When it comes to looking after the vulnerable children in our city, we have a great responsibility. Be it through early intervention to make sure children and families get the right response and the right help at the right time; by exploring options for arranging children to live with wider family and friends’ wherever possible; or the situations when their care becomes our responsibility.
Our ambition and a top priority is making sure that our children in care can stay close to their families, friends, and schools. Approved at yesterday’s Cabinet, our latest sufficiency strategy for children in care and care leavers sets out exactly how we will keep children local and increase placement stability.
Care leaver Martyna reflects on staying at her secondary school, “It was quite important for me to stay in that one place because I already had teachers I could trust, I had friends that knew my background and it just meant that I didn’t have to keep going through the same struggle again, of having to almost experience my trauma again by talking to new support networks about it.” Being able to keep children in Bristol not only reduces trauma but also means children can continue to rely on key support networks.
- Keeping children local:
Deciding a child needs to come into our care is a last resort and we want to do all we can to keep children at home with their families, as long it is safe to do so.
We will achieve this through increased targeted early support for families on the edge of care. Bristol is one of 75 local authorities that will receive funding of £4.8m from the UK Government to support Family Hubs and the Start for Life programme. This funding will help us to support families to have the best start in life and prevent family breakdown.
- Same day and urgent need:
Short-term provision for children who have an urgent need for safety is necessary. We are also planning to grow our staff team. Having this in place will help us assess children who are in crisis, to stabilise them and prepare them for a more permanent living arrangement that fully meets their needs.
- Placement stability:
We want children in care to be able to develop secure attachments, however placement instability reduces this opportunity and can also intensify any existing behavioural and emotional difficulties. We will therefore expand our therapeutic support models for carers and for our children and young people to help reduce the need to end placements when the child is having difficulties.
Our current work
Our incredible fostering team are already working hard to increase local sufficiency so that children can stay local and maintain links to their networks and education and access health care. Two notable projects that they are currently working on is increasing foster carers in Bristol through an urgent appeal and ensuring children feel at home as much as possible through the creation new, smaller children’s homes.
The demand for foster carers is continuing to rise as we see more children come into care. In January 2023, there were more than 750 children and young people in care in Bristol but only 353 households fostering with Bristol City Council. We need more people to come forward to foster so that we can keep children in the local area.
Where we cannot find local foster homes for these children, there is a possibility we need to place them much further away in other parts of the country. To address this, we launched an urgent appeal at the beginning of the year calling on the people of Bristol to come forward.
We have seen a positive response so far, but we still need more people to come forward. Are you over 21 with a spare room? Become a foster carer and provide a child with a home in their city. Find out more at www.bristol.gov.uk.
In Bristol, we are also working hard to increase the number of children’s homes we have locally so that children do not have to move away from the city and can stay close to their families, friends, and schools.
We also want these homes to feel like a place they can call home. This is why last year we set out a vision for our children’s home across Bristol, for opening smaller homes across the city. This allows us to provide children with an environment that feels more like a home and gives them a better quality of care with more one on one support from our dedicated team.
We have already opened four new, smaller homes across Bristol, with one opening in the spring and at least another three smaller homes due to open in the next couple of years, and we are already seeing results. In November 2022, we had an incredibly positive Ofsted inspection, with one of our children’s homes being judged by Ofsted as good with outstanding leadership and management. These smaller homes have been able to support younger children to stabilise, experience good care and then transition to foster care whilst also supporting young people with very complex needs.
Our corporate parent commitment
Bristol is committed to being an effective, caring, and ambitious corporate parent and we will show this through our love, our language, and our actions. We want them to be and feel heard, as demonstrated in our Belonging Strategy, where we asked Bristol’s children and young people if they see themselves, their histories, cultures and identities reflected in their city.
We will do everything we can to make sure that our care-experienced children are set up for life, and this sufficiency strategy is a positive step forward to achieve this.