Voices Making Choices

VMC is made up of more than 70 young people aged eight – 22 who have various experiences of the care system.

VMC is made up of more than 70 young people aged eight – 22 who have various experiences of the care system.

​Voices Making Choices (VMC) are Northumberland’s Children in Care Council.

All local authorities are expected to make arrangements to set up a children in care council to ‘give children in care a forum to express their views and influence the services and support they receive…’ (Care Matters: A Time for Change, DCSF, 2007)

Northumberland’s Children in Care Council was set up in 2009 and they have called themselves Voices Making Choices.

Who are we?

VMC is made up of young people aged eight to 22 who have various experiences of the care system.

They are from different backgrounds and have different experiences including:
  • residential homes
  • foster care
  • some have disabilities
  • some are from families who foster children
  • 14 + service.
VMC meet every four weeks and managers and councillors come to their meetings to discuss issues and get their views. We also meet at other times to work on projects together.

If you as young people have any issues you would like VMC to take up for you, please contact VMC by emailing voicesmakingchoices@northumberland.gov.uk or you can call Saira Park on 01670 623980. 

Care Matters

The government wants to make things better for young people in care and to have a bigger say in what happens to them. They wrote about their ideas to make things better for young people in care in a booklet called "Care Matters: transforming the lives of children and young people in care".

They asked young people and people who work with them what they thought about our ideas and then made plans to make things better for young people in care. They picked seven main things which would help make things better for young people in care:
  • More help for families that are having problems.
  • Good, settled care in a place that is right for the young person in care.
  • Places in schools that will help them to do their best.
  • More support out of school to help them to do well.
  • Giving young people a say about when they move out of care, and what support they need.
  • Listening to what young people say they need.
  • Making sure every young person in care has one adult they can always go and talk to. This could be a carer or a social worker.
For more information about what the government will do to make sure these seven things happen, click here.

How to get involved

You can contact staff who support VMC by calling or texting 07966332280 or you can email:
advocacy@northumberland.gov.uk

 
All council employees, service areas, departments, directorates and elected members must consider looked-after children and young people as if they were their own children and provide services for them accordingly.

All council services will work together, with partner agencies such as health, housing and leisure to achieve the best possible outcomes for children and young people looked after by Northumberland County Council.

This involves having the best educational and leisure opportunities, ensuring that their health and welfare is taken care of, and that they receive encouragement, praise, support and preparation towards independence.

Corporate parenting panel

Elected members (councillors) have an important role to play in overseeing the services provided for looked-after children and young people to make sure that the services are improving their outcomes.

They must ensure that the services would be good enough for their own children.

Northumberland County Council has a corporate parenting and safeguarding panel which meets every three months.
Our promise to you.

Having a voice

You should always be involved in decisions about your life. We will listen to what you have to say and take your views into account when making decisions. Some of the ways we will do this include:

  • making sure you have time with your social worker
  • encouraging you to take part in meetings which are about you
  • supporting you to get your views about our services across through groups such as the Children in Care Council (VMC)

Stable relationships

Relationships are important in everyone’s life. We want to make sure we support you in maintaining current relationships and help you to develop new supportive relationships in your life. This means:
  • carers and workers who can meet your needs and provide support when you need it
  • helping you to have contact with your family and friends according to your care plan

High aspirations

Having high aspirations means that we want the best for you in all areas of your life. We will encourage you to have goals and believe in yourself. To help you do well, we will support you to:
  • get the right education, training and employment opportunities
  • take part in sporting, leisure and cultural activities
  • access appropriate health services

Tell us how we are doing

We want looked after children and young people to tell us whether we are meeting Our Promise

There are many ways you can do this:
  • Tell a carer or worker
  • Contact our participation workers
  • Talk to a senior manager
  • Get in touch with VMC
Find out more information below.

 

Regional Children in Care Council (RCICC)

Young people also have the opportunity to participate in the regional children in care council which brings together young people from across the North East to discuss and look at issues affecting young people that are looked after.

The Youth Cabinet of Northumberland

This is an elected group of 10 young people, who have been given the mandate by teenagers in county-wide elections to take the young persons voice directly to the county council.

The youth cabinet have run mock elections in numerous middle schools, allowing the students to see at first hand how their vote makes a difference.

They are organising charity events to raise money and awareness for teenage cancers and they are running a climate change competition to encourage young people to make a difference in their high schools.

Alongside this, the youth cabinet have regular meetings with the leader of the county council, taking the young persons voice right to the top.

For more information on what they do visit: www.northumberland.gov.uk/youthcabinet

The UKYP (UK Youth Parliament)

This is a national organisation of elected young people who debate the key issues concerning teenagers from across Britain and put pressure on the politicians to take notice.

Northumberland has two representatives on the UKYP who are working to see improvements on transport and promoting democracy for young people and much else.

The UKYP has made history by holding debates within both the House of Lords and House of Commons showing the importance of this group in making important heads turn.

Visit www.ukyp.org.uk for more information on what they do.
What is advocacy?

Advocacy is when someone helps you to have your say or speaks for you, if you are struggling to be heard. Advocates support you to be involved in decisions that affect you.

Advocacy service for looked-after children and young people

You could be:
  • worried about moving placements
  • feel like no–one is listening
  • wanting to change something but not sure how
Some things we can help with:
  • writing a letter to your social worker
  • attending meetings and giving adults your views
  • preparing for a review
  • information on your rights
“If you can’t use your voice…. use ours!"
Click here to see the advocacy process.

Getting in touch:

You can speak to an advocate using the details below: 

Email:
advocacy@northumberland.gov.uk

Phone or text:
07966332280

Participation & Advocacy Team
Northumberland Youth Service
Northumbria House
Manor Walks Shopping Centre
Cramlington
NE23 6UR

We are available Monday to Friday, 8.30am-4.30pm. If we are busy, we have an answer phone and you can leave a message and we will get back to you within two working days.

Independent advocacy service

If you would prefer to speak to an independent advocate (someone who does not work for Northumberland County Council) you can contact us and we can put you in touch with someone.

Contact us:
Email: advocacy@northumberland.gov.uk
Phone or text: 07966332280
​Each area has a team of social workers known as a FACT team. Your social worker is there to support you throughout your care and will be able to answer any questions you have.

They will also be the link to your family and carers and oversee what is going on in your life. They will meet with you regularly and you can also contact them over the phone if you need to.

You should know who your social worker is but if you don’t, please contact us and we will find out for you.

If you have any questions, compliments or complaints about your social worker, you can contact their team manager. To see who that is, click here.
The following information tells you about foster care. We have this information available in a hard copy booklet for you too. If you have any questions, please let us know.

What is a foster care?

Foster carers are people who want to help look after you, while you are unable to stay with your family. They will do all they can to help you feel safe and cared for while you are away from your family. They will listen to what you want and help you stay in touch with your family and friends.

Everyone in children’s services will help your foster carers to look after you properly.

The foster care team prepare, train and supervise our foster carers so they can look after you properly. They and your social worker are part of children’s services and will work with you and your family to give you the best care that they can.

What to expect when you are fostered

You have the right:
  • not to be spoken to in a nasty or hurtful way
  • not to be made to feel bad about yourself
  • not to be hurt in any way
  • to be talked to and listened to about plans or decisions made about you
  • to be helped in talking about your wishes and feelings
  • to be offered the right sort of school and play activities
  • to be helped to keep in touch with all important people in your life .The only exceptions may be if someone has to be with you when you meet with family (called supervised contact) or where we think that contact may be unsafe for you
  • to make a complaint. You can do this yourself or get someone to do this for you. This will be sorted out quickly.
  • to ask for, or approach, an independent advocate for advice and support. They will talk to people on your behalf if you want them to. The names and numbers are on the back of this leaflet.
  • to feel safe and comfortable

What happens when I go to live with my carer?

It is scary going to live with strangers. All families are different, so you will feel strange at first. Foster carers understand this and will do their best to make you feel welcome and comfortable.

Tell them how you feel and what you do and do not like. Ask them questions e.g. do I get pocket money? Can I choose what to eat? Can I use the phone?

Foster carers will tell you the rules and routines in their house so you know what to expect. Do not worry if people make mistakes. It will take a little time to get used to each other and work things out together.

Foster carers receive information about you and your family so they know something about you.  They will welcome you bringing your favourite and familiar things with you. We try and choose a foster family that is as close to your family as possible.  We want you to have as much contact with your family and friends as you can. It would be good if you could carry on with the same clubs, youth clubs, etc.

Please try to talk to your foster carer first. Questions and worries can usually be sorted out easily. If this is not possible, talk to your social worker.

You may want to make a complaint about children’s services, education, the health service or other things. Your foster carer can help you sort out how to go about this, or may be able to act for you.

People you can talk to:

Foster Care Team
Family Support & Placement Service
Tweed House
Hepscott Park
Stannington
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 6NF
Tel: 01670 534450

Director Children’s Services
County Hall
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 2EF
Tel: 01670 533000

Client Relations
County Hall
Morpeth
Northumberland
NE61 2EF
Tel: 01670 533888

Advocacy Service
Robin Craig : mobile 07785 573426
Anya Proud : mobile 07768 658436
Email: Robin.Craig@northumberland.gov.uk
Anya.Proud@northumberland.gov.uk

OFSTED
If you want to make a complaint or have a concern about the fostering service:

Email: enquiries@ofsted.gov.uk
Tel: 08456 014772    (8am  to 6pm)

Staying Put is an option for young people and carers if they want to continue living in the foster home from the age of 18 and 20. Please have a look out our new Staying Put flyer here.
What is adoption?

Being adopted means living and growing up in a new family and it may happen if you can’t live with your birth family – the family you were born into. This may be because your parents might feel that they can’t look after you, and think it would be best for you to live with a new family. Some children might have been hurt or not looked after properly. If this happens, children’s social services and the Courts of Law might decide that the children should live with a new family.

Who gets adopted?

Hundreds of children are adopted every year. Some are babies, some older, some are adopted with their sisters and brothers, some are adopted from different countries, and some are adopted by people they know – like relatives and friends of the family.

How do I get a new family?

Northumberland Adoption Service is part of Northumberland County Council. We think that you should grow up in a family, who loves you and makes you feel safe.

We will find you a new family and organise your adoption.

People who will help you include:
  • your social worker – someone who tries to help children and their families when they have difficulties. Part of your social worker’s job is to help you understand the things you are worried about. You could be worried about changes that have happened in your life or changes that might be happening in the future. You can talk about these and lots of other things with your social worker.
  • your children’s permanence worker or family finder – a social worker who knows a lot about adoption and who looks for new families for children who need a new family
  • an adoption social worker or family placement social worker – a social worker who checks  families who are looking to adopt a child or children and makes sure that they are good enough to adopt.
First they find out all about you:

Your social worker will ask you and your family some questions. You should tell them the really important things about yourself, such as what you like and do not like; things that make you happy and things that make you sad; and things you are good at.

This is all written in a report called a children’s permanence report. When this is done your social worker will talk to a group of people called the ‘adoption panel’ to make sure that adoption is the best plan for you.

While you are being looked after by us, we will help collect important things as you grow up, so you can look back at photos and read about special memories from when your early childhood – these will be kept in a life story book or box.

A life story book is an important book all about you. Your birth family, your foster carer and your social worker will have collected things about your life for your life story book.

These things usually include photographs of your birth family, any other special people and your favourite places. Other things included can be school certificates, DVD recordings, special letters, leaflets from places that you have visited or anything else you think is important to keep.

It might include a birth family tree and the details of places you have lived since you were born and who has cared for you.  The life story book is yours and will go with you to your new family, so that you can continue to add things to it in the future.

It is a very special book and your new family will keep it in a safe place so it will be there whenever you want to see it. We keep a copy of your life story book on your adoption file in case it gets damaged or lost.
There are a lot of people that your social worker talks to, and there are many steps they have to take to make sure that they find the best family for you.
  • Your social worker will talk to you, your birth parents and maybe your grandparents, aunts and uncles about your future. Sometimes birth families agree that adoption would be best for their child and sometimes they disagree.  What your family thinks is very important and everyone will listen very carefully to what they have to say.
  • The adoption panel then decides if adoption will be best for you. Then, a place called a Court of Law will make the final decision about you being adopted after hearing what everyone has to say.
  • You will be visited by someone called a guardian who is there to tell the court what they think should happen after listening to you, your family, Northumberland County Council and the adoption panel.
  • The court will then decide whether your social worker should try and find a new family for you. If the court decides that they should, it will also decide to make a care order and a placement order  (a care order means that we share looking after you with your parents, so you may stay with a foster family for a while, a placement order means that we can place you with a new family).
  • When the children’s permanence social worker finds a family, they will tell your social worker. The family that has been found for you will have told an adoption social worker all about themselves. This is written in a form called a prospective adopters report. Your social worker and family finder will visit the family to see if they’re right for you.
  • When the social workers think they have found the right family for you, they check with the adoption panel and the head of children’s services.
After all of the above things have happened you will be able to ask questions about your new family. They may send you a book with photographs or a video so you can see them and where you will live.  You will meet your new family lots of times before you live with them. The first meeting will probably happen at your foster carer’s home. You will be able to visit your new home before you move there.
You will go to live with your new family when you have got to know them and you are ready. You may need to go to a new school and see a new doctor. Your social worker will make sure that these things are arranged for you.

Your social worker will still visit you until you are officially adopted. You can tell them how you feel and how you are settling in. It will be strange for a while until you get used to all the new things in your life.

You and your new family will have a meeting together with a reviewing officer to make sure that you are all happy – this is called a formal review. If you want the reviewing officer to know something but don’t want to talk to them, you can ask your new family or your social worker to say things for you.

If you want to, you can write it down or draw a picture about it. If the reviewing officer thinks that you or your family need some extra help, then they will ask your social worker to arrange this. The reviewing officer will come again to visit your new home every now and again until you are adopted.

When you and your new family are ready, your family will ask the court if they can adopt you. The judge will talk to you, your social worker and your new family. If the judge decides it’s best for you to stay with your new family, they will make an adoption order. This will be a very special day and you may have a celebration. Some families celebrate this day every year.

Your birth family will always by important to you, they are part of who you are. Your adoptive family will be just as important because they will share new things with you.
Just because you do not live with your birth parents does not mean they do not love you. They just cannot look after you.

If you are  living with a foster carer you will probably be having some contact with your birth family.  How you feel about contact is very important and your social worker and foster carer can talk to you about this.

After you’re been adopted there are different ways you can keep in touch with your birth family. Sometimes your birth parents and adoptive parents can send letters to each other through our post box system.

Sometimes you can also send letters and cards to your brothers and sisters. This is called indirect contact. In a very few cases you can meet with some members of  your birth family, for example a brother or sister. This is called direct contact. Contact usually takes place once or twice a year.

By using the post box system your birth family can continue to share information about your background and pass on news about what’s happening in your birth family. This can help you feel comfortable about who you are and can help you settle with your new family. If letters cannot be passed on, the post box will keep the letters. When you’re over 18 you can ask to see them. Your birth family can also ask.

If you have anything to say, we want to hear it

You can choose a person to be your advocate – this is a person who will listen to what you want to say, and who you want to say it to, and will tell them on your behalf.  An advocate could be:
  • your social worker
  • the person who is looking after you
  • The advocacy team
  • an adoption support worker
  • your social worker can organise an independent visitor for you
Northumberland Adoption Service is here to help:
  • children who need adopted families
  • children who have been adopted
  • adults who have been adopted
  • birth families
  • people who want to adopt
  • families who have adopted
If you have any questions about adoption, you can contact us through your social worker.
A young person who comes to live in one of the homes in Northumberland County Council children’s homes can expect to be well looked after in a homely and safe environment.

Northumberland County Council offers a range of residential services for children and young people who cannot live at home, either for long or short periods. 

Our secure children’s home facility, Kyloe House, is available to support children and young people from across the UK.

More information about Northumberland's residential services can be found on their pages here.
What we do

We help people develop the skills to move towards independence. We are available to support you when you reach 15 years and nine months old.

Services are provided via section 24 of the Children Act 1989 and The Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000.

Pathway plans

The role of the 16+ worker is to support the young person to prepare for the transition to adulthood and independent living when the assessment identifies that the young person is ready. They will support young people to identify and maintain suitable and safe accommodation via social housing, semi independent housing projects and private landlords if this is deemed suitable.

Education, employment and training needs of the young person will be identified within the needs assessment and pathway plan part 2. Once identified the young person will be supported by their 16+ and Connexions worker to realise their potential and achieve their aspirations.

The 16 + team works closely with the Future Routes group who meet once every six weeks. In addition there is the opportunity to become involved with other groups via the participation officers such as the Children in Care Council and creative writing group.

Definitions

SECTION 24
LEAVING CARE STATUS

Eligible child

A 16 or 17-year-old who is still in care and who has been in care for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14.

Relevant child

A 16 and 17-year-old who, after 01 October 2001, has left care but was in care on or after their 16th birthday and had been in care for at least 13 weeks since the age of 14. This includes young people who happened to be in the youth justice system or hospitalised on their 16th birthday.

Former relevant child

An 18 to 21-year-old who was an eligible or relevant child. This includes young people over the age of 21 who are in education or training for as long as agreed in their pathway plan.

Qualifying child

A young person aged between 18 and 21 who has left care but was in care on or after their 16th birthday and had spent less than 13 weeks in care since the age of 14 or had left care before 01 October 2001. This includes young people under the age of 24 who are in education or training.

If you need to get in touch, ring 01670 712925.
Click here to see 16+ Flowchart
Click here to see Leaving Care Guide
Click here to see 16+ Leaflet
Our Virtual School is the champion of good education outcomes for Northumberland's looked after children.

Our Virtual School is the champion of good education outcomes for Northumberland's looked after children. 

There is no Virtual School building but we do share some features of a ‘real’ school. 

More information about the Virtual School can be found here.