Select Committee on Children, Schools and Families Minutes of Evidence

Examination of Witnesses (Questions 1-19)



  Q1  Chairman (Fiona Mactaggart): Welcome to this sitting of the Children, Schools and Families Committee, which is considering the issue of "children under the radar"—those children who are not in touch with services and the reasons for that. This is a single evidence session, not part of a general inquiry. It is an issue that several members of Committee are interested in—some of us have been members of a parliamentary panel convened by Helen Southworth about young runaways. We thought that it might be useful to invite some of those voluntary organisations and researchers who have particular experience with groups such as young carers, young runaways and so on, to talk to us about their experiences of this group of children. The most useful thing would be for me to invite each of our witnesses to tell us the key issues in their organisation about provision for young runaways, what are the biggest policy challenges and what are the issues that we should address. We shall obviously be looking at the issue in some of our other inquiries, on children's trusts and so on, so we are really interested to hear what you think we should be drilling down into before we go into further questions.

  Dr Aldridge: My experience is mostly of young carers, but obviously some of those children do have problems and do run away. One of the key issues is identifying young carers, which does not seem to be happening, particularly through schools. We have been doing research for 15 years now on young carers and the different adult roles that they undertake, and they are not being picked up in schools as much as they should be, despite that being a key area where these children can be identified. Often when such children are picked up it is usually as a result of persistent absenteeism or lateness, so it almost becomes a matter of punishment rather than of looking at the issues that these children face at home, and their difficult circumstances. Another key issue is the information that these children are not getting on particular health conditions and on medication. Last year a young carer died after taking an overdose of her mother's morphine. A lot of our young carers, particularly those caring for parents with mental health problems, are administering medication and are in control of a lot of drugs, and they are doing this on their own.

  Q2  Chairman: Looking at your research, I thought that matters had improved during the last 10 years. More young carers—even if it is still too few—seem to have been identified, and the services for them seem to have improved. Has the work on young carers resulted in lessons being learned in relation to other groups of vulnerable young people who are outside the radar?

  Dr Aldridge: I think so. There have been improvements across the board. However, there are still inconsistencies in the services that children receive. A key lesson is that these children have received dedicated support services specifically for their own needs as children but also for their needs as carers, and for their parents as well. Much of our research shows that these children want a key worker. They want someone who is consistently there and available for them for pretty much 24 hours, if possible. When we first started our research they used to have night sitting services, for example, but that has all gone, and they are often left on their own. But the fact that a lot of young carers projects are picking up on family work as well as giving their children dedicated support is absolutely vital.  There is evidence of some very good practice, particularly in identifying local families who are willing to serve as mentors or advocates for children who are round the corner—the traditional idea of a good neighbour, really. Where those services are in place—they are scant—they work very well. That family is identified as supporting the child, and if there is a problem at home, or mum or dad have gone into hospital while they have been at school, they are available for them. But as I say those services are a little bit inconsistent. Certainly the dedicated support that these children are getting from the projects is vital.

  Q3  Chairman: Thank you. Kathy Evans, tell us about your experience and what you think we should be focusing on.

  Kathy Evans: First, I would just like to welcome the fact that this subject is being examined by the Committee, because it is a subject dear to our hearts. We have an awful lot of experience, not just in relation to runaways, but a range of groups, which I will talk about. There are two issues here. One is what is happening with those children who are in touch with services. They are going to school and they are seeing a GP, but their needs as children are being kept under the radar; they are not being spotted as children in some kind of trouble or at risk. The other issue concerns children who are or who are becoming completely disengaged from services and professional sight with a view to their welfare. Both of those are a particular challenge to the Every Child Matters agenda, but they can be very different in terms of their underlying reasons. One can undoubtedly lead to another. The failure to identify a young person struggling at home can result in them removing themselves from home because it is not safe. There are a lot of questions about how and to what extent we can helpfully and ethically, but proactively, seek to find out whether there are any problems with children at home, and not only in those cases where the first presenting reasons for concern may look like misbehaviour. That is a big issue for us; there are a lot of children where the systems in which they find themselves, whether at school or in their community, are reacting to the fact that they are perceived as trouble, but which should be viewed as an indicator for concern. A reaction that builds on that in a disciplinary way, rather than an investigatory way, can just compound the problem. With many groups we run the national young carers initiative; we also work with young refugees, both in families and unaccompanied, and with Gypsy and Traveller children. We find that disabled children placed away from home are very much invisible; they are clearly in contact with services, but their needs can be invisible. How do we react to a child who is not crying out for help but is too quiet and too compliant, as a result of their trying to deal with a situation at home with which they are not confident? So, I think that it is actually a really complex subject with a wide range of issues underneath.

  Q4  Chairman: In terms of what the Children's Society does, what is the key lesson from working with these disparate groups? I accept that you have said that this is quite a complex picture, but what are the key lessons from working with those groups of children that this Committee should take away?

  Kathy Evans: One of the principles running through the core of what we do across a range of different kinds of circumstances and issues is about ensuring that each child has an opportunity to give voice to their situation, and that often requires you to stick with them for quite a while to build trust. Children in those situations about which we may be most concerned—whether at home or situations that they have been exposed to in the country that they came from—and who have been traumatised or frightened will need time to build the trust in the person who we hope will help them to sort that out. A lot of our systems at the moment, or our expectations and desires, are built upon the presumption, "Well, if that was going on, you could have told us earlier. Why didn't you tell?" The child's perspective is that it is a big scary adult world a lot of the time, and there are a lot of power systems that they are involved in—school, family, the immigration system and the community where they live. They are small people and they do not necessarily believe that they have the authority to be believed as soon as they tell; they have reason to want to build trust before they disclose.

  Q5  Chairman: Thank you Kathy. John, tell us about this issue from the perspective of Barnardo's.

  John Reacroft: The particular issues that I have specialist knowledge of are homeless families, families in temporary accommodation and insecurely housed families, and there are very large numbers of those. There are a number of groups who fall under the radar within those and children who become dislocated from services. The main reason why children become dislocated from services if they are insecurely housed in temporary accommodation is that they have to move frequently and each time they move they have to re-establish all the local connections. Because they know that they are in an area only temporarily, there is a disincentive—a psychological disincentive in some ways—to do something about it. So, for example, children end up out of school, and they do not have access to services like GPs, community support, day centres and things like that. That is particularly cruel because if your family is homeless and in temporary accommodation, your needs are increasing, but your access to services can often decrease. Many families, for example, are housed long distances from where they originated.  There is a group of families that everybody recognises is homeless and in priority need, and their number is going down. However, despite the fact that the number of officially homeless households is going down, the number of families living in that situation is in fact increasing. About 10 years ago, there were about 40,000 households in priority need in temporary accommodation. Pretty much consistently, just under three quarters of such households will be in priority need because they are households with children or a pregnant woman in them. That number rose to over 100,000 and there was then a government target to reduce it by 50% by 2010, which we all welcomed. However, the social housing that would have been necessary for those households to have a decent, secure and affordable home was not provided. What is happening now is that when households become homeless, they are helped to avoid being homeless by being placed in private sector rented accommodation. However, such accommodation is always insecure because landlords do not give secure leases, but short tenancies for as little as six months. A private sector family home in London is also always unaffordable, at £300 or £400 a week. So the number of families that have been accepted as homeless has decreased from about 135,000 a year to 73,000, which is a very big decrease, but it masks all the households that have often been placed in private sector accommodation long distances from the boroughs they originated in. There is a big reservoir of children who are living in insecure housing and who may have to move at very short notice at some point in the future. What makes the system work is that many people have invested in accommodation to let out to others—usually because their pensions are not performing well enough, and this accommodation seems to be a safe investment. The things that are making the system work for poor households are, one, that the interest rates on what people borrow to buy accommodation are low; two, that house prices are rising significantly; and, three, that there are unlimited amounts of housing benefit to pay the rents, because people who are on minimum wages—£200 a week—will not be able to pay £300 or £400 rents. When these factors are not there any more, quite a lot of households will suddenly become literally roofless again and present to local authorities with nowhere to live. So the pool of insecurely housed children and families is increasing significantly, although the official statistics seem to indicate the opposite.

  Q6  Chairman: Tell us about the lives of those children. You have talked about housing policy, but that is not our remit, if we are honest about it. Our remit is what impact insecure housing—for whatever reason it is arises—has on children in terms of being in touch. The families you described are referred to housing by the local authority, so the authority certainly knows that they exist, but what provision of services goes with that experience? Will the new proposals for children's contact information and so on make a difference to whether we know that these children exist and follow them up?

  John Reacroft: In terms of the impact on children, Barnardo's, like everybody else, obviously supports the Every Child Matters agenda, but all five of the Every Child Matters outcomes can be compromised by living in temporary accommodation. We have a test for the kind of accommodation that children need, in that it should be decent, secure and affordable. Most temporary accommodation never meets the test of being secure and affordable, and quite a lot of the time, it does not meet the test of being decent. So even basic things, such as being safe and healthy, can be compromised by temporary accommodation. I can give you more details on that, as outlined in my report, Do my kids have to live like this forever? [1]If you want more information on the different outcomes, I will come to that. What would help? If borough A, for example—I will not name particular boroughs—persuades a homeless household to accept private rented accommodation in borough B, which could be 10 or 15 miles away, and then simply informs borough B that they have put that family there, borough B will not necessarily be happy to pay for a lot of expensive services that the family might need.

  Q7  Chairman: So you think that there is no effective information passing—you are saying that providing information will not do it. Is there anything that will do it?

  John Reacroft: Obviously, I realise that this Committee does not have a housing remit. However, if we do not provide decent, secure and affordable housing for children and families, it is very difficult to meet the five Every Child Matters outcomes. I would not argue that there is anything wrong with passing the information on—some children at risk can slip through the net in all sorts of ways. However, for the majority of children, the fact that basic information about them is being passed on from one borough to another is not going to help them that much. The most serious problem that they have is being in temporary accommodation. The fact that the local authority has been told that the family has been placed in the area will not deal with that real problem.

  Kathy Evans: Some of your concerns and questions about the value of sharing information are relevant not only to the group that John is talking about, but to some of the young people that we work with: Gypsy and Traveller families who may move regularly and repeatedly across different areas; runaway children who may appear in different areas from the ones that they left, and refugee children who, whether in families or unaccompanied, often face regular moves.  When the ContactPoint system was proposed, we had a whole range of concerns, although we saw that, in theory, it had the potential to help those groups in particular. On many occasions, we would be working with a child or a family who would then disappear with relatively short or no notice. We felt it useful and necessary to feel that they could be picked up within a system. At that theoretical level, it remains something that we are interested in. However, John is right—passing information does not really create the kind of pick-up of concerns and cases that we are keen on. The ContactPoint system does not intend to do that, and we are satisfied that it should not. One of the critical issues for children who move around regularly or face real instability in their living conditions is how quickly and smoothly they can re-engage with education, or whether they remain at the school that they were involved with, which is usually what they would like to do. For children who face multiple and significant school changes on a regular basis, that is one of the most destabilising factors for them, and for our consistent attempts to build up a picture of what is going on, to feel that we have a point of engagement and to know that there are problems at home. An information exchange that says that someone has moved and is now there is not a replacement for the face-to-face care, concern and knowledge of the child that will be the best basis on which to find out whether there are needs that still need to be met, or concerns to be explored.

  Q8  Chairman: Are you saying that for children who are very mobile—some may travel 15 or 20 miles, but quite often it is a shorter distance—it would be good for them to have priority when it comes to retaining a school place, and some financial support to enable them to get to that school because that would be a good way of keeping them in touch with services? Jo was suggesting that schools can be ignorant of children's needs.

  Kathy Evans: It is important to recognise how critical school is to children. Many of the groups that we are most concerned about may have a very negative experience at school. It can be exactly the point in the cycle at which we say that something better should have happened here. At the same time, most children whom we work with say, "I wish that school had been good." For some children, school has been a haven for them from circumstances away from school that are much worse than they can bear.  It is not about saying that schools are great and a saviour from all the problems that children face, nor is it about saying that they are so terrible that they are the root of the problem. Some of what we valued and supported in Every Child Matters is the recognition that for the majority of children, it should be our expectation, and theirs, that school is a safe and welcoming place and somewhere that is concerned about their welfare, as well as their achievements. Given that so much of their life is spent at school, school should be the hub around which we organise our professional concerns and our specialists.  What we have to look at in a slightly more sophisticated way are cases in which children are having difficulty in moving around school placements regularly, and difficulty accessing school in the first place. There are children for whom school is an uncomfortable place. They get excluded and passed from school to school, and their behaviour at school is seen as a concern about them, rather than for them. There is also the large number of children whose parents exercise their right to educate them at home. I am not demonising that decision; that is their right. We conducted some research recently with Gypsy and Traveller children. The average experience in the group of young people that we worked with was that they had left school by the age of 10. In fact, 11.4 was the average age at which they had left. More than a third had left by the age of 10. The drivers out of school included racist bullying and a very prejudiced experience within the school community. There were some cultural drivers about Roma and Gypsy families who often, and quite traditionally, take their children into home education as they approach secondary school. For those families and children, viewing school buildings as the hub for service provision does not necessarily work.

  Dr Aldridge: School is critical here. From our perspective, after our years of research into this issue, particularly related to young carers, there used to be people in schools who were more obvious—for example, education welfare officers. From what I have picked up at conferences across the country, education welfare officers seem to have a much bigger case load now. So who deals with the welfare of the children? Although a lot of children are being picked up by their bad behaviour, a lot of teachers do not see that as their role, or feel uncomfortable in a situation in which they have picked up a young carer at school, or found out that their parent was a single parent with a serious mental health problem or was terminally ill. What the heck do they do about that?  In a lot of cases, it has been about responding inappropriately because they do not have the skills to deal with the situation. There is a training issue there, particularly for teachers. At the very least, they need to recognise where they can refer these children on to. It does not just stop. Some of our children have had plants or chocolates bought for their parents because teachers do not know what to do about the problem. Teachers have a lot of pressures and responsibilities on them. The welfare of those children, as Kathy and John have pointed out, is critical. That is the area in which they will pick up on these children. We have consistently asked for the triggers for caring, for example, to be recognised—where a parent has a serious, long-term health problem or a disability, to at least look at whether there are issues there for the children. It is quite common practice that GPs do not always ask their patients whether they are parents. Parents often want that support, but there is not that sort of integration. Within schools is the one area where they will—or should—be picked up. Our research has shown that the 11 to 15-year-old age group is the most difficult for dealing with these issues. These children will just not turn up and will stay away for long periods. It is a critical age—when they are making the transition into adulthood. Our research has also shown that that is very difficult for those children who are caring.

  Q9  Mr Carswell: I am slightly going off on a tangent, but we are talking about the scale of the problem and defining what we mean by "children under the radar". Does this include children—mainly from Africa—who have arrived in the UK as a form of exploitative labour? I would not want to dignify it with the term indentured labour, because it is even more exploitative than that.

  Kathy Evans: I certainly have children who are being trafficked into this country on my list of groups of children about whom to be concerned under this heading. There are increasing levels of awareness of that phenomenon. There are also large numbers of children—although unspecified and under-regulated—who are in private fostering arrangements, whether trafficked or not.

  Q10  Mr Carswell: What do you mean by private fostering?

  Kathy Evans: Private fostering would involve a child being looked after by arrangement but not by a blood relative. We certainly gave plenty of case studies to the Home Office about trafficked children. Children from a variety of countries and not simply west Africa may be brought to the country by people on behalf of their parents. They may be relatives of some sort but not direct blood relatives—they are not acting in loco parentis but living with extended family or friends of family in this country by arrangement with their parents. Private fostering arrangements were covered under the Children Act 2004, but it was left to local authorities to instigate registration processes rather than have them as a requirement. So we continue to have serious concerns about the unregulated and unmonitored extent of private fostering.

  Q11  Mr Carswell: Do local authorities keep a record of how many private fostering arrangements there are?

  Kathy Evans: No. We certainly do not have experience of any who do so rigorously or robustly. The sunset clause in the Children Act 2004 permitted local authorities to develop at their own pace the way in which they would deal with private fostering arrangements, but we have real concerns that that is not being done.

  Q12  Mr Carswell: Given the sensitivity of the issue, do you think that certain local authorities who want to see private fostering arrangements in a more positive light than is merited might be reluctant to take action?

  Kathy Evans: I think that a combination of issues are involved. There may be sensitivity, but a much bigger issue is the finite—and usually stretched—resources that are devoted within children's services to child protection and to the referrals of a child believed to be at risk of abuse. We have certainly had anecdotal experience of agencies reporting children they believe to be privately fostered to children's services authorities that say, "This is not our job unless you think that they are at risk."

  Q13  Mr Carswell: Post-Victoria Climbié, do you not find that slightly shocking?

  Kathy Evans: There are many ways in which we should revisit Victoria Climbié's case and ask whether the reforms and processes that we have been engaged in would have addressed that situation—not only in relation to private fostering, but also in relation to the question of how, under this new ContactPoint system, a child like Victoria Climbié would have got on to the database, because that still would not happen. It is not clear whose responsibility it would be to put Victoria Climbié on the database. That is a valid question and we certainly are concerned about private fostering.

  Q14  Mr Carswell: Am I right in thinking—I apologise if I am showing my ignorance—that Victoria Climbié was in a private fostering arrangement?

  Kathy Evans: Yes, she was, by definition, except that she was in the care of her great aunt. She fraudulently brought Victoria into the country on a false passport that suggested that she was actually her mother. Some private fostering arrangements are perfectly legitimate and children are genuinely looked after, but the authorities should know and be clear about such arrangements, because there is the potential for abuse.

  John Reacroft: The homelessness statistics will not tell you anything about children from abroad who are under the radar. Everyone accepts that children living in temporary accommodation are homeless and are in priority need, but any child in a family who have been declared intentionally homeless will not appear in those statistics; and nor will any child of a migrant worker unless they have been working in the UK for more than a year or any child in an asylum seeking family. Children who are in families from outside the EU and who are here as migrants will not appear in the homelessness statistics, even though they may well live in a series of temporary accommodations, because those families will not have the right to apply for housing support.

  Q15  Chairman: We are concerned about the services for the children. The issue is not whether they appear on the homelessness statistics, but whether they are in ContactPoint or any such system that identifies children who should have services.

  John Reacroft: I was trying to identify the scale of the problem, because that is one indicator of how many children you might be talking about. We know that out of 82,750 homeless in priority need living in temporary accommodation, approximately two thirds will be families with children.

  Q16  Chairman: But we do not know how many children. The figures are very broad—they do not tell us how many children have how many and what specific needs.

  John Reacroft: No. There is a scheme in London, which is separate from ContactPoint, called Notify. When children are placed in temporary accommodation across a borough boundary by a local authority, the receiving borough should be notified that a child has arrived and that they have this or that particular need so that their education, for example, is not disrupted. Two broad groups of families might end up living quite a distance from a child's school. One group will make a huge effort to get the child to school, incurring expenses that they perhaps cannot afford, and the other group will not be able to do so, so their child will have a significant period out of school. Even the child who attends school might not arrive in the best state to take advantage of it, because they will have travelled long distances and their parents might be stressed.

  Kathy Evans: The children of failed asylum seekers are among those who are profoundly affected or profoundly at risk of destitution. Again, it is a question of how many we do not know about as much as it is a question of how many we know about. Certainly, we are engaged with a great number of families, including women who have become pregnant and have children after the refusal of their claim. Their children face lack of food and lack of places to sleep. Recently, we did some research with families with whom we are engaged, and found that one pregnant woman was given a £3,000 maternity services bill, but absolutely no support for her child. We have good reason to believe that a significant number of children are living with families who are overtly and explicitly under the radar, because they are frightened about what will happen if they are detected by it.

  Q17  Ms Butler: I wanted to touch on something that Kathy mentioned, but perhaps the whole panel can respond. You said that lots of children leave school at an average age of 11.4. If the school is not the hub to provide the services to catch those children who are at risk, where is the hub?

  Kathy Evans: That is a particularly good question. One of the things we try to do is to take our services out to Traveller communities where we work with them and build relationships with them. That may mean going to sites. Some Traveller community members are given housing and live there with their families if they have children. None the less, they still face many challenges in terms of their identity and their experiences as Traveller people. We certainly try to take our services out to those communities, particularly if that is where children are also being educated. We take play buses and do play work with them. We also have to recognise that our expectation is that those children and families should be in touch with primary health care—with a GP—and should receive advice on healthy living regardless of whether they are educating their children at home We think that children centres can and should be seeking to provide resources, support and advice to parents in the early years to those communities as much as to any who are locally resident in built housing and who might walk in through the door. I do not think we should be viewing school necessarily as the single and first port of call. In the early years of life, it will be health visitors, services offering support to parents with babies and GPs, in particular who should be viewed as that hub before a child ever becomes involved with school.

  John Reacroft: Our experience, particularly with asylum-seeking children, is that many schools make incredible efforts to include the children and to make them part of the community and give them additional support. Some schools probably struggle to do that but we have heard of many examples and spoken to families who have been very grateful for the support they have received from schools. In a child's life there is not really anybody else, apart from their parents, who see them for that many hours. If they are not in school, therefore, there is limited opportunity for other people to look out for the child's interest.

  Dr Aldridge: Certainly there would be a very good reason why children who have care responsibilities will not be in school. Usually this would be that they are very anxious so they are at home. Our research has shown that these children geographically have very restricted lives, even if they go out to play areas. They also have restricted social lives.  The health aspect has to be considered. We have found, particularly in our work with training GPs, that they do not see it as their role to ask adults who have serious mental health problems and long-term mental illness or disability what impact that is having on their children. They often tell us that they only have two minutes per patient anyway and that it is not part of their remit. We have also found within psychiatric services that particularly the old CPNs—Community Psychiatric Nurses—who might visit families do not want to talk to the children. We have had experiences where they have wanted the children out of the way. Health services, as well as staff in education, need to look at the whole family. I know this has been an old chestnut for some years but that message still does not seem to be getting across. Like Kathy said, I think GPs and health visitors and others need to be involved. What happens if a parent arrives in a surgery in a wheelchair with multiple sclerosis? What impact does that have on the children at home? Are there any children at home? We should know those things or we should be asking. It does not take any longer than a few seconds to ask those questions.

  Q18  Ms Butler: Do the GPs and health visitors need a trigger so that they ask "Are any children in the home? Is it just you? Is there anybody else? Yes or no?" What is the next process? Who does it go to next?

  Dr Aldridge: In our work with GPs, we have suggested that it does not take much more than a five-minute phone call to make a referral, to ask and to look where the services are. A lot of young carers' projects, for example, do a lot of work, providing information and raising awareness. They are in touch with GPs' surgeries and they have their information there, but it is inconsistent. So, doctors, GPs and health visitors will be aware that there is a project here, or a social work issue—whatever—but it cannot just stop there. There are other avenues of support, within the voluntary sector too and not just in state services.

  John Reacroft: In the service that I run, health visitors are extremely important because they visit newborn children at home and they know when those children are living in some of the worst temporary accommodation. However, the health visitors have a remit to do only a certain number of things and they have to do those things for quite a lot of children. So, when they meet families and children in those circumstances, they often refer them to us for support. I think that health visitors meet a lot of families who are in very poor housing and they are probably the one professional group that meets those families and that can do something about the situation, by referring them on. Obviously these children will not be at school for some time.

  Q19  Chairman: The Millennium Cohort Study, which looked at the people health visitors visited, showed that 57.4% of families with an annual income of more than £40,000 were supported by a health visitor in their child's first year, whereas only 41.5% of families with an annual income of less than £3,000—precisely the type of failed asylum seekers that Kathy has been talking about—received that support. So the more prosperous are getting access to these services and the least prosperous are being excluded from the service that all of you identify as a key service. What can we do to stop that, or reverse that, so that those most in need get access to this critical service?

  Kathy Evans: We run children's centres in 13 different places around the country, but obviously we are not in a unique position in doing that. We have been involved in Leeds and Bradford for the longest time and there we are involved with SureStart, helping the community to design the children's centres.  There are a range of things that we are doing overtly with a very acute awareness that we should not just wait for service users to come through the door and use the services available. So we work closely with the health visiting service and with the midwifery service to ensure that, from the first visit that takes place, the mothers and families are engaged with what is available at the children's centre, rather than just letting the health worker in for a one-off visit. We have put an awful lot of effort into building neighbourhood networks. Many of the people who work and volunteer in our centres are local parents. Just as often as we get referrals from health visitors, people are referred to us by concerned or caring neighbours, who will say that there is a young woman that we should see. That is particularly the case with young teenagers, who can be very isolated and fearful of becoming involved with these much bigger "adult" services. Neighbours will say that there is a young woman who has just had a baby, who they think is really isolated, and they ask if someone could visit her and see what is going on. I am keen to convey that some of this work is not about having the right services or systems in place. Some of this work is about making a direct challenge to anyone who works in those services and saying to them, "Are you speaking to children about their situation?" So, is a disabled child living in residential care for 52 weeks of the year still falling under the radar in terms of what concerns or upsets them and in terms of what their needs are? Certainly, we have quotes from here to kingdom come about young people who are drowning in services. They have key workers; they are looked-after; they are involved with mental health; and they have school issues going on. There is no lack of professional involvement in their lives, but they still find themselves in meetings where everyone is talking about them and not to them. So it is as much of a challenge to us to have the confidence to speak to children, to hear what they have to say, to be willing to believe it, and to listen to it. We spend a lot of the time thinking about particular service designs, or specialisms, or points of intervention. That time would be better spent just on spending time with young people and listening to them.

1   Do my kids have to live like this forever?: The lives of homeless families and children in London, John Reacroft, December 2005, Back

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