As part of Leicester's participation strategy, young people who are looked after by the local authority or who are care leavers can become Care Experienced Consultants (CEC).
Leicester City Council, in the East Midlands, is one of the first councils in England to develop a rights-based participation approach based on the Lundy Model of Participation, developed by Professor Laura Lundy, which complements their strengths-based practice model embedded across the department. The approach is described in the council’s participation strategy.
As part of this strategy, young people who are looked after by the local authority or who are care leavers can become Care Experienced Consultants (CEC). CECs work with council policy makers to shape, review and improve services. One of the recent projects the CEC have supported is the commissioning of accommodation and support project for young people aged 16 to 25 years-old in the city in 2021.
The council’s Social Care and Education Department’s Children’s Commissioning Team and Housing Department led the commissioning project supported by its Leaving Care Service and Rights and Participation Service. It was initiated to ensure the housing services being procured met the needs of the young people who would use them and formed part of the Children’s Placement Sufficiency Strategy.
Engagement of young people
Any young people aged 16 to 25 years-old who are looked after by the local authority or are a care leaver can become a CEC. The possibility to join is publicised by existing members to their peers and through social workers, foster carers, children’s home staff and key workers talking directly to young people. Young people who are interested then meet staff from the Rights and Participation Service who explains the purpose of the group and support its day to day running. Several founding members have been involved for three or four years and take on a role of supporting younger members as a progression route.
Young people are motivated to be involved as a CEC by wanting to use their experience to improve their own lives and the lives of their peers. There is also a reward system in place which includes financial incentives such as vouchers and non-financial incentives such as training.
For the Commissioning Accommodation and Support project, the CEC worked with the Children’s Commissioning Team to develop a procurement brief for accommodation and support for young people leaving care. This brief was informed by a survey, as well as the direct discussions and experiences of the CEC. To enable this collaboration, a group of five CECs met on regular basis, both in person and then online during COVID-19 restrictions. The chair of the group also met regularly with the Commissioning Team to act as a point of liaison between the CEC and the Commissioning Team. The survey explored what young people wanted from accommodation and support. It considered topics such as ‘what does having friendly support staff mean to you?’ The survey was distributed to care leavers across the city, and to a wider audience of children, young people, and families, to inform the brief setting out expectations of providers.
Following the finalisation of the commissioning brief, the CEC then worked with the commissioning team and the council’s Procurement Team to undertake the evaluation and selection of the providers of the accommodation and support. CECs received training and support on understanding the procurement process and met with the Commissioning Team to decide how they could meaningfully be involved. The CEC produced three questions, based on their lived experience, which illuminated support need scenarios that could occur for care leavers. Potential contractors were required to demonstrate how they would meet those needs and enable young people develop their independence, whilst also managing risk. When the responses were submitted the young people evaluated and scored those questions, as active evaluation panel members alongside service leads. To support this process, the Commissioning Team and the Rights and Participation Service put together a package of documents specifically designed to create a space to support young people to share their voice in a meaningful way, ensuring the process was accessible.
Throughout the entire project, the CECs were directly supported by the council’s Rights and Participation Service. This service provided staffing for all of the activities within which the young people were involved, in order to support facilitation and ensure meaningful engagement. They also provided welfare support for individual young people recognising that involvement in processes can bring up emotions arising from their own life experiences.
As a result of this project, the Children’s Commissioning Team have now embedded the participation strategy and approach into their Commissioning Toolkit to enable young people to have the opportunity to be involved in future commissioning exercises and the inspections and reviews of services in future.
The collaborative approach between the Children’s Commissioning Team, Housing Department and the Rights and Participation Service was key to the success of commissioning project. It was important for all teams to plan a way of working together to jointly support the involvement of young people in the commissioning and procurement process. This required making sure the project had a young person focused approach, but also followed strict procurement rules and was a fair, confidential and legal process. Extended discussion was required between the teams to develop the process, with both sides bringing their specific expertise to the table; central to this was the participation strategy and young people, identifying how they wanted to be involved. Senior political approval from the city mayor and lead members of the council was also needed as contracts were worth millions of pounds; all of which appreciated the input of young people in sharing their experiences
The staff involved identify one of the key learnings from this project is the importance of involving young people from the beginning of the commissioning process, and enabling young people to identify ways they want to be involved in the process, and supporting this to happen. This means adapting processes and guidance to ensure young people understand what is being procured, what all of the documents are, how to evaluate tenders. In addition, honesty about what is possible and who has responsibility for various parts of the process further helps young people have realistic expectations and to make informed decisions. All staff found the process rewarding and would encourage others to reach out to support involvement of young people in more commissioning exercises in council work.
Local council: Leicester City Council
Type of council: Unitary authority
Political control: Labour (as of March 2022)
Target group: Care leavers aged 16 to 25 years-old
Area of policy making: Commissioning supported accommodation
Further details: Rights and Participation Service webpage
Liam Mawhinney, Business Change Commissioning Manager (Children’s) Social Care and Education firstname.lastname@example.org
Raakhee Varia, Senior Rights and Participation Officer, Safeguarding and Quality Assurance, Social Care and Education email@example.com