Thursday, 25 November 2010

Sexual exploitation

It is not often that I agree with Martin Narey, Chief Executive of Barnardos but he is right to say this week that there are many cities and towns across the country where vulnerable young women are exploited sexually.

As long as 20 years ago it was well known by residential social workers that young women who went missing from care were often picked up by unsavoury men who gave them shelter but they could then easily be drawn into prostitution. These were girls from children's homes who often had no family to look out for them. Residential staff were only authorised to work in the children's home; field social workers did not feel they had the authority to intervene in situations which did not involve parents; and the police were not much interested in tracking down young people missing from care because no crime had been committed. Of course the men the girls live with chose to have as little to do with the authorities as possible.

In the absence of no single public organisation taking responsibility to intervene, voluntary organisations step in; Barnardos and The Children's Society in particular have done pioneering work about care leavers and also sexual exploitation of children and young people. It is hard to say whether more goes on than before or that the internet has made people more aware. For example earlier this week two young women contacted one of our projects. They were worried about a friend but did not know what to do so were looking for advice. They had noticed things on their friend's Facebook page which made them think she could be being sexually exploited and thought she might not be able to do anything about it herself.

These young people were being good friends, looking out for each other. Encouraging that kind of care and providing easy ways for young people to act on their concerns (such as contacting our WEYES project) fits with the notion of 'Big Society' rather than leaving everything to public services.

Thursday, 18 November 2010

Friendship groups in Gateshead primary schools

This week Gateshead Council have published 'Delivering Vision 2030' that sets out the council's spending plans for 2011-2012. The document is for public consultation until Christmas after which the Council will make its final budget decisions.

We are delighted that the document proposes (page 52) continuing the grant it makes to Children North East for us to provide friendship groups for children in primary schools in the east of the borough. It is proposed that the grant will be reduced by 20% but we had thought it would not continue at all. At the same time the document says the council will discontinue grants to other voluntary organisations. I think this demonstrates the value that those Gateshead primary schools and Gateshead Council itself place on our service. Of course the grant is not guaranteed yet, these are proposals for public consultation but nevertheless it is promising and encouraging.

The document itself is an object lesson in clarity and transparency. It seems to list everything that Gateshead Council spends money on, says how much it spends and suggests what the council should spend next year. It also sets out a timetable when decisions will be made. Other Local Authorities could learn from Gateshead.

Thursday, 11 November 2010

Newcastle PCT support for WEYES

A large part of the revenue funding for WEYES service comes from Newcastle PCT (Primary Care Trust). For some years we have had a contract from them to provide sexual health services for young people across the west of Newcastle. At one time this was an ideal 3 year rolling contract renegotiated annually. Recently the PCT has not been able to commit to 3 years but has continued to re-negotiate the contract each year. However this week the PCT have told us the contract will stand until 31st March 2013 when the PCT itself will cease to exist and it's responsibilities transfer to the emerging GP commissioning bodies.

This is good news because it guarantees PCT revenue income and work to WEYES for the next 2 years. The reasons seem to have to do with the PCTs long established strategy to have 3 bases for sexual health services for young people spread across the city - WEYES in the west, one in the centre and one in the east. And the wish of the PCT to maintain that strategy during the transition period when its responsibilities move to GPs. In effect it saves GPs from worrying about young people's sexual health for the first year or two of their new commissioning responsibilities.

It is really good to have certainty about some of our funding when everything else is so uncertain at present.

Wednesday, 10 November 2010

Fathers conference

Yesterday our Father's Plus service hosted a national conference in York. It was great to meet so many practitioners from all over the country who are passionate about the importance of including fathers in services for 'parents' and families. For 13 years Children North East has been pointing out that a great many services for parents are actually designed for mothers; and showing by example that getting fathers actively involved means working differently because most blokes are put off by the 'talking about feelings' model that services usually employ.

The theme of the conference was how to continue this important work in these straitened times. The previous government explicitly recognised the importance of fathers to good outcomes for children, it was written down in their 'Children's Plan' last year; but the Coalition government has other priorities. At the conference were presentations from officers in Blackburn with Darwen, Sunderland and Newcastle showing how our Father's Plus team has helped local services to get Dads involved in health, early years and primary education, with impressive results - you can read about it and see the conference presentations here.

Interestingly last week The Guardian reported research that fathers are less stressed and happier when they are more involved with their children and also doing their share of the housework: I agree with that, for me family life has been the most rewarding part of my life ever since I first became a Dad 18 years ago. The magazine 'Children and Young People Now' had a different take on the same research, they say employers should treat all parents (men and women) the same when it comes to flexible working hours.