Cornwall Council is congratulated for the success of take-up of two year-olds funding

Cornwall Council has received a letter from Sam Gyimah MP who is Parliamentary Under Secretary of State for Childcare and Education congratulating the Council on the success of take-up for early learning for two year-olds.

For February 2015 Cornwall reported a take-up of the entitlement to early learning for two year-olds at 78%, or 1823 children. The South West region take-up average is 70%, placing Cornwall 3rd out 16th. Within our statistical neighbours the take-up average was 73%, placing Cornwall 4th out of 11th. If you look at the national take-up average (62%) you can see how well Cornwall is doing as it is placed 14th out of 152 local authorities.

Furthermore, there is also an economic benefit to Cornwall not only with the grant payments going in to Cornwall’s economy but the number of businesses and charitable settings involved – over 500 now and all the knock on impact on employment.

Those behind the success should be congratulated on the hard-work to get the take-up of early learning for two year-olds one of the best in the county.

early learning two year-olds1





The CAMHS Service in Cornwall and why it must improve

CAMHS or to give its full title, Children and Adolescence Mental Health Service is an extremely valuable service. CAMHS exists to promote the mental health and emotional wellbeing of children and young people and the prevention and early intervention of mental health issues. There are four tiers to CAMHS and they are:

  • Tier 1: consists of school nurses, youth workers, teachers, GPs and health visitors
  • Tier 2: consists of specialised Primary Mental Health Workers (PMHW’s), educational psychologists, counsellors and social workers
  • Tier 3: consist of clinicians, psychiatrists, psychologists, therapists, mental health practitioners
  • Tier 4: consists usually of specialised inpatient units

However, since taking on the responsibility as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, I have been concerned with the provision of the CAMHS service. From evidence going back to 2008 there has been a lack of demonstrable improvement in the whole service. This has been backed up by inspections and two critical reports. I do acknowledge CAHMS is a complex area, with a greater demand on the service, and nationally there are similar issues like those faced in Cornwall, but for me more has to be done to improve this service. It was not only I who had concerns, as the feedback I was getting from many sources which included schools, young people, practitioners and clinicians raised similar concern too. So when this many people are telling me the service provision is patchy, not delivering and young people not getting assessed quickly, then I have to look into this to see if the concerns are true.

I was also frustrated with the lack of data and more concerning, a clear and up to date strategy to deal with the many issues surrounding CAMHS. You just cannot commission services properly without a clear strategy on how you are going to provide services, and you cannot have a strategy without good data.

So to address the issues I had, I asked the Council’s Health and Social Care Scrutiny Committee – who has statutory functions – to investigate my concerns. One of the powers the committee has is to convene a select committee. This is like those select committees in Parliament like the banking and the Murdoch hearing. This formate would then fully investigate the issues I had raised.

This select committee was established and a two-day hearing was held to gather views and information from service commissioners, schools, users, voluntary sector, officers of the Council and health agencies. The committee asked tough and searching questions to those who gave evidence, and I myself was grilled for over an hour on the provision by the Council.

The Scrutiny then collated all this evidence into a report. The full Scrutiny report can be found HERE.

This is an excellent report which gets to the bottom to the many of the issues in Cornwall’s CAMHS service. In many places of the report it is not an easy read, and many areas is critical. There is no point in asking for something to be investigated if you only want to put a sticky plaster over the cracks. To solve issues you need to fill in those cracks, and the only way to do this is to deliver a hard-hitting report highlighting those cracks.

However, it is easy to point finger of blame, but this solves nothing. And this is certainly what the report is about. This report is about solving these long running issues in the CAMHS service. From this report all agencies and organisations involved in CAMHS must acknowledge the report, but more importantly, start to address those action points contained within the report.

There is no point in looking back; we must look forward if we want to have the best CAHMS service. This looking forward approach has already begun as speaking to our other partners and organisations, there is a will to all work together and address the issue contained in the report. It is not going to be an easy task, but if the will is there, then we will succeed – together. Failure not to address the issues in the report is not an option, as failure will fail our young people who need this service.

I will finish by congratulating the Health and Social Care Committee and those members who formed the select committee. I will also give my thanks to all those who took part in the two-day hearing either in person and/or submitted evidence. I know it was a tough process.

Further information on the CAMHS can be found HERE and Cornwall Council’s Family Information Service HERE. There is also this excellent website from Invictus Trust which offers guidance and advice. This can be found HERE

£240,000 worth of Investment into the Disabled Children’s Residential Short Break Centres

For the last few months I, the Cabinet and Cornwall Council has had to make some difficult decision around the disabled children’s residential short break centres. This has resulted in two centres – St Christopher’s and Lowenna Redwing – will be decommissioned this September. It was a very hard decision, but one that had to be made to help tackle the huge budgetary pressures; to make the remaining money go further, which will help more families. 

From this difficult decision, Cornwall Council has invested a large amount of money into Doubletrees and Poppins disabled children’s residential short break centres. The total investment in the two centres was £240,000.  This year 146 young people are currently using the residential short break units.

On Friday, I visited both centres. Firstly to Doubletrees and then to Poppins to help celebrate its re-opening.  For Doubletrees it is hard to do anything with the actual structure of a building as in Doubletrees’ case, but the work carried out inside is amazing from what was before. A lot of thought has gone into making Doubletrees a better place. Speaking to staff and families, they agree too.

Inside Doubletrees post the investment

Inside Doubletrees post the investment

The work at Doubletrees the improvements include the refurbishment of the lounge area, the creation of a new play area to the back with a range of interactive play equipment and the refurbishment of bedrooms as well as redecoration and new furniture.

Furthermore, new equipment, toys and communication aides have also been purchased for the other the settings to support the needs of the children who attend and to enable their stays to be fun and to better support their particular individual needs. So it is not only Doubletrees and Poppins who have seen investment.

The new outside facilities at Doubletrees

The new outside facilities at Doubletrees

Being impressed with the work carried out at Doubletrees, I was simply amazed at the work that has been undertaken as Poppins. They changes are quite simply staggering.  Unlike Doubletrees who had the work carried out whilst open, apart from a two-week period, it was necessary to close Poppins for longer.. It is even more impressive when you take into account all the changes were carried out in seven-weeks.

The extent of the work being carried out at Poppins

The extent of the work being carried out at Poppins

Improvements being carried out at Poppins

The investment at Poppins – which currently provides services for children and young people who have a diagnosis of an Autistic Spectrum Condition – has been used to provide a fully accessible bedroom, wet room and to level the flooring in the lounge so that this is fully accessible and inclusive for young people with a range of needs.  There has also been improved access to the garden and sensory room.

During my visits I also had the opportunity to spend time with staff from both centres. It is always good to spend time with staff, as you get to hear the passion they have for the service and how they want to make the service better. These centre staff are a credit to the service and Council and they should be rightly proud of their achievements.

Parents, young people, and staff celebrate the re-opening of Poppins

Parents, young people, and staff celebrate the re-opening of Poppins

Talking with a parent and her son

Talking with a parent and her son

Enjoying the facilities on offer at Poppins

Enjoying the facilities on offer at Poppins

The short break services include day opportunities, activity days, family fun days, group/peer opportunities, youth opportunities, family based short break support and specific individual bespoke support packages, as well as the overnight residential short stay breaks are just some of the services Cornwall Council provides as part of £10.5 million on services to support children with special educational needs and disabilities.  

I am pleased Cornwall Council remains one of the highest spending authorities in the country supporting this group. In total  585 disabled children and young people received short break services from the Council.

The Poppins garden under construction

The Poppins garden under construction

Cornwall Council launches ‘traffic light’ tool for positive relationships and healthy sexual development

Cornwall has always been an area of innovation and doing things first, so it is hardly surprising when Cornwall Council  becomes the first local authority in the country to formally adopt a new “traffic light tool” designed to help children and young people to adopt positive relationships and healthy sexual development.


Me giving my support to the tool, and how it is important to have good RSE in Cornwall.

Brook’s Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool, adapted with permission from Family Planning Queensland (2012), with initial funding from the Department of Education, uses a “traffic light” approach to help practitioners working with children and young people distinguish healthy sexual development from potentially harmful behaviours. 

The tool,  formally launched today at a special conference funded by the Council and held at Truro’s Health and Wellbeing Innovation Centre, uses “green” to reflect healthy development; “amber” to identify a behaviour outside healthy sexual behaviour and “ red” to highlight a cause for immediate concern. With very little guidance currently available for professionals, the development of the Sexual Behaviours Traffic Light Tool has been warmly welcomed by both national and local agencies and professional bodies working with vulnerable children and young people.

It is a real pleasure to work alongside Brook.  As Brook helps young people to make informed, active choices about their personal and sexual relationships so they can enjoy their sexuality without harm. They are just one of the organisation in Cornwall who work together to give better advice and guidance to our young people. The CEO of Brook, Simon Blake has blogged HERE

A short film made by young people talking about relationships, sexual health and sex is HERE

I am struck by people’s willingness to talk about the weather – to the point it is a national obsession; but relationships, sexual heath and sex are for many still taboo subjects – only to be spoken in hushed voices.  We have a culture in which we don’t talk about growing up, relationships and sexual health , sex gets swept under the carpet; teenage pregnancies and STIs rise and sexual assaults go unreported.

Young people are telling us loud and clear that they want to hear more from us about growing up, healthy relationships and positive sexual health. This is not just from professionals, but more importantly from their parents. Peer research undertaken in 2013 found young people in Cornwall wanted more information on services, relationships, resisting pressure and how to say no. 

If we don’t talk to our children and young people about relationships and sex they will go looking for this information else where, potentially from inaccurate, distorted and indeed harmful sources.

It is a myth our young people do not want to talk to their parents, but we have to make sure parents have the right information with the ability to ask questions themselves. As we know that children whose parents are comfortable talking to them about relationships and sexual health are less likely to participate in risky sexual behaviour. So our work should not end with proactively supporting children, we should be proactively supporting parents and carers to play this vital role in their children’s development.

Simon Blake - CEO of Brook; Felicity Owens - Director of Public Health, Lex- Teenage pregnacy co-ordinator; Me; young people and Ed and Trudi from Brook and Kate from Children's Services.

Simon Blake – CEO of Brook; Felicity Owens – Director of Public Health, Lex- Teenage pregnancy co-ordinator; (Me); young people Trudi and Ed from Brook and Kate (2nd right) from Children’s Services.

Evidence tells us that good relationship and sex education from a range of sources is a protective factor against unplanned pregnancy and STIs. Lets also dispel the common myth of young people ‘all at it.’ This is not true, as the age at which people first have sex in the UK is 16 (and above)years old. This figure has changed very little over the past decade (NATSAL 2013).

Embedding positive relationships and sexual health into our understanding of wellbeing for children and young people is vital for their happiness both now and in the future.  By Implementing this tool across Cornwall will give practitioners the skills and resources they need to support our children and young people’s healthy development as well as to respond effectively to risks.

It is our collective responsibility to make sure all children and young people develop the skills and knowledge to make positive choices now and in the future.  This is why the Brook Traffic Light System is so important to help identify risky behaviour early, and not demonize those perfectly normal actions of our young people.

The young people today are not only the adults of the future but the parents of the future.

Further information on Brook can be found HERE.

Brook services provide free and confidential sexual health information, contraception, pregnancy testing, advice and counselling, testing and treatment for sexually transmitted infections and outreach and education work, reaching over 280,000 young people every year. Ask Brook helpline 0808 802 1234.

Young People from Bosnia-Herzegovina visit Cornwall

Last week, 12 young people from the towns of Mostar and Stolac in Bosnia-Herzegovina visited Cornwall to learn more about Cornwall’s culture and exchange experiences with the young people from Cornwall. The exchange has been organised by the Nansen Dialogue Centar in Mostar, and Cornwall Youth Forum.

I had the privilege of meeting the Bosnian-Herzegovian young people when they came to New County Hall for a  presentation on Saturday. I was asked many questions both in my role as the Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People and that of the governance of Cornwall Council; and how it impacts on young people in Cornwall. Their English was excellent, as were their questions. It showed these 12 young people were really engaged in not only the issues in Bosnia, but now having an understanding of issues in Cornwall.

As a final part of the day, I was given a presentation on the weeks visit. From that presentation, you could see the strong links which been formed between the young people of Cornwall and those of Mostar and Stolac. I hope the young people from Cornwall will be able to experience the culture of Mostar and Stolac in the near future.

Huge credit should go to the organisers in both countries for an excellent exchange programme.


The young people of Bosnia-Herzegovina and Cornwall give their presentation

Good news for Cornwall and Children’s Mental Health

I am very pleased to say Cornwall has been chosen as one of 12 partnerships across the country to develop a project that will help equip young people aged between 10 and 14 years to deal better with difficult circumstances in their lives to help prevent them experiencing common mental health.

Research carried out by the Big Lottery Fund using a panel of young people to help find out what projects they would like to see National Lottery good causes money spent on highlighted mental health issues as one of the key concerns of this age group.

The survey carried out by the panel revealed the top issues affecting young people are exams and tests (57 per cent) and family problems such as parents losing their job, splitting up or arguing (31 per cent).

A YouGov survey of over 700 children, also aged between 10-14, also discovered that:

  • More than one-in-five (21 per cent) have avoided socialising with friends because they were stressed or worried.
  • 75 per cent of children aged 10-14 think that a healthy mind is just as important as a healthy body.
  • A quarter are already worrying about choosing a future career.

The Big Lottery programme will enable Cornwall to bid for £500,000 to develop a partnership approach to improving the resilience and lives of young people by working in four key areas:

  • childs time and experiences at school
  • their ability to access the community services they need
  • their home life and relationship with family members
  • their interaction with digital technology.

This is fantastic news for Cornwall, as good mental health & emotional wellbeing is something Cornwall Children’s Trust Board has already recognised as a priority for improving outcomes for children & young people. This additional funding from the Big Lottery will enable us to develop preventative approaches that will build resilience in our young people. It will help them to build self-esteem, a positive self-image & develop the confidence to deal with knocks & set backs in life we sometimes take for granted.

Raising Aspiration and Achievement in Cornwall

Since I have been in my post as Portfolio Holder for Children and Young People, one of the primary aims of the Directorate – and therefore the Council – is to raise the aspiration and achievement of our children and young people in Cornwall. I believe that all our children and young people are entitled to the best possible life chances. This can be achieved by enhancing their access to the highest quality educational opportunities, underpinned by challenging aspirations to not just their expect potential, but beyond.

The Raising Aspiration and Achievement Strategy (RAAS) will ensure that high aspiration for all children and young people are shared with families, and across all strands of education from Early Years to Primary and Secondary Schools and Further and Higher Education institutions. This includes high quality and impartial Information, Advice and Guidance. Which is very good in some areas, but not across the board. 

Put simply; raising aspiration and achievement is everybody’s business.

The strategy focuses on a small number of specific priority areas where we are underperforming and aims to drive up standards so that Cornwall’s performance is not merely average, or below average. I believe  it is not good enough to aspire to just being average.

These priorities (in brief) are:

  • High aspiration for all children and young people, particularly the most able
  • Attainment and progress of boys particularly in the secondary phase
  • closing the cap for vulnerable groups
  • school organisation and sustainability for schools

In some Key Stage areas, Cornwall is ‘on target’ in some of the key stages. For Key Stage 1 and 2 is at or just above the national average for 2013. In Key Stage 4 there is a trend of improvement from 2012 when 55.4% (national average 59.4%) of students achieved 5 + A-C including maths and English to 59.3% in 2013 (national average 58.6%).  This is an improvement of 4% and near 1% above the national average. But as I have said before, we should not aspire to be average. But this improvement should be welcomed.

The gender gap is a real area of concern. Whilst girls have achieved at or above the national average, boys performance is of greater concern as they advance through their educational life.

  • Key Stage 4 – 5+ A* – C  (including English and Maths): Girls – 64.9% –  Boys – 72%
  • Higher Educational Degree (2011/12): Girls – 57% – Boys – 43%

The gap for those young people on Job Seekers Allowance is stark (under 25 – As of Feb 2013): Girls – 940 – Boys 1930

This is why the RAAS is important to raising aspirations and achievement in our children and young people. However, this is just the start, as any strategy is just a document. it is what you do with that document that counts. For the RAAS to be successful  it will need everyone working together throughout the educational stages  if we want to give our children and young people the best possible start educationally. By doing this it enable our children and young people to fulfil their full potential.

Our Looked after Children Celebrate Success

This week saw the celebration event for our Looked after Children at Falmouth University. The event is designed for the Council who as Corporate Parents, celebrate the academic success of our Looked after Children. Or a more commonly known name is children in care. Before I continue I should say a massive thank you to everyone involved in the event and those often unsung heroes who support those young people every single day.

I was very proud to be asked to present the achievement certificates to the young people. It was wonderful to see the achievements of these young people who with their guardians and Council’s support, are able to get an education which will lead on to greater things. It was also wonderful to see a few of the young people who I have personally met and have found it difficult to come to terms with their emotions and circumstances, are now full engaged and doing really well.

Our Looked after Children deserve the best chance we as a Council can give. This is not only my responsibility as Lead Member for Children and Young People, but all Cornwall Councillors and staff who are their Corporate Parents.

A simple line on our responsibility as Corporate Parents is: Not only cared for, but cared about

Meeting the Spanish Delegation from Castilla y León

I recently had the pleasure to host members of a Spanish education authority who were visiting Cornwall as part of new partnership between Cornwall and the Spanish region of Castilla y León.

The partnership is funded by the EU through its education programme, Regio, and seeks specifically to promote the teaching of languages in both regions. It is hoped to develop exchanges for pupils, including virtual exchanges using communications technology, and work experience placements for older students.

This partnership is with one of the most historic regions of Spain and will give pupils and teachers opportunities to develop first hand links with schools there.  Especially as Spanish is the fastest growing foreign language being taught in schools.

The project is managed in Cornwall by Cornwall Learning, which provides advice and support to schools in Cornwall on behalf of Cornwall Council. This partnership is funded by a EU grant for 40, 000 Euros per region over two years, with access to further funding for teacher training in the future. 

The Spanish Delegation with myself and officer from Cornwall Learning.

The Spanish Delegation with myself and officers from Cornwall Learning.

And yes, I am sporting  Mo for Movemember

The week ending 1st November – School Meals, the Media and Degrees

This week has been one of media interviews amongst other things. In fact one old shipmate who I have not heard from in years sent me a message to say I am on the TV and radio more times than Ant and Dec. And this week it felt like it. However, the reason I was to talk about two main issues; taxis and their use by the council; and free school meals. I have covered the issue of taxis in a previous post.

Recently, the Government announced that from September 2014, all children under eight will be provided with a free school meal. As currently, only those children who meet a certain criteria are eligible for free school meals. The announcement by the Government is to be welcomed. However, as yet, there are no details on the funding. The Council has been told detail will be in the Governments Autumn Spending review, and until then, we know very little.

My concern on this ‘good idea’ is on the funding. Will the funding include costs for new equipment and staffing. I say this as not all of our schools have kitchens or those of suitable size to cope with the increased provision. Will the funding make allowance for extra staff too? I guess we will find out when the Government tells us!

Later in the week I have the pleasure to visit the SPACE project run by Action for Children. SPACE  provide activity schemes for disabled children and young people throughout Cornwall. These include schemes during the school holidays, on Saturdays and regular youth clubs. The aim of the project is to allow local disabled young people to socialise with each other in a secure and caring environment – making new friends and having lots of fun! I certainly had fun as I joined in the mornings activities, got to talk with the young people and staff. I certainly came away impressed with the programme.

Saturday I was invited by Cornwall College to the afternoon Graduation Ceremony held at Truro cathedral. This year the College put on three ceremonies; which is a testament to the College, its staff and the students for its Higher Education programme. It was great to see so many students being awarded their Degrees. It just shows the how the Higher Education programme in Cornwall is thriving.

Lastly, it was great to be tweeted by the United Nations for helping to celebrate UN Day. It is not often you get tweet by an international organisation saying thank you.



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