Children & Young People Opinion

We dream big to make a real difference

Mike Blakey, Group Director of Quality & Outcomes, Outcomes First Group

Mike Blakey, Group Director of Quality & Outcomes, Outcomes First Group, shares his thoughts on the importance of offering bespoke and flexible pathways of care and education in order to maximise outcomes for vulnerable children, young people and adults

Children in care often achieve lower academic grades than their peers in the UK. SATs results from 2019 showed that just 35% of looked after children nationally reached the expected standard in reading, writing and mathematics, while at GCSE level, only 17.5% achieved grade 4 or above in both English and Mathematics in 2018[i]. Those with autism or complex needs are also under achieving; recent data[ii] reveals that just 16% of adults with autism are in full-time paid work – a figure that has remained static since 2007. How can we work together to close these gaps and maximise outcomes for these vulnerable individuals?

As Group Director of Quality & Outcomes for Outcomes First Group – newly formed after NFA Group and Outcomes First Group united to offer a national network of award-winning, DfE registered specialist schools, therapeutic care homes and independent fostering providers – I believe that stability, continuity and individualised support hold the key to success.

Children’s basic needs must be met before they can be ‘ready to learn’, according to Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs[iii], a key theory in psychology. For children with developmental trauma or other complex needs, many of these fundamentals – feeling safe, a sense of love and belonging, self-esteem – are severely lacking. Through early intervention and integrated high quality education and care, we can optimise pathways of care for these vulnerable individuals and maximise their future potential.

The Stability Index Report, released by the Children’s Commissioner in 2019, found that 52% of children in care experience at least one home move over a three-year period, while 45,000 experienced at least one change of social worker in 2017/18. A united approach to supporting each individual – where staff, therapists, teachers, parents and carers maintain close contact with each other – promotes joined-up thinking and consistency.

For example, we pooled our knowledge and resources to enable a young person to continue his education in one of our schools when the local authority had planned to move him out of area after his foster placement broke down, through no fault of his own. By working collaboratively with the LA, our school and our residential services, we found him a place in a lovely home near his current school – maintaining a crucial point of stability in his life.

Taking an integrated approach across traditional professional divisions offers clear advantages when supporting vulnerable individuals whilst enabling staff to share best practice. Far too often we hear that social workers and foster carers do not understand the complex Education and Health Care Plan (EHCP) process or how to navigate the world of school placements. Our education team has supported foster carers to enable the children in their care to get access to the right special school – it’s a powerful cross-sharing of knowledge.

To achieve high outcomes, it is important to aim high. Individuals in care or with complex needs should have access to the same work experience opportunities and life-changing adventures as other children. For example, the Duke of Edinburgh Award scheme broadens horizons and raises self-esteem, and is highly regarded by employers. We offer it across all our services; it’s part of our Dream Big strategy, our pledge to make a real difference in the lives of those we support. Last year we watched around 20 individuals in our care blossom after trips we organised with the British Exploring Society to the Scottish Highlands, the Yukon and Peru.

From front line residential care to Human Resources, I believe that if everyone is focused on improving outcomes for these vulnerable individuals, we can narrow the gaps between their achievements and those of their peers. Ultimately, the difference between a good service and a great service is the real improvement you make to these people’s lives and their future prospects.

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Edel Harris





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