Council chiefs could mentor care kids

A scheme which has boosted the exam attainment of children in care in a London borough could be mimicked in Norfolk, it was revealed yesterday.The London Borough of Barnet runs a “corporate parent” project, with senior council officers taking responsibility for pleading the case of individual children.

A scheme which has boosted the exam attainment of children in care in a London borough could be mimicked in Norfolk, it was revealed yesterday.

The London Borough of Barnet runs a “corporate parent” project, with senior council officers taking responsibility for pleading the case of individual children.

The Barnet Education Champion scheme sees the officers, who rarely if ever meet the children, step in to arrange job interviews, check that they are being properly monitored and cared for at school, or even get them places on the housing register.

Yesterday, members of Norfolk County Council's children's services review panel heard the scheme - launched in 2004 - had helped to boost the percentage of looked-after children getting five or more A*-C GCSEs from 10pm to 23pc. And the percentage of children getting at least one GCSE had risen from 64-69pc.

Harriet Panting, who raised the issue, said: “Would we be willing to adopt a scheme to appoint independent advocates for children in our care?”

Rosalie Monbiot, cabinet member for children's services, said: “It's a very interesting scheme. These advocates ask the difficult questions and chase up the progress of their child. We are looking into whether this is something we can do here.”

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Children's services director Lisa Christensen added that Norfolk had many more children in care than Barnet, and said she was keen to look at extending the scheme to elected members.

Money gleaned from council tax charges on second homes across Norfolk could be used to boost parenting skills in the county, the panel heard.

A strategy for supporting hard-pressed parents is currently being drawn up, in a bid to give them resources and advice when they need it.

Mrs Christensen said: “In order to help us put some oomph behind this piece of work, the county council and partner agencies have applied for second homes council tax money.”

She added that the strategy was “not about doing it for parents - unless we have to”. She said: “We recognise that parents want to parent and want to do it well.”

A plan to reduce by 700 the number of 16-18-year-olds in Norfolk who are not in education, work or training was warmly welcomed by councillors.

Last week, the EDP revealed that 1,700 forgotten Norfolk teenagers were in the position - and risked wasting their lives.

Judith Brown said: “It seems that the fact that this number is increasing all the time shows that somehow we've failed. Perhaps if we make more progress in dealing with problems at a younger age, this figure will reduce.”

Ingrid Floering-Blackman said there was a “crying need” to boost skills by encouraging more employers to support apprenticeship schemes.