Looked-after Children - Children, Schools and Families Committee Contents


Memorandum submitted by Volunteer Reading Help

SUMMARY

    —  VRH welcomes the Government's commitment to improving the educational attainment of children in care and to narrow the gaps in outcomes with other children, as reflected in the new performance management framework agreed as part of the Comprehensive Spending Review 2007 process and reiterated in the Children's Plan.

    —  Given that children in care attain significantly lower levels of reading and writing, it is vital that this vulnerable group are given extra support in this area. Volunteers can play a particular role in improving outcomes for children in care by improving literacy skills but also acting as an independent mentor, who can help them to develop and improve their self-esteem and confidence.

    —  VRH believes that corporate parents and carers should also be supported in helping looked-after children with their literacy development.

    —  VRH undertakes significant work and has a successful track record of working with looked after children and is keen to support and participate in any new Government initiatives designed to improve their life chances.

INTRODUCTION

  1.  Volunteer Reading Help (VRH) is a national charity with almost 2,000 trained volunteers supporting 5,000 children each week in primary schools in England. We recruit and train volunteers to work on a one-to-one basis with disadvantaged and looked after children aged 6-11. Many struggle with reading, lack confidence and self esteem and may have difficult home circumstances. Our trained volunteers act as one-to-one mentors and encourage children to develop their reading and learning skills through their two half an hour sessions with three children twice weekly and commit to working with each child for the whole school year.

CHILDREN IN CARE AND LITERACY

  2.  The Care Matters Green Paper and subsequent White Paper showed that children in care attain significantly lower levels of reading and writing than other children and recommended that children in care should be particularly targeted in recruitment programmes for literacy, language and numeracy courses. VRH have been delivering personalised learning for over 30 years through our network of volunteers, and believe this kind of support is particularly vital for vulnerable groups such as children in care.

  3.  Whilst teachers clearly have a key role to play in supporting looked-after children, the role volunteers can play in supporting achievement and social and emotional development should not be underestimated. VRH was encouraged that the Care Matters White Paper saw an explicit role for local authorities to give careful consideration to the contribution of local and national voluntary organisations.

  4.  VRH undertakes significant work with looked after children and is keen to support and participate in any new Government initiatives designed to improve their life chances. VRH works with looked after children in several local authorities across the country and is keen to expand its network of literacy support to ensure that the funding for looked after children follows them throughout the system.

VRH'S TIME FOR CHILDREN PROGRAMME

  5.  Time for Children is a project run by VRH with the specific aim of improving the literacy skills and self-esteem of children in care through one-to-one reading support. The project has operated for almost three years and includes comprehensive training for all volunteers, including specific modules on Children in Public Care. We are recruiting a national project manager to enable us to develop this work across all of our locations. We currently provide the service in the North West, parts of the Midlands and Kent.

  6.  Whilst important for all children, personalisation is particularly important for the learning and development of looked-after children. Fully trained adult volunteers provide regular reading support for children all year round for those in residential units, in foster homes and during term-times at schools. This flexibility ensures there is continuity in the relationship between the child and the volunteer which is vital in the case of looked-after children. Volunteers are drawn from wide backgrounds and wherever possible matched to the children they will be working with. The aim is for the volunteer to become a trusted role model and friend, as well improving educational attainment through increased self-confidence, reading and social skills.

  7.  In order to further tailor the service to the needs of individual children, VRH developed the innovative idea of working with young people who were having difficulty being reintegrated into school. Having not established any peer friendships, children in this situation were prone to leaving school during free periods and not returning. Before working with the child at school, the volunteer would meet and build up a relationship with the child at home. The volunteer's session would then fill up the free period thus keeping the child at school.

Reach Out and Read

  8.  VRH has recently developed a training programme called Reach Out and Read (ROAR), for parents and others to learn how to support children with their reading from an early age. The programme has already been undertaken successfully with Sure Start Leeds, and we intend that the programme will ensure that parents and those who wish to support children's literacy skills have all the advice, assistance and guidance that they need. There is significant demand for this service. Programmes such as ROAR might also be used to ensure corporate parents and carers are able to support children in care with reading, particularly given this vulnerable group are particularly affected by poor reading skills.

Gill Astarita

Chief Executive

February 2008





 
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