Mixed blessings

Diary of a Children’s Fund manager.

We set up a development day for newer services to share ideas,
information and look at outcomes and monitoring. As a starter for
10 we ask them how they knew what they were doing was making a
difference. Much shuffling and unease follows. “It’s not a
trick question” I say, but nobody is keen to come forward.

Years ago I was part of some early Quality Protects roadshows to
try to get social work staff thinking about the link between the
different and often extra paperwork involved and better life
chances for children in care.

Many were struggling to make the link between the reasons for
monitoring things like attendance and performance at school and how
this could be used to make the lives of looked-after children
better. Today there is understanding and acceptance of the need to
do this but it has taken time.

By mid-morning coffee break at the Children’s Fund event
the mostly voluntary organisation workers have that look of people
coming out of a cinema after a lunchtime film – blinking, giddy and
baffled by what an hour ago were familiar surroundings. Before
coffee I

suspected quite a few would be behaving less politely if we were
not funding them. Then the caffeine kicks in and straight after the
break someone declares: “It seems to me that the only way we can
show you the impact we make is by asking hundreds of questions and
filling in loads of bloody forms.” Some people are close to

Things improve after lunch – mostly due to a presentation from a
small voluntary group that has introduced a simple assessment and
review system. People can relate to this and begin to see the link
between doing, monitoring and outcomes.

Small group work follows. One group describes a family where
their intervention has led to better attendance at school, and mum
says she feels better about the kids and herself. Not only that,
the strong link between the school and the family service meant the
family was fast tracked to some extra help. This sort of progress
should not be lost, we just need to find simple ways of capturing
it. The day ends well.

I tell my friend about the day. I think he’s winding me up
but he tells me about a game of “speed bingo” in an old
people’s home. Speed bingo, he says, is the method used in
the home to judge the improvements in dexterity and alertness of
the regular players. They play this double speed game once a month
and chart the changes in finish times. The dabber action can
apparently get pretty frantic.

For a second I can see the sense in speed bingo. Then I make a
note to contact the evaluation team to talk about outcome
monitoring and human rights. Cheers.

Connexions case notes

As with most of my clients, Lisa wanted some support, but she
was not sure what that would be. Lisa is 18 and referred herself to
me eight months ago. She is in her second year of studying A-levels
and lives alone in a privately shared house. When I first met Lisa
she seemed very quiet and did not speak very openly.

As adults we are always testing each other to see who we can
trust and learn from, this is also the case for young people. As a
personal adviser, I do not have many restrictions on time spent
with a young person. Having the freedom to work in this way enables
me to use time to build a rapport with my clients. Lisa and I
decided to meet on a weekly basis for one hour.

Over time, Lisa began to trust me and would tell me how other
professionals would sometimes not do what they said they were going
to do. Many young people have a lack of belief in the system and so
it can take time to rebuild their trust in it and in me as a

Lisa had several issues that she could see no way of resolving.
She had been living alone for a year after her father was sent to
prison. Her mother had died when she was younger. She said she had
been fending for herself ever since, prostituting to help pay the
rent. Dealing with delicate situations such as this requires me to
establish the boundaries of my role. Lisa agreed to a referral to a
sexual health counsellor who aims to raise her self-esteem and help
her understand relationship issues better, and she began attending
on a regular basis.

We still felt it was vital for her to continue our sessions.
Working together we were able to prioritise what could be changed
to help her in the immediate future. We decided to apply for
support from the council to get her rehoused immediately in a home
where the rent was lower.

Lisa was nervous about talking to another professional about her
personal life. She wanted me there to support her so we met at the
housing department at 9am, collected a ticket and waited for our
number to be called. But things are never simple. She was too old
and she didn’t have the right documents, so we were turned
away. Back to the drawing board…

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