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No more endless talking about children’s needs – let’s make change happen

We have seen a huge amount of activity in the children services sector since the start of the year. With so much going on, we’re asking ourselves, how do we demonstrate being the ‘calm in the eye of the storm’? How do we contribute to these reviews in a way that is helpful, and will have a meaningful, positive, and lasting impact?

We are actively engaging with Josh MacAlister’s Care Review and we were pleased to meet with his team recently to discuss the review in more detail. This early widespread engagement gives a reassuring signal. His team seems committed to listening, adapting, and improving their processes as they embark on this hugely significant review.

There has been a clear change in language and tone, something we felt strongly needed to happen. More was unveiled today about the review’s engagement strategy, which opened by acknowledging that not every child and adult has had a negative care experience. This is something I feel is important to recognise.

I will be an active promoter and supporter of this review, as we are always looking for solutions here at Five Rivers. We will find creative and engaging ways for the review to hear our young people’s experiences. We will do everything we can to enable them to have a voice and to support them to meaningfully affect change.

Just this week the new Children’s Commissioner, Rachel De Souza, launched her “once in a generation” review. The ‘Big Ask’ aims to identify the barriers preventing children from reaching their full potential. Rachel pledges to “rebuild childhoods” after the disruption caused by the pandemic.

The focus on education is refreshing as it’s being widely reported that children have missed up to 19 weeks of face-to-face education as a consequence of the pandemic. As the review pulls into focus the widening inequality gulf, and the demonstrable impact this has on children, this is our moment to spotlight rethinking educational opportunities for looked after children.

I am keen that the education system strives to include all children who may suffer delays in their learning, as a result of being looked after or other life events. I believe education should be free until the age of 25. This means that as life settles into a calmer territory, where young adults are able to make decisions that affect their lives, they can apply themselves to learning.

This is a time when young adults are expected to manage independence, find somewhere to live and earn a living. Access to free education for a longer period could significantly and positively affect lifetime outcomes for looked after children, have the potential to reduce mental health issues, and provide a strong positive environment to connect with other adults, in a safe environment.

The Children’s Service review needs to create a shift in how we think about the life chances of children with adverse early experiences, struggling, or misunderstood in mainstream education. It needs to think about these children and young people who are sometimes missing school altogether. The review needs to think creatively about how we invest in ready access to experiences that support children’s opportunities to learn. We need to invest in these children and their futures too.

Here, at Five Rivers Child Care, we have provided bespoke, creative, engaging, and meaningful educational provision for many years. Provided by our own schools with qualified teaching staff, who think about accessible education, we see children flourish who have struggled before. Our 1ACE provision, a school without walls, takes learning opportunities to children. This gives them access to education in ways they have never had before; this is at the core of our offer.

Last, but not least, the CMA (Competition Markets Authority) is conducting its own review looking into the supply of looked after children’s services. It will consider where they are, the price of them and whether they’re sufficient to meet the needs of children.

So, within all of this, how do we influence the reviews about our strong belief that every child’s life is capable of being ‘turned around’? Our neuroscience and positive psychology have made a huge difference in how we help make transformational change possible. Work together; connection and synergy are always exponentially better than isolated silo mentalities. Strive to be a partner of choice, to carry the risks that those without years of experience hesitate to shoulder.

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