Keepers of the keys

About 60,000 young people in the UK are more likely to have
reduced life chances than their peers simply because they have one
thing in common: they’ve been taken into care. The government’s
Quality Protects programme sought to tackle this, requiring, for
example, that looked-after children should gain maximum life chance
benefits from educational opportunities, health and social

Local authorities have responded by creating corporate parenting
teams. One was set up in 2001 in Leicestershire, where 350 young
people are in care. “Our overall remit is to increase the life
chances of looked-after children,” says team manager Fee Scott. The
team does this through several schemes. These include one to
provide IT equipment to care leavers and foster carers to support
educational work, one to fund driving lessons and tests for
17-year-old care leavers and one to organise the annual achievement
award ceremonies. As the county council is not responsible for all
the services, the team has partnerships with district and borough
councils, particularly on making leisure facilities available to
young people and carers.

However, Scott was aware that one ingredient was missing from the
service. “Although we were quite a new team, we weren’t directly
involving young people in any of our activities,” she says. “We
thought about setting up a consultation group but wanted something
more specific.”

It seemed that the budget set aside to support young people in
individual activities could be something that young people
themselves could manage.

Scott says: “Fostering allowances are in place to pay for the
basics but don’t normally run to expensive lessons or equipment,
making it more likely that children might miss out on finding and
developing their talents. This money is a top-up to help young
people to either really get involved in something they are
interested in so they can go all the way with it, or just to try
things out.

“Managing this budget seemed something young people could get their
heads around. We got a small group together, worked with them and
developed guidelines and criteria – and since last October they
have been meeting fortnightly.”

The group calls itself the Corpor8 Crew. One member, 17-year-old
Kim Pearson,* says: “It’s nice to work alongside the corporate
parenting team instead of seeing it as part of a dictatorship. We
get listened to and consulted on things.”

Martin Walker,* 17, says: “It’s nice to know that you can make a
difference to other people’s lives and help them achieve their

And they are making a great difference: to date they have assessed
57 applications and agreed more than £6,000 to fund, for
example, flute lessons, football workshops, diving equipment,
riding lessons and equipment and musical instruments.

Scott says: “The young people are fantastic about making decisions.
Whenever they get the paperwork they are always looking at what is
this person going to get out of it? Will their confidence or
self-esteem be improved? They always ask themselves, ‘Is it someone
else’s responsibility to pay for this?’, ‘Could this be done any
cheaper?’ and ‘Can we afford it?’.”

Surrendering responsibility to young people inevitably throws up
some challenges. Josie Bevin-Nicholls, one of the corporate
parenting team’s development workers who also facilitates the
group, recalls telling one of the young people to “be quiet” when a
guest was addressing them all. “I’d never have spoken to one of my
adult colleagues like that and that made me start to consider the
power dynamics much more,” she says.

However, for 17-year-old Daniel Knight* it’s “the power we use to
contribute to great accomplishments for young people” that makes it
worthwhile. He says: “I think it’s fair to say that when you have
made a positive contribution and when you are part of great
achievements, you feel a great sense of pride.” Indeed, it’s the
sort of statement social workers use all the time.

* The names have been changed.



  • Paying the young people for their time is crucial if they are
    to feel properly valued.
  • Meetings need to happen at times which suit young people –
    early evening meetings after school.
  • Passing on feedback from young people or carers that comes into
    the office gives a greater sense of what they are achieving.
  • Adults have to be prepared to accept decisions they might not
    make themselves. 
  • Time needs to be put aside to address difficult issues of group

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