14 / CORPORATE SERVICES
"It's tiring, very tiring. The biggest drawback is I don't drive. When my girls were going to school they walked there and back. But my grandson attends a city centre primary and we didn't want to change that, so we've kept him there. But it means we have to leave at twenty past eight in the morning for the bus into town. I work in a canteen in another school, so I drop him off and pick him up later. It means I get school holidays. When he's off school, I'm off.
"He is not entitled to bus fares or free school dinners. We get a kinship carer's allowance of £35 a week which covers bus fares and lunches. And we get his family allowance which works out to £70 a month. That buys clothes for the winter and holiday time.
"She [the child's mother] realises her [alcohol] problem and is getting medical care for it. There was never any option that her son would go into care. We are his family, he is one of our own, so we just took it on board.
"I actually have more time to spend with him than I had with my own girls growing up. When you are a bit older you have patience and are wiser second time around as a parent.
"The social work's kinship carers group arranges short breaks at the caravan. We have a meeting once a month. It's all families who are looking after someone who belongs to them.
"At Christmas my grandson received a laptop computer from the group. That should help his school work."
Margaret Fairburn, Kinship Carer, Inverclyde.
As corporate parents, local authorities have a challenging role, and acting like good parents and being aware of the needs of their children and young people must be a key priority. In discharging their corporate parent responsibilities, they need to put and keep the needs of the child or young person at the centre of everything they do.
"Looking back, I think one of the high points was getting into university, and having all the help I needed through social work funding. Also my foster carers were there for emotional support. I went into halls of residence during my degree course." (Cheryl)
Those of us working in the central services such as finance or human resources may feel more removed from the corporate parent role; if you don't deliver frontline services to children and young people how can you be a good corporate parent? But your work impacts directly on the experience that Looked After children and young people and care leavers receive. It is also the area in which systems and procedures, generally in place for sound reasons, can feel the most bureaucratic and obstructive, leading to the call for "less of the corporate and more of the parenting".
Robust financial procedures are required for audit purposes and to reassure council taxpayers that their money is being spent appropriately. However, central purchasing systems and bulk-buying do not readily provide flexibility, nor do they allow children and young people to learn about how households buy their supplies. Most families do not have time-consuming hierarchies of authorisation for even quite small amounts of expenditure, to enable, for example, a mobile phone to be topped up or transport to be arranged. The challenge for financial managers is to make sure sound financial management while at the same time making sure that children and young people are not disadvantaged or isolated from their peers by bureaucracy.
Disputes between agencies, or even within one organisation, about who pays for what can lead to children not receiving important services, such as specialist health care or support for learning. These services may be essential to ensuring a placement is successful or sustained, and without them the child's problems can escalate. It is therefore essential to being a successful corporate family that timely decisions are taken which are seamless to the child, young person or carer. There are circumstances where decisions will have to be made quickly and unexpectedly, and this is already traumatic enough for the child or young person without adding in another factor. This is particularly important in relation to out of authority placements.
You will want to:
- Consider whether carers have sufficiently delegated authority to meet day to day costs, and flexibility to make spending decisions in the way that a parent would, while maintaining sound financial management and control.
- Make sure that unnecessary bureaucracy does not get in the way of giving young people a Looked After experience which is as close to being in a family as it can be.
- Make sure that your financial regulations make provision for you to be able to address immediate and unexpected events.
- Promote a "spend to save" approach that support early intervention as a way not only to improve outcomes for children and young people, but prevent higher tariff, more costly, intervention being necessary later in the young person's life.
- Make sure that your staff understand the implications of their actions for children and young people, and are aware of their particular responsibilities as corporate parents.
PURCHASING AND COMMISSIONING
Increasingly, councils and NHS boards purchase services from the independent sector both within their own local area and outwith. This brings with it many challenges, not the least of which is the need to secure Best Value. It is essential that purchasers and providers alike demonstrate best value and consider what option is best for the child. The Getting It Right For Every Child model promotes professionals working together continuously to make sure that services meet the needs of the child at the time those needs are identified and are reviewed regularly to recognise where changing needs require changing solutions.
Purchased services could be care placements, educational placements or specific specialist inputs such as therapeutic interventions or models of support to address, for example, risk-taking behaviour. There are particular issues when a child is placed outwith their own local authority and a long way from home. As well as emotional challenges out of authority placements can bring administrative challenges such as who pays for services.
In drawing up specifications and contracts, it is important to remember that children and young people have feelings, hopes and fears. When the needs of the child or young person have been identified and agreed, a specification for what service would best meet those needs should be drawn up. This should include not only their educational or physical accommodation needs, but their health needs, their hobbies and interests, their family ties, their cultural background including religion or language needs. It is likely that a single provider will not be able to meet all of the child or young person's needs, and a package will need to be put together. This should be the best option for the child or young person, not the provider who happens to have a place on the day.
In these circumstances, it is even more important that the corporate parent behaves like a parent. That is, the child should not be placed and forgotten about; proper consideration must be given to health needs, financial support, long-term planning, return to community, links with family, ongoing support, work with the family while the child is away.
You will want to:
- Make sure that the needs of the child are paramount.
- Undertake careful preparation and planning.
- Consider support for the child and the family while the child is placed outwith the local community.
- Consider what support will be needed to enable a successful return.
- Make sure effective communication between agencies or services.
- Put in place effective contract management and administration/monitoring.
- Consider developing global contracts which can be adjusted to suit individual circumstances.
- Make sure that systems are in place to ensure that care leavers receive any payments regularly.
There are complex financial arrangements pertaining to out of authority placements and it is important that these are resolved before the child is placed. Interagency protocols which cover a general principle or a cohort of children should be the norm, but there will be times when a specific resource is needed for an individual child. Disagreements about funding should not get in the way of a child or a carer receiving a service when they need it. For example, it is not acceptable for a child to be denied educational support because there is a dispute about who should pay. Any delay will have an adverse affect on the child, and can lead to placement breakdown. It is essential that information is shared in advance of the child being placed in the specialist provision so that receiving services know who the child is and what their needs are, or that an urgent assessment is necessary.
The HR function also has a key contribution to make to the corporate parent function. The challenge is to think of innovative ways to engage in improving outcomes for Looked After children and young people, through good personnel practice, sound leadership and management, forward-thinking organisational development and realising the potential of councils as employers.
Councils are often the largest employer in a local area with a wider range of jobs than any other organisation in either the public or the private sector. Councils should be able to offer Looked After children and young people and care leavers support into employment, whether this be in terms of work experience or building capacity such as preparing job applications or interview skills. It could also be through reserving a number of apprenticeships or training placements for their care leavers, sometimes referred to as "the family firm" concept. This is not to suggest preferential treatment, but rather to fully utilise the potential to expose young people who are Looked After to the range of employment options which are available to them and the skills they need to take them up. What other parent has access to such a range of jobs - administrative work, caring, finance, sport, education and childcare, engineering and trades, to name but a few? Some councils even have theatres and art galleries, harbours or ski slopes. When we broaden this out to encompass the whole corporate family, there are even more options.
When providing support to young people in accessing employment, it is important to preserve their privacy and keep the experience as "normal" as possible. Information about a young person's background should only be shared where absolutely necessary and staff should have a good understanding of how that information should be used.
Care leavers consistently report being discriminated against when applying for jobs. Thinking around equalities has moved on considerably since the 1980s in favour of a generic approach to tackling disadvantage, although some groups remain protected in law. Where there are groups of people locally who experience persistent disadvantage, you should take action to addressing that. For example, care leavers may need additional support when they first start working in the same way that other disadvantaged groups do.
HR managers must work with operational managers to make sure that staff are confident and competent, ensuring that training and development needs are identified and met, promoting the registration of residential staff with the SSSC, and ensuring that job descriptions, person specifications and reward packages recognise the valuable contribution that staff dealing with Looked After children and young people, and care leavers, across all services make, as well as ensuring that recruitment processes for all staff working with Looked After children and young people and care leavers (not just those in residential childcare) are robust.
Corporate parenting is only one area where better working across services is essential to delivering excellence. How structures are designed impacts on how services are managed and how individuals operate in their posts. Taking an outcomes-based approach focusing on the needs of the service user will help to achieve a structure that delivers effectively.
Promoting a culture of aspiration and inclusion is a key role for managers at all levels. Being aspirational for children is more likely to follow if managers and elected members are aspirational on behalf of their services and their employees, therefore your leadership and management development programmes should reinforce this message.
Effective performance management based on robust self-evaluation and reliable data is crucial to ensuring continuous improvement. This could be managing the performance of services or of individuals.
You will want to:
- Consider offering work placements to all Looked After young people or employment opportunities such as apprenticeships or summer jobs to care leavers.
- Consider what can be done corporately to support Looked After young people and care leavers in applying for jobs and attending interviews.
- Consider whether care leavers experience discrimination in council recruitment processes.
- Consider including in equalities statements and policies a commitment not to discriminate against care leavers.
- Make sure that staff understand their responsibilities as corporate parents and have access to training and CPD activity which reinforces and refreshes their knowledge and skills.
- Have in place robust but proportionate recruitment and selection procedures. Care leavers may have been involved in offending behaviour in the past and it is important that employers make sure that their use of Disclosure information is proportionate and considered.
- Make sure that all relevant staff are registered with the Scottish Social Services Council and fully understand the Codes of Practice.
- Consider including corporate parenting in performance appraisals for senior managers.
- Embed a culture of aspiration in leadership development programmes, and include awareness raising of the corporate parent role.
- Make sure that organisational structures facilitate joined-up working.
- Make sure that staff working with Looked After children and young people and care leavers are aspirational, confident and competent, and properly supported and rewarded.
Other corporate functions also have a role a corporate parents - for example, does your IT system enable Looked After children and young people to communicate with their friends through social networking sites? Are they able to access the internet to support them with their homework?
Much of our corporate activity is designed to assess, minimise and manage risk. Whether this is through robust financial or human resource procedures, health and safety functions or planning and evaluation of services, it is critically important in relation to Looked After children and young people and care leavers - any risk to children is of significance and it essential that councils make sure the safety of the children and young people in their care. As well as the risk to children, councils and their community planning partners must manage financial risk and risk to reputation.
It is little wonder then that public services can seem risk-averse. However, it is an important part of growing up for children and young people to learn how to take risks, how to take responsibility for themselves and their behaviour and we must be careful not to deny them that opportunity through risk-averse behaviours.
Professionals working with children, and particularly senior managers must strike a balance between protection and preventing young people developing essential life skills.
You will want to:
- Make sure that as they grow older Looked After young people are able to experience risk and learn how to manage it; for example learning how to cook, travel independently or stay with friends.
- Recognise that Looked After children and young people will be more likely than their peers to indulge in risk-taking behaviour and build into their care and education activity to help them to address this.
- Make sure that your procedures are proportionate and allow children and young people to live as "normal" lives as possible.
- Make sure that your procedures are developed in consultation with young people and carers so that they understand the reasons for them and continually review and up-date procedures and practice to make sure that young people's needs are met on an ongoing basis.
- Make sure that carers are kept up-to-date with current policies and practice, and that they involve the young people in their care in decisions around their day-to-day activities.
HOW WILL I KNOW I'VE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
- When your financial procedures allow carers to take responsibility for day to day expenditure for children in their care.
- When decisions around Looked After children and young people and care leavers are made promptly.
- When children's education and care placements are not adversely affected by financial disputes.
- When you find a new pool of potential recruits amongst care leavers, not only will you have made a difference to the lives of young people but you will have benefited the organisation too.
- When your care leavers are more ready for work as a result of work experience and other support they have received from you or your community planning partners.
- When you do not discriminate against care leavers in your recruitment practices, and proactively seek to address the disadvantage experienced by care leavers.
- When your staff are competent, confident professionals who understand and accept the contribution they make to the corporate family, and are valued for it.
- When you assess and manage risk in a way which is proportionate and genuinely takes account of the views of children and young people.