top of page

Matt looks back at ‘Kids’ – Coventry City Council

Matt Clayton, the Council’s Strategic Lead gives a personal look at what Channel 4’s Kids highlighted around the state of the care system and the importance of relationships.

To develop normally, a child requires progressively more complex and joint activity with one or more adults who have an irrational emotional relationships with the child. Somebody’s got to be crazy about the kid. That’s number one. First, last, and always. Bronfenbrenner, 1971
High-quality relationships matter more than anything else for children in or on the edge of care, and for the adults in their lives … it is clear that we need a care system that places at its heart the quality and continuity of relationships, and that promotes and enhances the ability of those who are important to children – caregivers and others – to provide the care and support they need The Care Inquiry, 2013

The idea that relationships and love are central to children thriving is not new, neither is the idea that relationships should be at the heart of a working children’s social care system. 

The recent Josh McAlister review and the Government response Stable Homes, Built on Love are not new thinking but do finally recognise the need for love to be at the centre of the care system. In my years as a social worker too often have, I seen a system that breaks relationships rather than restores and develops them. A system where children move homes so regularly, they begin to reject people and break arrangements down before they are rejected again. 

A system where profit and fear of the regulatory body comes before sticking with children when the going gets tough. We have a system where children’s homes can be praised by the regulator for moving children on because they were unable to keep them safe despite us knowing that moving children very rarely reduces risk or improves outcomes. 

As a social worker and manager who has seen many young people survive the care system, I have often wondered what the most important factor is. 

I think this series Kids really shows what it is. It is love and having someone that gives a dam about you know matter what. It may be a family member, a foster carer, a teacher or even a social worker, but it is that someone who goes above and beyond again and again who is completely committed to that child or young person no matter what.

In Coventry in more recent years, we have sought over the last few years to look at how we can practice social work in a way that strengthens and builds relationships recognising that the care system is broken, and we need to empower families and support them to find their own solutions wherever possible.

Episode one of Kids features Xorin one of many young people who have been supported by our reunification team. This work came about because we recognised that was a group of young people where care wasn’t working for them, they had been in several different places with many missing episodes, and we needed to try something different. The Reunification Project was developed to support children returning home where it is safe to do so. 

We know the sheer cost of accommodating a child and wanted to see if we could more creatively use these resources to bring families back together. This project has had tremendous success but when you look at stories it shows we need to think differently about care. One sibling group of three children were in care partly because Mum was unable to provide a stable home life, in their time in care they were split up and moved around the country. 

Now they are all back home with Mum and doing brilliantly. The sad indictment is that often the state would have children removed from its own care if we applied the same threshold as we do to families. This isn’t to say no children should be in care, for some children it is clearly the right thing, and we see how they thrive within the care system. 

In episode 3 Havana speaks so eloquently of wanting to come into care and difference this has made to her life. The point is though that this isn’t a zero-sum decision bringing a child into care has risks and so if we are making decision to do so firstly, we need to make sure we have done everything we can to ensure children remain at home when it is safe to do so and secondly when we do bring children into care make sure they are then getting the care system they deserve.

This means massively improving the care system and the support for young people leaving care. We know that the average age of leaving home is now 26 but for many care-experienced young people the age is 18 or below. Whilst working to secure more foster carers that can keep young people post-18, we also need to ensure that when care-experienced young people do move on, they have support they need. 

Examples of how to do this include Lifelong Links this is an approach to ensure children in care: have lasting relationships which they can depend on; learn about their history and background; have people to turn to. We see in the series Bayley being supported by this process and what this means to her. Another way we can do this is through the National House Project, which works with young people using a psychologically informed practice framework to develop the skills, knowledge and confidence to grow their community, make their first home and have a positive future. 

What I love about both these ways of working is that they are about building relationships and community recognising that people thrive when they have positive relationships and are supported to nurture, develop and manage these. 

These are rays of light that give us hope that the care system can develop, that more can be done to support families at an early stage and that for those children that do need to come into care the experience of both being in care and leaving care can change for the better. 

Each of the young people who features in these documentaries is amazing and you cannot help but feel amazed by their resilience and ability to overcome. But also amazing are those that walk alongside them: the foster carers who continue to support Byron into adulthood; the workers going to check in on Bayley late at night because they are worried; the former teacher committing to stay involved as a Lifelong Link; the social worker supporting Havana through the process of reaching out for answers and attending her drag shows in her evenings. 

These special people realise they are each crazy for the young people they support. 

Maybe this could, be you? Maybe you could open your home to someone else? We all need people who are crazy about us – life goes very wrong very quickly when we feel alone.