Centres of attention

“Things tend to go well for a few weeks and then get messed up.
But professionals tend to overreact,” says Hamid.* “I mean, it’s
just a problem.” Hamid is a young person trying to manage in
independent accommodation after leaving care. He is also one of the
400 young people who contributed to an 18-month investigation, the
Blueprint project, on making the care system more child

Blueprint consists of a small team within Voice for the Child in
Care (VCC), supported by the National Children’s Bureau (NCB). In
the 12 months since its creation, the team has sought the opinions
of young people who are looked after, and of the adults who work
with them, including practitioners, researchers, policy makers,
managers and voluntary agencies. The project’s findings are being
launched at a conference today (19 February) in a report Start
with the Child, Stay with the Child

The fundamental principle of the project has been to work in
partnership with children and young people. A residential
conference for a mixed group of adults and young people was a
showcase for this partnership model. One practitioner said: “This
conference has reminded me that there is nothing I find more
powerful than working alongside a group of young people in care. It
has given new meaning and inspiration to my own work.”

The Blueprint team did not only ask children and young people in
care about what was going right or wrong for them, they worked
together with adults in thinking through different approaches.
Various methods have been used to find out what people think should
change. These include:

  • Holding seminars for mixed groups of professionals.
  • Organising fun events for young people.
  • Training young people to interview other children.
  • Using research material.
  • Working directly with staff and young people in local

Four main messages emerged.

The first – that those involved in providing care should focus on
the child in everything they do – might seem obvious. But staff at
all levels were keen to point out just how far children can seem
from the day-to-day business of social services departments.

As one professional says: “The worst thing about this job is that
you don’t get enough time to spend with children. The time is taken
up with filling in forms, paperwork and meetings about things that
sometimes seem a long way from direct service to children. The best
thing is when you know you have made a difference to a child’s

Second, promoting good relationships with family, friends and
professionals is vital for children’s well-being. Children and
young people spoke about their families and friends and about how
they would like to have one person who is there for them throughout
their time in care.

They wanted to feel cared-for, liked and special, but were unsure
where this should come from – their social worker, their foster
carer, their residential worker, or someone else entirely? They
wanted to have a relationship with someone who was not paid to be
there, but who could still have a guiding role. This would be
someone who could help them understand the system – “someone to
educate you about the world”, as one young person put it, someone
who was committed to them for who they were.

But it is not straightforward. One senior manager told the project:
“If I had to say just one thing that would make a huge improvement
on what we’ve got now, I would say that it should be that we
provide one constant person for every child in care. And then you
look at what we’ve created and you find it’s the thing we
consistently fail to provide.”

The creation of children’s trusts will provide opportunities for
new structures and new possibilities for a more stable workforce.
This report is recommending that young people’s priorities should
determine those structures.

The third message is that children and young people “can do it”.
They are competent and have the capability to work in partnership
with adults. The report recommends that children and young people
should be more involved in decisions about their lives.

The issue of case reviews was raised over and again by young
people. Children and young people were aware of the significance of
these meetings, but many found them “alienating”, “uncomfortable”,
“negative” and “boring”. They felt they were not involved in the
conversation – that it goes on around them and is about them but
does not engage them. They spoke of being talked about in a
negative way, hearing things they were unprepared for, from people
who they had previously trusted. “We want to change the way reviews
are done. I mean, it’s your home, you don’t want a load of random
strangers sitting in your front room.”

The Blueprint proposals include a menu approach to decision-making
which would offer children and young people a choice of how they
would like their care plan to be reviewed. They could have a
meeting, a series of individual meetings with key people, a
planning partner, an interactive CD, a chat room, or use drama, art
or story telling, for example.

The report suggests partnership working between young people and
adults could be more radical. Participation of young people is
already happening in some areas, such as recruitment of staff or
meetings with councillors. More exciting ventures are suggested,
such as employing teams of young people who have left care to work
for child care agencies – helping to resolve complaints, helping in
foster care assessments or taking on a mentoring role.

Finally, the report recommends that there could be a better balance
between direct work with children and all the other activities
which staff undertake. Among practitioners and young people there
is a strong feeling that the bureaucratic processes take too much
prominence and that filling in forms, meetings, recording and so on
take up too much time. Children and young people want to spend more
time with their social workers, and social workers want to spend
more time working with children. As one young person says: “I would
have liked them to sit down with me and have a conversation for
more than 15 minutes. Instead of telling me what they were going to
do with my life, find out a bit more about me.”

The proposals in the report will be taken forward by VCC and NCB.
They aim to engage key people in the child care sector in building
a network of people and agencies who want to find new ways of
working with young people in promoting a child-centred approach to

*Not his real name

Clare Chamberlain is project co-ordinator for the
Blueprint Project. Start with the Child, Stay with the
is available from Voice for the Child in Care. Tel: 020
7833 5792; e-mail


Key points

  • We have to focus on the child in everything we do, putting
    their needs and interests ahead of those agencies involved and the
    adults around them.
  • The relationships children have are central to their
    well-being. Promoting good relationships with family, friends and
    professionals must be a priority.
  • Children and young people are competent. They have the
    capability to work in partnership with adults. The active
    involvement of children and young people in decisions about their
    lives, and at a collective level, makes a difference and is
    fundamental to a child-centred approach.
  • We need to create a better balance between working directly
    with children and all the other tasks which support this central
    activity. The bureaucratic processes that have become associated
    with the care system have to be minimised and adapted if we are to
    serve children as individuals and promote their sense of

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.