1. Sophia Dunstan, Participation Support Assistant, and Reece Graves, Virtual School Kent Apprentice, showed a second film, made by the Virtual School Kent (VSK) Apprentices, about work to counter the stigmas of being in care. This had been shown at the VSK Talent Showcase on 1 June 2018, with the aim of emphasising the skills, interests and hobbies of children in care and that their care status played no part in how they defined themselves.
2. They then gave a verbal update on the work of the OCYPC, the Super Council and Young Adult Council and forthcoming participation events. The text of the update will be attached to these minutes. They and Tony Doran, Head Teacher of the VSK, then responded to comments and questions from the Panel, including the following:-
a) a recent Young Adult Council meeting had raised the issue of the need for a new name for the care leavers service, and it was planned that a competition be held to find a new name;
b) two new VSK Apprentices were shortly to start work; Tia (16) would start at the end of July and Rob (19) would hopefully start shortly after;
c) a list of participation events taking place between July and December was tabled, with an invitation to the annual Children in Care Council Summer Celebration on 1 August 2018, and both were later circulated to all Panel members by the Democratic Services Officer. Mr Doran explained that VSK had a small nominal budget to cover events, which had been generously topped up over the years by elected Members, using their personal allowances;
d) when tackling stigma, it was important to achieve a balance between being a good corporate parent and respecting a young person’s privacy, between making reasonable allowances for someone’s care status and not putting them down because of it. Ms Dunstan explained that one-to-one sessions between a teacher and child in care could lead to more stigma. What would help was group sessions of pupils and teachers;
e) teachers needed to be aware of children in care, appreciate their circumstances and be realistic about their expectations of them. This awareness could be included in teacher training courses. A child in care would be visited at school by their social worker for their regular review meetings, so to keep their care status a secret from teaching staff or other pupils in the class was simply not possible;
f) another speaker disagreed and asserted that teachers should not know which pupils in their school were in care, and, in that way, could not show any bias in the way in which they treated them, or the expectations they had of them. Teacher training in the 1980s would have taken this approach but the culture seemed since to have changed to one of teachers being made aware. This had led to children in care being treated differently. Another speaker, who had also trained as a teacher at about the same time, agreed that, once a teacher knew about a child’s status, they were bound to treat them differently;
g) Mr Doran added that behaviour management was not much taught as part of teacher training courses but was a fundamental part of a good teacher’s skills. He suggested that raising awareness and understanding of issues faced by children in care, for example, trauma and attachment issues, would need a whole-school approach. Some pilot schemes were exploring this but there was need for more such schemes. In all of this, however, the privacy of children in care would need to be protected and they should not be seen to be treated differently from their peers;
h) Ms Dunstan said that teachers should be aware of children in care and be trained in how to support them and how not to overcompensate for their care status, but should not reveal information about a child’s care status to other pupils. Mr Graves added that teachers’ treatment of a child’s care status was not the only problem; playground gossip and name-calling were also a big problem. The Chairman agreed that teachers needed to be sensitive around activities relating to Mothers’ Day and Fathers’ Day. Mr Doran added that teachers were now expected to know about the pupils they were teaching, to be fully aware of children with an e.PEP and to tailor their teaching to take account of this. It was important to remember that children in care were as different from each other as any other group of children; all were individuals and needed to be treated as such;
i) a suggestion was made that, to raise awareness of stigma issues among all corporate parents, the film about stigma be shown at a full County Council meeting. The Council, as corporate parent, should be seen to be tackling the issue of stigma by raising the awareness of all its elected Members as corporate parents, and could be smart about using the media to do this. The Chairman supported this suggestion and added that local sports personalities and TV celebrities who had been in care could be used as role models and examples of positive outcomes for children in care; and
j) the issue of stigma and realistic expectations extended beyond children in care and applied also to children from areas of deprivation. It was important to set realistic and appropriate targets for expected progress and have a workable method of measuring progress. Mr Doran explained that the former national curriculum had previously provided this overall framework, but measuring progress now would be more difficult. VSK was working with the County Council’s Management Information Unit to establish a new way to measure progress. He added that children’s routes into care varied and that every cohort of children going through education was different and would be difficult to ‘measure’. There was always the risk that having a specific, different set of targets applied to a child in care might add to the stigma they felt. A complex range of mapping and benchmarking might be required to measure progress in sufficient detail and in a meaningful way, and the National Association of Virtual Head Teachers was looking at this issue. It was suggested that either the Corporate Parenting Panel or the Children, Young People and Education Cabinet Committee could look into this issue in greater detail. An item was subsequently placed on the Panel’s work programme.
3. It was RESOLVED that the verbal updates be noted, with thanks.