, social services departments were aware that families
from ethnic minorities were not taking up statutory support
services and it was felt that running the whole Children’s
Fund as a voluntary project might make it more accessible to
excluded groups.

The Children’s Fund steering group oversees how the fund
operates and reports to the Leicester Children’s Strategic
Partnership, which plans all children’s services in
Leicester. The fund has tried to engage local children and parents
in running the programme, involving children in selecting staff and
in creating a special website and a children’s room at the
Children’s Fund offices, and inviting parents to join the
steering group itself.

Providing opportunities for networking and sharing information
and good practice can be harder for Children’s Funds than for
Sure Start programmes, where workers operate within a smaller
geographical area out of a centre. “We’ve developed good
practice forums for different practice areas. For example, there
may be several projects working with children who are excluded from
school, or projects using learning mentors and we want them to be
aware of each other,” says Ian Hall, information and communications
officer. Monitoring officer Sarah Read has just completed a review
of all 50 projects supported by the Leicester Children’s
Fund. “Rather than just asking them to tick boxes and supply
numbers we wanted feedback from the projects on how they were
meeting the Children’s Fund’s objectives and the
problems they were facing. Projects often don’t know how to
collect their own feedback, and so we support them through this

Shifts in national policy about what the fund should be doing
locally have made life difficult for those on the ground. “One of
the biggest challenges of being a new programme which has been
introduced quickly is that often it feels as though the rules are
being made up and amended as you go along. Procedures for
accounting for funding can change from day to day and it is hard to
go back to projects and tell them that the rules have changed, and
that we need different evidence now,” says Hardman.

She adds that one change that will present particular
difficulties is the decision, announced in the 2002 spending
review, to direct 25 per cent of the Children’s Fund towards
services that prevent youth crime. “We had to choose services from
a very restricted menu provided by the Youth Justice Board – this
means that many existing services which may well be preventive but
which aren’t on the list may have to be cut. It’s a
large chunk of our budget and it will be a challenge to meet these
requirements within the timescale.”

On the positive side, a change which has brought a sigh of
relief in Leicester is the proposal from the Children and Young
People’s Unit to transfer the development of identification,
referral and tracking systems for vulnerable children from local
Children’s Fund programmes to councils. Children’s
Funds are a major backer of preventive services but they are not in
direct contact with all vulnerable children.

Local services destined to lose their Children’s Fund
money because of the government’s decision to divert a
quarter of the fund into youth justice are already searching for
alternative sources of funding, and others will be hoping local
government and health bodies will pick up their bill after 2006 –
the date when the government’s commitment to the
Children’s Fund ceases. The Leicester programme hopes that by
proving the preventive approach is better for families and cheaper
than crisis intervention, it will gain long-term funding.

Start A Fresh

This project aims to give students a positive experience of
school to build on and to tackle the difficulties of starting in a
new setting. The three-week rolling programme takes place every
four weeks and students attend once – parents are then expected to
support the scheme. The programme is aimed at key stage 3 and five
groups identified for support are: children new to the area/school;
students transferred from another school, those with non-attendance
issues; those in transition from primary to secondary school and
year 7 children who are still having problems settling in. Students
progress gradually from sessions in a mobile classroom into
mainstream school, and once there can be tracked by a learning

Children’s Fund facts

  • Launched in 2000, the £450m Children’s Fund is being
    developed and implemented by the Children and Young People’s
    Unit (CYPU).
  • Leicester Children’s Fund has been allocated a three-year
    funding total of £4.8m until March 2004.
  • There is no funding guaranteed beyond 2006.

Offending and learning

Twenty-five per cent of the Children’s Fund is dedicated
to programmes jointly agreed with Leicester Youth Offending Team.
For example, the Leicester programme supports Life Education
Centres. This drug prevention education charity uses a hi-tech,
mobile multimedia classroom environment and trained educators to
stimulate children to learn about themselves and how their bodies
function. Children are able to talk about how legal and illegal
substances can harm them, and so enable them to make positive
health choices about their future. The unit aims to reach up to
12,500 children and young people each year in school and community

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