Thursday, 30 August 2012

Reasons to be cheerful - part 3

Yes I was (and still am) an Ian Dury fan; it was great to see 'Spasticus Autisticus' performed and danced to at the Paralympics opening ceremony last night in front of Marc Quinn's movingly powerful statue of artist Alison Lapper pregnant; the whole stadium singing 'I Am What I Am'. Stephen Hawking's final words at the ceremony were 'Be curious', it's a good injunction, not just about the natural world but also about each other. In recent weeks the Guardian has reported extensively how public views are hardening against disabled people. We used to think they were deserving but increasingly they are seen as scroungers and benefit cheats and even attacked in public. We would do well to be curious about people who are unlike us, that not only goes for the disabled but also the poor and people of other cultures, nationalities and races.

Children North East has more reasons to be cheerful this week. Our major contract to deliver sexual health services to young people has been renewed for a further year into 2013-2014, this is terrific news as it the principle income for our young people's drop-in. And another contract to help families of disabled children get the services they need has been extended for a few more months too.

We have a commission from a cluster of schools (a 'cluster' is a secondary school and its feeder primary schools) for our 'Family Man' days that get the fathers into school and encourage them to be involved in their children's education; and we're trying out 'Build It With Dad' DIY days too.

We have developed and piloted a training day for professionals about 'Fathers as Protectors' in work with children - very often fathers are ignored by professionals working with children, but they can be part of the solution.

On the 18th August Beamish Museum invited us to take 25 Dads and their children for a visit - they all had a great time, its all about bonding. Yesterday we took a group of families and children living in temporary accommodation to visit the fabulous farm and outdoor activities at Daisy Chain in Stockton - another charity that benefits by support from The People's Postcode Lottery and works with families of children who have autism.

We were kindly given some weeks in static caravans and arranged for some families to make use of them. It is amazing how much good a stressed out family gets from a week away together, sometimes it's the only family holiday they've ever had. One lad learned to swim while on holiday - what an achievement for him!

Last but not least, lots of young people have shown interest in becoming volunteers for our 2 new Youth Link projects in Newcastle, and the first group have already started their training programme. All in all plenty to be cheerful about.

Thursday, 23 August 2012

More reasons to be cheerful - and worried

More good news this week. Children North East is one of 38 providers approved  by Newcastle City Council that Newcastle schools can chose to purchase services from. No guarantee that schools will, but Newcastle Council is to be congratulated on trying to create a market for voluntary sector services.

There are glimmers that the market for family work may be beginning to happen too. In recent weeks two councils have referred complex families to us asking us to work with them. It looks like the Family Wise programme (Children North East is a sub-contractor) is at last wanting to purchase services from us too.

Children North East 'Youth Link' peer mentoring projects have found a niche whereby our trained volunteer young people work with young people who have special educational needs to help them use public transport to get to school or college instead of the council having to pay taxi fares for them. Councils are very interested in this as most spend huge amounts on taxis. We are calling it 'Bus Buddies'.

We applied to two councils to provide adult and community education programmes and have been successful. We are now negotiating with both about the exact nature of the parenting provision they want us to provide, especially engaging fathers in parenting. These won't be large commissions but further our aim to encourage positive family relationships.

Our training for adult volunteers to work with parents has been accredited by OCN, a national body. This means volunteers completing the programme can get an accreditation which demonstrates quality and helps the volunteer's CV.

BUT on the worrying side we also heard this week that 25% - that's one quarter of all homeless people in Newcastle are now young people under the age of 25; and the People's Kitchen in Newcastle has seen a large rise in the number of young people coming to them for food and help to find accommodation. The YMCA has said this is a national trend which they say has been exacerbated by an 11% cut by government to the 'Supporting People' programme that helps young people and adults with housing problems.

Thursday, 16 August 2012

It's the little things that make the difference

Children North East families and parenting service has been busy this summer providing inexpensive activities and good experiences for whole families. Families whose lives are overshadowed by misfortune and hardship, often don't include much fun. So there have been picnics in the park, Diamond Jubilee parties, day trips to the seaside and 'mini Olympics' - races in the park.

One of our family and parenting staff enjoys taking photographs, she takes her camera to all these events and  captures all the children individually, with their siblings and in family groups. In her own time and at her own expense she prints the photographs and organises them into albums - one for each family. It sounds like a nice, kind thing to do, a little 'extra' for each family, until you realise that many families possess few or even no pictures of their children.

A family are evicted from their home, possessions including photographs are easily lost. A woman flees domestic violence, she doesn't want to draw attention to her plans by taking photographs so they are left behind. Children of the same parents are separated when the parents separate, there are no pictures of the children together. Printed photographs not in albums are mislaid or damaged, digital photographs on phones are lost when the phone is stolen or stops working. And so on.

Imagine not having photographs of yourself as a child when everyone else does? Imagine being a child at school and the whole class is asked to bring in a photograph of them as a baby when the topic is family history, but you don't have one? You can't take part, you feel excluded, different (yet again).

A few photographs in an album is a small thing but can make a huge difference to disadvantaged families and children - a sense of identity, memories of good times, family history, a keepsake to treasure, a sense of belonging to the same society as everyone else. So thank you for your thoughtfulness, kindness and generosity ___ (you know who you are), it is little things like this that touches lives.

Thursday, 9 August 2012

Newcastles of the World - and our brilliant young people

Did you know there are over 100 places called 'Newcastle' in the world? Every two years 'Newcastles of the World' gather in one of the cities, this year it was the turn of our very own Newcastle upon Tyne to host the biggest ever gathering for a week of events that took place at the end of July.

This year for the first time young people from other Newcastles were invited to take part - young people came from South Africa, Germany, Switzerland and Japan. Newcastle Youth Council (which is supported by Children North East) organised a range of workshops and activities for the young people. South Africa brought some of their Youth Parliament representatives; Germany and Switzerland have long established youth councils and Japan did not have a Youth Council but went away enthused to create one.
Delegates from places called Newcastle all over the world on a visit to Alnwick Castle at the end of July
The week consisted of discussions, civic events hosted by the Mayor of Newcastle and sightseeing tours in the region.

The youth delegates debated common concerns - environmental issues; enterprise, education and employment; youth image - the way in which young people are portrayed in the different countries; and Youth Councils, this last being lead by young people from the Newcastle upon Tyne Youth Council. On the final day the young people fed back their conclusions to the adult delegates, who accepted their proposal for a website with guidance about how to set up youth councils and so that young people living in different Newcastles can be in contact with each other.

The next gathering will be in Newcastle, Ontario, Canada in 2014. Our own Youth Councillors had a fantastic time and hope maybe they will get to visit Canada in two years time as young representatives of Newcastle upon Tyne.

Thursday, 2 August 2012

Reasons to be cheerful

We have just received a grant of £76,000 from the People's Postcode Lottery Care Trust. It is wonderful to have this 'unrestricted income' meaning we are free to spend it how we think best, rather than the grant giver stipulating what it must be spent on. We need unrestricted income to keep the show on the road, filling in gaps left by reduced grants from local authorities. So thank you People's Postcode Lottery Care Trust and an even bigger thank you to all the players of the People's Postcode Lottery who buy the tickets that contribute to good causes.

BIG (the Big Lottery Fund) has announced two new funds for the North East. One is for people with 'multiple and complex needs' meaning people suffering from combinations of mental ill-health, homelessness, substance misuse or release from prison; the other is to help young people age 18 to 25 into employment. BIG is looking for one application for each fund in the Tyne and Wear area, each must be from a partnership of third sector organisations (charities, voluntary organisations and social enterprises). These are for reasonable amounts of money - £4 million over several years for the complex needs one. Children North East is part of discussions with other organisations to develop these applications. A common feature of adults with complex needs is that they have lost contact with family, even their children - Children North East could assist rebuild those relationships in those cases where all involved want that to happen.

We applied to the North East Policy and Representation Partnership for a small grant to develop a 'child poverty toolkit' for schools. Unintentionally many schools do things that exclude poorer children - the way they manage free school meals, uniform policies, assuming all pupils have internet access at home, the cost of school trips, asks for charity such as non-school uniform days and so on. We have spoken to some schools about this and they are eager to have some help, our toolkit will challenge them to ask the right questions and suggest improvements.

We had a regular review meeting with the People's Postcode Lottery recently, they were very happy that the number of regular players is increasing as apparently it always does in hard times, the hope of winning a big prize is a great attraction when people have little money. BIG gets its money from the National Lottery, for the last 7 years the London Olympics have had a share of that, the voluntary sector hopes that will now revert to supporting other good causes.