Major expansion of Lifelong Links initiative for children and young people in care
Published: 8th February 2022
4 minute read
More children and young people looked after in the care system will soon have the opportunity to take part in Lifelong Links and reconnect with relatives and friends.
The Lifelong Links approach supports children and young people in care to build positive, lasting relationships they can rely on into adulthood. It has been implemented in 22 local authorities across the UK and over 2000 children and young people have benefitted to date. New funding will see the approach expanded across North West and South East England, and to three additional local authorities in Scotland. The first two Welsh local authorities began to implement Lifelong Links in 2021.
Family Rights Group designed Lifelong Links in response to research findings that too often the care system breaks or disrupts relationships for children and young people in care, leaving them isolated with few social contacts to rely on practically and emotionally.
A Lifelong Links coordinator, trained and equipped by FRG and based in a local authority’s family group conference service, uses a range of tools and techniques, to find and safely connect the child or young person with relatives and others who care about them, such as former foster carers, friends or teachers. The network is then brought together at a Lifelong Links Family Group Conference where a lasting support plan is developed with and for the child.
An Oxford University evaluation found that Lifelong Links leads to increased placement stability and 78% of young people reported a greater sense of identity and belonging. Average relationships increase from 7 to 26.
Family Rights Group have been successful in collaborating with local authorities on a major expansion of the approach.
Funding from the Department for Education’s ‘Children’s Social Care Covid-19 Regional Recovery and Building Back Better Fund’ means FRG are now working with additional local authorities in North West and South East England to establish or expand family group conference services and Lifelong Links. Family group conferences bring together a child’s wider family to make a plan for the child where there are concerns about their welfare. This can help avert a child needing to enter the care system.
Moreover, funding from the Promise Partnership will see the approach implemented in three additional local authorities in Scotland, taking the total to eight. This includes North Lanarkshire who are implementing Lifelong Links with a specific focus on young people separated from their siblings.
Cathy Ashley, Chief Executive of Family Rights Group, said:
“Being able to turn to family and friends when we need support is something many of us take for granted. Too often for children and young people looked after in the care system, those relationships have been broken leaving them socially isolated. During the pandemic, that lack of a support network has been even more acutely felt.
“Family Rights Group’s Lifelong Links approach aims to change that, strengthening the family and community networks of those children who cannot live at home. It also leads to system change so that relationships are valued and protected from the outset and not unnecessarily broken.
“The Department for Education’s Children’s Social Care Recovery Fund in England and Promise Partnership funding from the Scottish Government are important opportunities to improve how the child welfare system operates. We’re excited to be working with new local authorities to expand Lifelong Links so that hundreds more children and young people in care can benefit.”
Sandy and Bradley, young people who have taken part in Lifelong Links, share their thoughts:
Sandy: “I think the biggest surprise for me was probably getting in touch with my auntie. She’ll have some of the answers as to like the questions I had about my mum. I just, I wanted to see my brothers, wanted to know what they look like, wanted to have a relationship with them and I actually have that now. Things just feel a bit more normal. I feel a lot more connected because I have family now.”
Bradley: “I’d had no contact with them at all (father’s family).. at my Lifelong Links family group conference my grandfather stood up and welcomed me into the family and gave me a hug…. I can just go to my aunties, uncles, granddad, go have a catch up, have a cup of tea, help grandad up the allotment. They are always there and they know I’m there for them too.”