Me and Being in Care
So I'm 'in care' - what does that mean?
The words in care mean that Bristol City Council has a say about who looks after you, where you live and what happens to you. It will mean that you will have a social worker and that you may be living away from home. There are over 700 children 'in care' or looked after in Bristol - so don't worry, you're not the only one.
Some children go into care when they are babies, some are a bit older and some people spend a short time in care before going back to live with their parents. It all depends on your situation. If you don't go home then you can be in care until you are 18 years old. When you are 18 you are an adult and you become a 'care leaver' which means help from Bristol City Council will continue until you are 21 or 25 if you go into full time education like University.
There are two different ways to come into care:
A care order - the court will have decided this.
Accommodated - your parents will have agreed to this
Care Order - decided by the court:
Sometimes Bristol City Council will be so concerned about your health and your safety that they will ask a court to make a decision about whether you should live away from home or not.
If the judge agrees with the concerns then you will be put on a 'Care Order' which means that Bristol City Council is now responsible for your safety, health and happiness.
If this happens your social worker will now be the person who has the final say on what is best for you - they will help you sort out where you are living, help you keep in contact with your family, decide which school you will go to and hopefully makes sure that you have a safe and happy childhood. It is your social worker's job to make the final decisions about your life BUT you should always be asked about what you think and you should always have a say about what happens to you.
If you don't feel that you have a say and that nobody listens to you then you could get in contact with an advocate. Read about 'Me and my Advocate'. Your review is YOUR meeting about what is happening in your life and it is a place where you have your chance to have your say.
Accommodated: an agreement with your parents
The second way that children and young people come into care is called 'being accommodated' and this is where your parents have agreed for you to be in care or have asked for this to happen. This can happen for a number of different reasons and it may be a short term or long term agreement with Bristol City Council.
Being accommodated seems the same as being in care - you may be in a foster placement, a residential home or a boarding school the same as children that are on a full care order. So what's the difference? Well....it's a legal difference and it's to do with something called 'parental responsibility'. When you are accommodated your parents still have the final say on things that happen to you - your social worker will have to get your parents' permission for a lot more things.
If you are unsure about whether you are on a full care order or accommodated then you should ask your foster carer, key worker or social worker. They will be able to tell you. Either way you still have the same rights – so you can have an advocate if you want one and Bristol City Council has made the same promises as laid out in the Pledge.
Me and my social worker
I've just got a social worker - who are they?
Social workers are your main contact with Bristol social services over the time that you're in care. They work for Bristol City Council and are trained to help young people and their families. You should get to know your social worker quite well over the time that they are with you.
When you come into care your social worker must come and meet you within the first seven days. They should then come and see you regularly and check that everything is going okay. Your social worker will also be in touch with your family to make sure that they are all right and that everyone understands why you are in care.
What is my social worker supposed to do?
Your social worker is responsible for making sure that you are looked after properly. Your social worker will write a plan of what is going to happen in your life whilst you are in care and this is called 'A Care Plan' (imaginative huh?). Some of the things in the care plan include:
- Where you will be living
- Who will be looking after you
- Practical things such as the amount of pocket money you might get
- When and how you will see your family
- The plan for your future, whether you will return home, or stay in care.
- Any specific needs like language, religion, medical information, or diet
There will be other things on there too and you should always have a copy and you should have a chance to say whether you agree with it or not. Once the plan has been agreed it is your social worker's job to make sure that you get all the things that are agreed on. There will be a review of the care plan every 3 - 6 months (depending on your situation) and this is a chance to change the care plan.
So they are just there to fill in bits of paper about me?
No, social workers are the face of your 'corporate parents' and their job is to be your first port of call if there is anything wrong. Your social worker should talk to you about why you are in care, and help you understand any decisions that are made. They can also help you make plans for the future. Here is a short list of some of the things a social worker does.
- Come and visit you regularly regardless of where you are living
- Take your wishes and feelings into account
- Make sure that you are safe and that your needs are met.
- Keep you informed about what is happening with your family
- Encourage you to have contact with your family if it is safe for you to do so.
- Speak to you about your hobbies and interests and help you find things to do
- See your school reports
- Be available to talk through problems that are going on in your life
- Celebrate your achievements and other important events in your life.
So my social worker will do what I tell them to do?
As long as it is in your best interests. You might sometimes disagree with your social worker about what you want to happen. They have to think about what is in your best interests regardless of whether you want it or not. If you think that they are definitely wrong about something then you should think about getting an advocate. An advocate is independent and NOT from Bristol City Council or Social Services and will listen and help you sort things out.
This is good, I want to see my social worker every day for the whole time I'm in care...
I'm afraid you can't. Social workers support many children and they are busy people. Your social worker should see you if you want them to and they must by law see you once every three months once you have been in care for more than one year. During your first year in care, your social worker must see you more often. Most young people will see their social worker once every six weeks if they are new in care, but if they are settled then will be once every three months.
I need to see my social worker now!
Then hopefully you will be able to phone them and arrange to see them. But social workers are human beings too with their own lives and it may not be possible to get hold of them immediately. Social workers work in teams and every day there is one member of the team who covers for any social workers that are away. This person is called the Duty Social Worker and they should be able to help you until your social worker is next in the office.
I hate my social worker!
A lot of young people say this - but don't actually mean it. What they mean is, I hate the disruption in my life. Many young people start off really hating their social worker and then begin to feel better about them the longer they are in care.
No. I've read that bit above, and you're wrong, I do actually hate my social worker.
Your relationship with a social worker is important; they are the person you will have the most contact with whilst you're in care, so it is an absolutely vital relationship for you. If you think that there is absolutely no way that you could work with your social worker, then you can contact an advocate here and ask them to help you.
Me and my advocate
Do I have the right to an advocate
Yes. An advocate will help you know what your rights are and make sure that your wishes and feelings are being listened to. They are friendly and will try and help you solve your problems quickly and make sure people are listening to you.
I don't need another worker in my life....
It might feel that there are lots of people in your life already BUT an advocate does not work for Social Services - they are independent of your social worker, foster carer and all other workers in Bristol City Council. More importantly, your advocate works for you. They don't make any judgements about what is good or bad for you they simply stand up for what you want.
So what are they good for?
An advocate is most useful for getting something stopped, started or changed - their work is quite often short term and they are problem solvers. They are good if you are really shy because they can talk on your behalf in meetings when you don't feel able to.
An advocate is very useful if you're making a complaint because they know how the system works and can guide you through what you will have to do.
An advocate is also confidential; they won't talk to your social worker, foster carers or any other worker without your permission, unless you are putting yourself or someone else in danger.
It is sometimes best to think of advocates as a megaphone; they make your voice louder but they don't change anything you say.
I think I need an advocate
Contact NYAS - The National Youth Advocacy Service and they will get someone to help you. They have a website and a Helpline.
Phone them on: 0800 808 1001 or email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Me and My Complaint
I'm unhappy and something is bothering me. What can I do?
Okay. Well here's what not to do. Don't keep it to yourself! Everyone wants you to be as happy as you can possibly be and you should never bottle stuff up and let it fester. Make sure you tell someone about it, whether that is a friend or an adult that you trust.
If you want to talk to someone independent then get an advocate – you can talk and they will listen and help you to take action to make things better. If you feel people still aren’t listening and you want to take it to an official level then you might want to think about making a complaint. An advocate can help you do this too.
What can I complain about?
Anything that makes you unhappy. Here are some of the things that people have complained about in the past
I haven’t been treated fairly; and nobody seems to be listening to what I'm saying
My care plan says one thing but I want something else
I am not happy in my placement and I would like to move somewhere else.
People say they're doing stuff but everything is taking ages.
All my friends at school are allowed to do something and I'm not, and it makes me feel different.
It sounds like a lot of effort - why should I complain?
There are many reasons that you should complain - and the first reason should be 'For you!' Your complaint should help make those around you aware that you are unhappy and start changing things for you.
The second reason is 'For people like you' - if it's happening to you, it might be happening to other people too and by putting in a complaint you are making managers aware that there is a problem with the whole system.
A complaint is not about getting you or other people into trouble, it’s about making sure that you are being listened to. Every year the complaints are analysed to look for trends to see what problems there are for children in care across the whole of Bristol.
I'd like to make a complaint - I just don't know how to.
The best thing to do is 'Contact an Advocate' - this is a professional person who will be able to explain the whole process to you and who will be on your side through the entire complaint. It isn't just advocates that can make a complaint though, any adult can do it on your behalf and you can do it yourself.
You can start your complaint on line by clicking on this link to Bristol's Children's Children & Young People's Services Complaints Team https://www.bristol.gov.uk/social-care-health/complaints-comments-childrens-social-care
Me and My Review
So what is a review then?
When you are in care people have to check that plans are happening and if any of the plans need changing. This happens at your review. It’s about you and your life so it is important that you are at or contribute to your review so that your social worker and Independent Reviewing Officer ( IRO) knows what you think.
What is an IRO. What do they do for me?
Your IRO works for Bristol City Council but they do not work for the same part as your social worker. It is their job to make sure that everyone is doing what they said they were going to do and to make sure that your views and wishes have been listened to and that you are involved in making decisions about your own life.
You will always see your IRO at or before you review unless you don't want to, but its important to remember that you don't have to wait for your review if you would like to speak to them about something you want to change.
Your review will be run or chaired by your IRO unless you would like to chair or run your own meeting. If you would like to chair your own review you will need to let your IRO know in advance so they can talk to you about how you would like to do this.
Your review can be as small or as large as you want it to be. Your social worker should ask you who you would like to come to your review and your IRO should agree with you where and when you would like it to take place. If there is anyone you don't want to come to your review that's fine let your social worker know so that they are not invited. After your review is done the IRO will send out copies of who said what-this is called the Review Report and you should make sure that you have a copy.
What do people talk about at a review?
Well....firstly, anything that you want to bring up. Its your review so make sure that you have included things you want to talk about and tell people.
At the review people will probably want to talk about
- How you are getting on where you are living and with the people looking after you
- How you are getting on in school and with your education
- If you are feeling healthy,well and happy
- When you are seeing or keeping in touch with your family and the people important to you
- What activities you are doing that you enjoy
- Any other issues that need to be sorted out.
So everyone discusses me and I just sit there?
No! No! No! This is a chance for YOU to talk to everyone and you make the most out of your review. You are the most important person at the table and people should talk to you and not ABOUT you. This is a chance for you to find out who is supporting you and what they are doing to make your life better. If you feel too shy or don’t like meetings you can get your advocate to come with you or even go on your behalf and they can use your words to tell everyone there how things feel for you and how you would like things to be.
Before the meeting
Before your review meeting you will be sent a 'Your review ' form which has questions about what is happening in your life. This goes to the IRO and helps them plan the meeting to make sure all the stuff that is important to you is covered. If you hate forms, your carer or an advocate can help you do this. Your IRO will talk to you before your review and check over the things you have put down.
But I really really really really really really really really don't want to go
Nobody can force you to go to a meeting that you don't want to go to, that'd be cruel but it is important that you get your views to the meeting so that everyone knows how you feel. You can fill in the ‘Your Review’ form, make a statement and ask your advocate to read it out for you, write a letter to the IRO, make a video, draw picture…………Remember you are an expert in your own life and what you think and feel is really important.