Interview: Social Care Today speaks to Stoke-on-Trent’s ‘ultimate pushy parent’

Social Care Today Spoke to Cllr Dave Evans, Cabinet Member for Children and Young People at Stoke-on-Trent City Council, about how the local authority is transforming the way foster children are viewed and how they became the first council to win the Fostering Friendly award in 2022.

The past few years have been filled with huge challenges. From the cost-of-living crisis, the pandemic and the war in Ukraine, there have been various relentless reasons not to get out of bed in the morning. However, despite so many distractions, small pockets of hope have made their way into reality, attempting to restore people’s faith.

group of women standing on green grass field during daytime

Naming himself the county’s ‘ultimate pushy parent’, Cllr Dave Evans has spent the past three years trying to change the way children in care are viewed by society – unflagging in his efforts to stop at nothing until they were granted the best possible start in life. 

These efforts did not go unnoticed as in November 2022 Stoke-on-Trent City Council was named as Fostering Friendly – Employer of the year, at the Fostering Excellence Awards ceremony which took place in Birmingham.

Speaking on behalf of the council’s achievement and the drive behind helping foster children, Mr Evans smiled as he said: ‘Stoke-on-Trent City Council think it’s right that every young person should have an equal chance at life, and they don’t get that in the society we live in.’

The councillor notes that 48% of care leavers across the country end up not in education and that 25% of the UK’s prison population have been in the care system as a child at one point. Following these statistics, the local authority is doing all it can to ensure the children under their care are given the best start in life.

Mr Evans says, and remarks this comment is echoed throughout the local authority: ‘It’s wrong that these life chances are taken away from young people because services from local authorities haven’t been where they need to be and I felt very strongly, as I do now that things need to improve for my city, my home, but also across the country’. 

Offering opportunities

In 2019, Stoke-on-Trent City Council’s children’s services were deemed ‘inadequate’ following an Ofsted inspection. The governing body uncovered children were not being protected and cases were being ‘inappropriately closed’. However, the department was revisited in October 2022, and it is now regarded as a local authority with ‘co-ordinated and relentless drive’ to improve children’s experiences.

‘We have more children in care than most other local authorities and our children in care age range is the second highest in the country,’ Mr Evans said. ‘Foster care improvement is something all local authorities battle with.’

Appointed as Cabinet Member in 2019, Mr Evans did not let the ‘battle’ of improving foster care walk all over him – he took matters into his own hands and states how the local authority successfully took the journey into making the city more foster friendly.

Proposed in 2019, Stoke-on-Trent City Council took it’s first steps into becoming a foster friendly employer, a programme introduced to help employees balance their work alongside looking after a foster child, and progressed to working with other organisations to share their experiences and inspire others. 

‘In that time we’ve managed to get up to 16 employers and over 30,000 employees in the city who work for a foster friendly employer – that’s everyone from the city council to our repairs and maintenance company staff to Stoke City Football Club – the first football club in the football league to be foster friendly’, Mr Evans says.

Swapping brews for brilliant work placements

Alongside making organisations foster friendly, Stoke-on-Trent City Council also ensure children that are aged 16 plus are supported once they leave the care system. To ensure this, Mr Evans notes ‘we basically copied the idea off foster friendly’ and have created a programme which allows accredited employers across the city to offer work experience to care leavers.

photo of bulb artwork

Speaking about the programme Mr Evans says the council have 12 employers registered under the scheme, which includes organisations from design and technology to maintenance. 

‘The programme is about getting as many employers as you can across the city to sign up to offer work placement opportunities’, Mr Evans states optimistically. 

Although, he notes that the local authority will not offer any old placement: ‘Not traditional work opportunities like making a cup of tea for two weeks, but for once it’s really important to me that it’s meaningful, so these young people can build on the experience and progress forward with it.

‘I’m proud to tell OFSTED that I see myself as the city’s ultimate pushy parent and I have the legal responsibility for every child in care and I want to make sure they have the best opportunities they can.’

Unsung heroes

However, if you thought the local authority couldn’t do much more to help the foster care sector, Mr Evans concluded our interview by praising the work foster carers do – comparing them to ‘unsung heroes’. 

Mr Evans says: ‘Foster care in general doesn’t have the profile it deserves and not just throughout the cost-of-living stuff but in general because as a politician I can tell you in my time at the council I’ve had thousands of emails about potholes, hundreds about grass cutting and I’ve only had around 20 emails maximum about children in care and how we support them in foster care.’

During these challenging times, nurses, rail workers, teachers and postal staff have flooded the news and government discussions with their opinions on how they are paid too little for both how hard they work and to keep up with rising costs, yet whilst they’re demands remain relevant, Cllr Evans remarks foster carers deserve more recognition.

On 2nd January 2023, more than 120 foster carers in North Yorkshire signed a petition asking for ‘an increase in fees and allowances’ to stop carers being ‘forced into poverty’ by the cost-of-living. They are also demanding free school meals to be offered to children living in foster care.

In an attempt to place social workers on a podium, Cllr Evans says the council has organised various fun runs which have included various foster carers and invited them to city-wide events including Christmas light switch ons and Stoke Pride to showcase the ‘exceptional’ work they do.

Finishing the interview Dave Evans remarks: ‘As a country we don’t value foster carers much as we should – so we have over 1000 children in care in the city and they all deserve a loving home and, ultimately, that only happens if we have foster carers.’

Photo by AbsolutVision and Artem Kniaz


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