That Friday feeling.

    The government makes no bones that educational achievement of
    children in care remains far too low. Its 2003 target of 75 per
    cent of young people leaving care with at least one qualification
    proved to be nearly twice as high as reality.

    However, the trouble with such attainment targets is that they fail
    to take into account factors that might affect exam-based
    performance: confidence and self-esteem, for example, both of which
    can be influenced outside a classroom. And that’s where staff in
    Calderdale, West Yorkshire started to look.

    “We know we were very focused on education and needed to look
    outside of that for life chances,” says Sue Steven, service manager
    for the looked-after children’s education (Lace) service.

    The Friday Club was launched as a result of a social work post
    being created in September 2000 and a desire to promote positive
    involvement in leisure activities. It provides young people with a
    chance to take part in evening activities, including swimming and
    theatre trips.

    Robert Glover, senior practitioner social worker, says: “It’s what
    young people want. We’re saying to them, ‘Why don’t you come out on
    Friday night because we’re rock climbing or trampolining. The
    strength of it is that young people come and see that there are
    lots of others in care who are similar to them.”

    Glover’s view is echoed by foster carers Robert and Janet Taylor.
    “It stops them being stuck in and thinking there’s only them in
    that situation, and it’s a chance to make new friends outside
    school,” says Robert Taylor.

    Janet Taylor agrees: “It’s really helped our youngest boy come out
    of himself. He took part in a Stars in their Eyes show. Most of the
    young people sang in twos and threes but he was the only one who
    sang solo. If you had not known him six months earlier you wouldn’t
    have seen the difference it made – and it was the Friday Club that
    did that.”

    The club also serves as a venue for sibling contact. “It’s not
    one-to-one and it’s a lot less pressurised,” says child care
    assistant Damian Reid. “It also encourages positive relationships
    between peers and adults. A good knock-on effect for me is that
    they don’t see me as the social worker-type person but as part of
    leisure.” Indeed, Reid used to work in leisure services, but so
    enjoyed being with looked-after children at the Friday Club that it
    inspired him to move into social care.

    The club has provided paid work for young people too. Glover says:
    “Some of the older ones will help out – put equipment out, lead
    some activities. The younger kids think the older kids are
    cool.”

    Older children, such as Martin Daley,* a regular Friday Club
    worker, appreciate the value. He says: “Some kids live in the
    middle of nowhere so this is their one chance to get out each week.
    I get a lot of job satisfaction.”

    Leisure development officer Pete Richardson says: “It works because
    it’s disciplined, there’s a good mix of girls and boys aged eight
    to 14, and it’s a level playing field for them all. There’s a good
    atmosphere.”

    And he’s right. On the evening we attended the Friday Club –
    trampolining and football, by the way – the young people had a ball
    (and not just one to kick around), as some of their comments
    confirmed: “I like it because we do fun things” (an 11 year old);
    “I love the trips” (eight); “If I didn’t come here, I’d just be
    sitting down watching telly” (nine); “It’s great doing different
    things and meeting my mates” (11); “The staff are all right”
    (13).

    Glover is proud of the relationship Lace has with young people. “If
    they’ve got things to do and have friends they feel better about
    themselves – which means they are more likely to be in school doing
    ok.”

    Although the effective approach of Lace has few frills, it has for
    the young people concerned been one full of thrills.

    * Not his real name

    Lessons learned. 

    • The best advert for looked-after children is the children
      themselves. Senior practitioner social worker Robert Glover says:
      “As an adult it’s very easy to say to young people, ‘Despite your
      problems if you work hard at school things will get better when
      you’re older’. But when they see some of our older young people
      being paid by us, that’s more powerful than a thousand
      words.” 
    • Be bothered about looked-after children. “If they were an hour
      late to school they know that we’d know about it – and although we
      wouldn’t make too big a deal about it, we’d have some banter around
      that which helps them think, ‘Well, all right, someone’s actually
      taking notice of me’,” says Glover.

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