15 / ENGAGING WITH THE COMMUNITY
"I see her [a young person in foster care] once a week. My role is to give her a positive, younger influence in her life. She has very low self esteem. Her family don't have much contact with her.
"We do lots of different things, like ice skating, swimming and horse riding. The idea was to find some activity that she could enjoy and be good at. The social work department have given permission for her to have several skiing lessons. The hope is at the end of it she will be able to ski and maybe take up the sport.
"I think it's fantastic to see how [children in foster care] have come on by leaps and bounds. Their language and social skills were limited. Now, a year later, they have progressed so much. The children can be quite jealous of one another, but overall fostering has been a very positive thing for all our family.
"My gran was babysitting the children soon after they arrived. When my parents arrived home, Gran got up to leave. The little boy asked her 'Is that the end of your shift?' He had only been used to people looking after him because it was their job."
Claire McLean, social work student, befriender of a teenage girl in foster care. Claire's parents are foster carers.
Much more needs to be done to ensure that all Looked After children and young people can access the same opportunities as their peers and are supported to develop to their full potential. Scotland needs all of its young people to succeed and we need to be ambitious and aspirational for each and every one of them.
"My Looked After background has not proven to be a barrier in relation to me following my goals. However, like many young people in care, in the past I have experienced negative stereotyping. There have been times when divulging your background can have the effect of changing people's attitudes towards you." (Nicola)
The corporate family sits within the wider community and engaging members of the community in improving outcomes for Looked After children and young people and care leavers will help to build capacity, and to raise public awareness.
Each of us, as individual members of the community, can make a difference to the lives of Looked After children and young people and care leavers. There are many ways in which we can do this, ranging from mentoring and befriending schemes, to enabling young people to participate in work experience or even find employment. If we are involved in any organised activities for children such as sports, the arts, or volunteering, we could consider how we can involve vulnerable children and work with our local authority to provide the necessary support. For example, if we are on parent councils in local schools or other similar committees through churches or other faith groups, we should identify Looked After children and young people as a group that needs special attention and consider how the parent forum can work with the school to integrate all children into the school community.
Adults spend a lot of time transporting their children to and from clubs and other activities, taking them to visit their friends, or discussing with them their experience of school, mentoring and advising, however informally or unconsciously. Often Looked After children and young people do not have the supports other children take for granted, and there is an opportunity to look beyond the traditional scope of practitioners who work with children and young people and care leavers and consider what the wider community can do to fill this gap.
It is important that councils engage effectively with local communities around services to Looked After children and young people and care leavers, for example the location of residential provision, as well as how to build capacity in terms of foster carers, befrienders and other less formal supportive roles.
Work needs to be done to raise awareness within communities, and encourage parents and wider family groups to take responsibility for their children.
Communities can have negative views of the care system, and of individual children and young people who are or have been Looked After. It is important that as much as possible is done to counter this negativity, whether through providing better information to the public (including school children) about what it means to be Looked After and the reasons why children become Looked After, or through celebrating success and demonstrating the positive impact that both services and the young people themselves can have in their local community.
The corporate family can be instrumental in raising public awareness and increasing community capacity.
You will want to:
- Consider awareness raising through your communication with communities.
- Make sure that elected members and others who regularly represent the corporate family in public take every opportunity to present a positive view and to encourage people to become involved, perhaps through foster care or befriending or respite care.
- Make sure that parent councils, and other mechanisms for parental involvement, in schools understand the particular needs of Looked After children and young people, and that they make sure the views of the corporate parent are taken into account.
- Encourage residential workers, foster carers and kinship carers to get involved in their local school council or other less formal parental involvement.
- Engage with community organisations such as sports clubs, uniformed youth groups, or faith groups to ensure that they are inclusive and as accessible as possible to Looked After children and young people and care leavers.
- Think of innovative ways to encourage community participation - small things can make a difference like advertising for foster carers on council vans.
HOW WILL I KNOW I'VE MADE A DIFFERENCE?
- When local youth groups include Looked After children and young people, including those with disabilities.
- When community groups who receive grants from the council demonstrate their commitment to including Looked After children and young people or care leavers in their activity.
- When your schools' parent councils seek your views as a corporate parent.
- When the number of foster carers increases and the number of people interested in respite care or befriending increases.
- When your communities are welcoming, inclusive and supportive to Looked After children and young people and care leavers.
- When Looked After children who want to attend faith groups or places of worship, feel confident they will be accepted and supported to attend by their carers.