Mother for 800 children

22nd June 2001 at 01:00

I trained as a teacher, but I've never taught in ordinary schools. I moved straight into working with children who were outside mainstream education. I came here initially as a teacher in a children's home. Many children in care - we have 800 in all - have real gifts and talents, but they are disproportionately represented in education for special needs and that job quickly became more about advocacy, promoting the needs of children in public care.

Very quickly my role came to be one of promoting education in every sphere, so that the children could maintain their position in school and achieve their potential.

Hertfordshire's work in this field goes back 16 years. We now have a discrete support service for children in public care, with four advisory teachers. Each quadrant (of the county) has a support worker, an educational psychologist for children in public care and a nurse.

My title - corporate parenting officer - can be misleading. I focus on the child's educational achievement, not the wider parenting role.

We've been able to do some interesting things. We've produced a Filofax to give to every child in care, with key phone numbers and the kind of information about local services that teenagers need to know.

Over May half-term a group of children worked with our artist in residence to produce a piece of sculpture. Before they started they went on visits to galleries and to the Henry Moore sculpture park at Much Hadham. The result is planned to be a permanent installation in one of our chidren's homes. It was a risk: they spent half-term on it, but they worked hard. They were all enthused and want to continue. The quote of the week came from a young woman who said: "I only came for the free pizza, but I've had a really good time."

In years past, children in public care were seen to be moving towards independence once they reached school-leaving age. This is just the point at which they should not be forced into independence. If they are to move on to further education or higher education, they need more support, not less. We've been able to negotiate a package which will support young people in further and higher education, both financially and in terms of their accommodation. For example, if a child wants to remain in foster care that will be negotiated.

For older teenagers, there's a three-tier system of support. At the base there is a comprehensive strategy based on the Connexions service (careers guidance), which we have been piloting in Hertfordshire. We have a leaving-care service that assigns a specific worker to every care leaver and we have Kickstart, which works with the most vulnerable young people. If a young person is in crisis he or she can go to their Kickstart worker for help and support.

The good practice that exists in schools is amazing. Heads have agreed to top-slice school budgets to maintain funding for these children.

That budget will cover the costs of the designated teacher and of any associated training. I've been overwhelmed by the response we've had from the schools.

Interview Phil Revell

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