THE 14 MOST senior officials in Inverclyde Council yesterday took on the role of "pushy parents" working for the interests of looked-after children in their authority.
The launch of the first "children's champions" scheme in Scotland in which officials work behind the scenes on behalf of a looked-after child won plaudits from Adam Ingram, the Children and Early Years Minister.
Yesterday, he announced funding of pound;2.5 million for local authorities to use in 2008-09 to enhance their roles as corporate parents an issue he wants councils to push up their list of priorities when they receive their spending allocations.
Mr Ingram hopes other councils will follow Inverclyde's example in taking corporate parenthood a step further and that the concept might be extended to elected councillors.
Inverclyde has launched its version of a scheme first adopted in the London borough of Barnet, where all senior officials were given responsibility for a looked-after young person in the council's care.
Corporate parent and child will not meet, and the young people will not be told the identity of their guardian angel. But the officials will be expected to take a special interest in the child, ensuring that doors are opened to improve their chances and barriers removed to make their lives better. They will have access to reports and information relating to their child, including school reports.
Sandra McLaughlan, who is managing the project, sums up the champions' role as "asking questions a good parent would".
The 14 young people from primary school age to one who has finished school, recognition that the transition from the care system is one of the most difficult.
Mr Ingram told The TESS that improving outcomes for looked-after children was a personal priority. Although previous edu-cation ministers have highlighted the need for councils to work harder for children in their care, statistics continue to show that looked-after children fare badly in educational, health, employment and other outcomes.
The announcement of additional funding was a signal that he wanted to see "a step change" in the quality of corporate parenting across the country, he said. The May elections had produced many new councillors and he hoped they might act as a catalyst for change.
Councillors should be holding their senior officials to account for the outcomes of looked after children, he said. He wants councils to target the new funding on:
* multi-agency training for teachers and other professionals so they have a core set of skills when it comes to looked-after children;
* induction training for new councillors to raise awareness and give them the skills to hold officials to account;
* ensuring that councils continue to provide young people with support beyond their 18th birthday, including financial support for those going on to further and higher education.
To tackle the difficult transition when young people leave care, he wants local authorities to provide them with more employment and training opportunities.
John Mundell, the chief executive of Inverclyde Council, has three sons so he knows all about parenting issues.
But he appreciates that being the champion of a looked-after child will present a new set of challenges.
He is absolutely convinced that becoming one of the council's children's champions is the right thing to do. "I was at a conference last year and some looked-after children did a show. It had a profound effect on me," he said.
He was struck by what they said about how other children treat them, the stigma of being in care, the number of times they were moved from one placement to another, and their lack of stability. He said: "They had no proper role model a key factor in their development."
Mr Mundell and his colleagues are committed to ensuring that their charges will have as good a chance in life as other children. As a champion, he will have access to all information about the child, but that child will not know his identity.
"That's the way is has to be. Bearing in mind that part of bringing up children is being close to them, that will be difficult. Getting emotionally involved may bring added compli-cations which wouldn't help the child."