1. A party of six young people aged between 9 and 19 attended the first part of the meeting to talk to the Panel about their experiences of being in care, particularly their experiences of the Lifelong Links project and their involvement with the OCYPC, Super Council and Young Adults Council. They are identified in these minutes by their initials: R (19), J (18), B (16), V (13), RB (10) and RM (9). They were accompanied by Jo Carpenter, VSK School Bursar and Project Officer,Chelsea Goodwin and Sophia Dunstan, VSK Apprentices.
Everyone around the table introduced themselves.
2. Chelsea introduced the session by explaining that the VSK Apprentices had hosted the launch of the Lifelong Links project on Friday 11 May. This project aimed to help children and young people in care up to the age of 16 to make links and find supporters and friends who were happy to help them, for example (but not necessarily) from members of their birth family with whom they might have lost touch or not previously known. The approach could come from either side and the link would continue for as long as the young person wanted it to. The Lifelong Links project had received much good feedback from young people and support workers.
3. B said he had been the first young person to take part in the Lifelong Links project. He said it was a great support for children in care who did not wish, or were not able, to return to their birth families but still wanted to keep contact with some family members. He said the response from the project had had been quick and helpful and that he had been able to direct at all times whom he wanted to contact and whom he did not. The project had been designed to allow optimum input from young people. He had been able to contact his Dad and find a new section of his family tree, thus trebling the size of the family he knew. His Dad’s side of the family had brought him new aunts and uncles, with whom he had now been in touch for the past few months. These new relatives now had a role in his life, alongside his foster family. In the project, the links and commitments being made were set out in writing and agreed by the young person and the other party. B said that the tireless work of the Lifelong Links project team and the support of his foster family had made the project a good experience and a success for him.
4. Chelsea added that many other young people in care could benefit in the same way. The OCYPC had committed to promoting the Lifelong Links project as an excellent way to support children and young people in care, and had presented it at the launch as a Challenge Card. Matt Dunkley had accepted this and would respond shortly. Mr Dunkley added that B had spoken very well at the Lifelong Links project launch event and said that plans to take the project forward would be reported to the Panel, after first being shared with young people for their comments. Chelsea said she thought the Lifelong Links project should be extended to cover young people up to 18, to allow more flexibility for those who may feel ready to seek such links when they were slightly older, and that project could be helpful if a child wanted to trace their family in the future. Mr Dunkley undertook to look into the costs of extending the project to the age of 18.
5. The Chairman asked RB and RM what they would be doing at the Talent showcase in the afternoon of the Panel meeting. RB said she enjoyed Morris dancing.
6. R and J were both in Year 13 at school. R said he had two exams still to take and then planned to work with the VSK Participation team as a new Apprentice, once his DBS checks had gone through. He had spent a while working with the team in the summer of 2017 as a work experience student. J said she had seven exams still to take and then hoped to go to university in Newcastle in the autumn. The Chairman said what good news this was and that more young people in care were now going on to university, whereas, a few years ago, this would have been more unusual. Asked about how she would finance her studies, J said she was as yet unsure of the details but understood Newcastle to have a bursary scheme so felt that she would be OK. Ms Smith explained that the County Council would shortly be embarking on a pilot of a guarantor scheme under which it would stand as guarantor for rental payments of privately-rented or university accommodation for care leavers. Mr Dunkley added that this scheme had grown out of a challenge card raised by the Young Adult Council as a result of feedback from care leavers who had had trouble renting accommodation.
7. Asked about how young people could be helped to find a way of communicating, Chelsea said that the MOMO (Mind Of My Own) app could be used by someone who was not confident of speaking face to face about their feelings and problems. MOMO offered a chance to post views and feelings as and when a young person felt able to and wanted to express them.
8. In response to a question about the number of young people engaging with the VSK participation team, Jo explain that the team was currently working with more than 400 children in care and care leavers, some of whom might find it difficult to engage. The team would always work with as many young people as possible and would always seek to raise the profile of its work.
9. RM said she liked going to the Super Council because she could make new friends there, have fun and build confidence. The group had cakes at their meetings and sometimes baked cakes, which was fun. RB added that she also liked going there to meet new friends and because she did not feel like ‘the odd one out’ there as everyone else was also in care. There was lots to enjoy there, and the people were easy to talk too. RM added that she felt able to trust them. Both agreed that the Super Council was good for children in care who wanted somewhere they could express their feelings and take part in fun activities in the school holidays like other children. In the half-term holiday they had done some baking and been climbing at the Arethusa centre. They learned things from the activities they had done. The activities would vary depending on the season; they had made ‘mud pie’ chocolate puddings for Halloween and decorations for Christmas. The Chairman agreed that this sounded like a very good club to belong to. Sophia advised the Panel that the Super Council, which was for children aged 7 to 11, encouraged children to chat about their views and opinions informally while they were enjoying an activity. Their views would then be reported back to the Panel as part of the verbal update at each meeting.
10. V talked about her involvement with the OCYPC, which was for children aged 11 to 16. She said she had started there at 12, after attending the Super Council with her foster sister, RM. She had been introduced to the MOMO app there, which was an excellent tool for children in care to use to express their views and feelings in a safe and comfortable way. The OCYPC did the same sort of activities as the Super Council but adjusted for a more mature audience. The meetings and activities were attended by fewer people but were still fun. The Chairman said how helpful it was to have young people being part of these groups and feeding back their views and opinions to the Panel.
11. R and J talked about their experience of attending the Young Adult Council. This aimed to help young people to develop the range of skills they would need when leaving care, including job interview skills, food budgeting and managing a household. This Council was also involved in fundraising and submitting Challenge Cards to the Corporate Parenting Panel. Also, much pizza was consumed at meetings, which was very popular!
12. RB told the Panel that when she was older she wanted to work with the VSK so she could help other children in care, as she knew what it was like. RM said she wanted to be a foster carer and work with younger children in care so she could help them know that people cared about them. B said he wanted to go to university and then possibly train as a paramedic. He said that he was not clear about the guidance available on the options open to care leavers. Ms Smith explained that the County Council’s 18+ service worked with young people up to the age of 25 and covered advice on accommodation, including university accommodation, pathway planning and entitlements to benefits and support. It was suggested that the County Council could prepare an App which would contain all this information, which young people could log into and return to as and when they needed to. B was asked if he could make use of his IT skills to assist with this. Jo added that the ‘Kent Cares Town’ website would include interactive applications. Chelsea added that young people had had input into the design of that website to make sure it was user-friendly.
13. V said she was not sure what she wanted to do in the future. Her GCSE courses included Psychology and Sociology and she was not yet sure in which direction this might lead her. It would be good to work with the VSK.
14. The news of care leavers continuing their education at university and entering apprenticeships was warmly welcomed. The visitors were asked how the successes of young adults previously in care were tracked and celebrated so they could serve as examples of positive outcomes for children in care and the options available to care leavers. Mr Doran added that, although the VSK remit ended when a young person reached 18, the destinations of care leavers would be recorded and tracked.
15. The young people were thanked for attending and telling the Panel about their views and experiences. Panel members who attended the Lifelong Links launch event said it had been excellent and encouraged other Panel members to watch the video made by Lemn Sissay, which was shown there. This was available on YouTube and it was suggested that a link to it be included in the Panel minutes.
16. The Chairman summed up by saying how proud she was of the young people who attended the Panel’s meetings to talk about their hopes, wishes and views. The Panel always enjoyed meeting young people and hearing their views at first hand and she thanked them for taking time in their half-term holiday to come to County Hall and meet the Panel.