13 January 2022

Taking forward 'The Promise' in Aberdeenshire in 2022

As 2022 gets into full swing, Children’s Services colleagues in Aberdeenshire are committed to highlighting the asks of ‘The Promise’ and what teams are doing to support care experienced children and young people locally.

They provided a series of updates in the form of annual reports to councillors towards the end of last year. The asks of The Promise are weaved throughout all reports, with team members carefully shaping their planning against what young people themselves have said are the priorities.

This will go one step further when Aberdeenshire Council embarks on the Bright Spots Programme later this month. Colleagues will be working alongside Coram Voice and CELCIS (Centre for Excellence for Children’s Care and Protection) to listen to children in care in Aberdeenshire and the area’s care leavers to influence service development and strategic thinking.

The local authority’s Corporate Parenting Plan Annual Report presents the progress made alongside partners to work collaboratively to improve outcomes for care experienced young people.

Head of Children’s Services, Leigh Jolly explains: “Being a good corporate parent means the Council embraces the responsibility for Aberdeenshire’s care experienced young people, makes their needs a priority, and seeks the same outcomes for them as any good parent would want for their own children. This involves all staff, councillors, volunteers and many partner organisations too, all striving to do that bit extra to support care experienced young people.

“Part of that is about being trauma-informed, and by listening to care experienced young people we can work together to co-design services and support that enables our care experienced young people to feel valued, nurtured, loved and to flourish and reach their full potential.”
 
The majority of Aberdeenshire’s looked after young people are placed with foster carers or stay with their parents with support from social work and other professionals, or with family or friends. A much smaller number live in children’s homes or other residential care.

In terms of analysing how well things are going at the moment, improving access to housing, health care and education/employment is key to supporting young people as they leave care. Housing Forum Meetings between Children’s Services’ Throughcare and Aftercare team and the Council’s Housing team has allowed for greater forward planning for young people, in order to provide more suitable accommodation outcomes. The expansion of mental health supports is ongoing, including work to embed a trauma-informed and trauma-responsive approach to a range of services.

Ensuring the right interventions are put in place at the right time is also very important. Multi-agency colleagues from the council, police, health and social care are currently trialling a number of new intervention approaches. They are now five months into a three-year Supporting Local Families project, which provides intensive early wrap around support for families. A school nurse is working closely with speech and language therapists, clinical psychologists, early years practitioners and local police to support the families involved.

Holistic Family Support is another intervention pilot project, which is concentrating on improving outcomes for young people who have already experienced crises and who are known to social work colleagues. The aim is to reduce the number of and need for young people coming into care by building trusting relationships with families before any further crises arise. Families can gain from specialist support in anything from financial planning to further education, mental health, employment or managing behaviour.

The MCR Pathways programme is another area of work supporting positive outcomes for care experienced young people. This is where care experienced young people are matched with mentors from a variety of industries and benefit from 1:1 discussion, support and placement opportunities. It’s currently open to care experienced young people at The Gordon Schools, Inverurie Academy, Fraserburgh Academy, Peterhead Academy and Banff Academy, with 100% of mentored young people achieving National 4 Literacy and Numeracy compared with 77.8% of their non-mentored peers.

Children’s Services colleagues have also begun to work with e-Sgoil, Scotland’s e-learning school and in particular benefitting from iSgoil, a programme tailored specifically for ‘interrupted learners’ whose struggles with health or home life mean that attending school has become difficult.

A number of colleagues are also working towards a qualification to become SVQ assessors, so they can help to accredit care experienced young people with awards in core skills.

Aberdeenshire’s Virtual Head Teacher, Emma Allen, says that positive destinations for care experience young people increased from 80.9% to 94% during the academic year 2019/20.

She says: “We’re taking a practical approach to supporting young people in secondary schools to plan trips and experiences for themselves. A number of academies have started groups for care experienced young people and this is working well. Young people tell us that the reason they work is that they can spend time surrounded by peers who have had similar experiences and they all understand how it feels to be care experienced.”

A group member from Mackie Academy adds: “We can share what has happened and how we feel and everyone gets it.”

Colleagues are even going as far as considering how official documentation held about care experienced young people and their families will read in years to come, noting that these are often accessed later down the line as part of a young person’s family history.

Emma adds: “Reports are often a list of things that have gone wrong but care experienced young people tell us they’d like a more strength-based approach to our notes so they have a greater sense of who they were/are later in life.”

Aberdeenshire’s Kinship Care Team is now 11 years old, enabling hundreds of young people to remain with their friends and families – in at times incredibly diverse and complex situations –  rather than having to be placed with foster carers or care homes. They also provide support to informal kinship carers, when a child is not formally ‘looked after’ but families require additional support.

There are more than 200 children and young people supported by kinship care arrangements at any one time in Aberdeenshire, all supported by this small and important team.

Throughcare and Aftercare Team members work to provide advice and support to young people as they approach their 16th birthday and until they are 25. They help with employment, training, education, applying for accommodation, mental and physical health matters, relationship issues, budgeting, developing independent living skills and applying for benefits.

Care experienced young people can benefit from a Council Tax exemption until their 26th birthday which the team can also help with.

Aberdeenshire’s Children’s Homes provide 24/7 residential care for up to 16 young people at any given time. Additionally, the Taizali Supported Accommodation Service provides a place to live for young people who have moved on from being looked after away from home but who require a stepping stone to independent living.

The vast majority of young people who move into Aberdeenshire’s Children’s Homes are between the ages of 12 and 18. They have often experienced adversity and trauma which is then manifested in a range of behaviours which express their experiences, and teams are in place 24/7 to provide a nurturing, supportive environment.

Chair of Aberdeenshire Council’s Education and Children’s Services Committee, Cllr Gillian Owen comments: “I think I speak for all elected members when I say we are incredibly grateful and proud of all Aberdeenshire’s Children’s Services teams, working behind the scenes and going above and beyond to support our care experienced young people.

“The pandemic has shone a light on this, as colleagues have continued to be there and put the needs of young people first while also looking after their own families through lockdowns and struggles. Our Children’s Homes colleagues offer skilful and consistent care and I’m pleased they have been recognised as Very Good by the Care Inspectorate in a range of the ways they are supporting young people.

“A very heartfelt well done to all across Children’s Services and I am very much looking forward to seeing the outcomes of the Bright Spots Project and how we will continue to shape care for children and young people in ways that will make a real difference.”

If you have any questions or concerns for our Children and Families teams, you can find local contact details on our website: https://www.aberdeenshire.gov.uk/social-care-and-health/children-and-families/children-and-families-team-offices/