How Technology Is Helping Children In Care

MOMO in Hand 2Today’s article headline is not ours.

It belongs to Children & Young People Now.

The reason we’ve borrowed it is that today they published a brilliant editorial on exactly that. How tech is helping children in care.

Not how the dangers posed by cyberspace and owning valuable gadgets can put children in care at risk. But how these things can help make their lives better.

There are risks, and we are right to try and protect our looked after children from being exploited through digital channels. I had this pointed out very strongly at a recent meeting with an IRO lead. For her, children in care’s use of computers, mobile phones and social apps must be monitored, especially for those most at risk of bullying, sexual exploitation or harmful contact with relatives. We agree. Often the first question that people have about MOMO is “how safe is it?”.

By the end of our meeting the IRO lead seemed reassured, even quite pleased, by my answers. Good. Her questions were really searching. But if you’re a regular MOMO Champion or blog reader then you’ll know that MOMO is very safe. That’s one of the reasons we were really pleased to see in the article such a positive and well balanced portrayal of MOMO and the other technologies that children in care services are embracing.

“Most young people are technologically literate and not only assume but expect that their world will include technology, (its use in their care) will be less of a shock to the system for them.”

David Niven, former Chair of BASW (quote from CYP Now)

The Other Examples

Back at the end of February we got a call from Eileen, one of CYP Now’s journalists. She was planning an article on looked after children’s use of tech and could we tell her about MOMO? Of course we could! After talking to us for quite a while Eileen also did lots of other research for what eventually became a full editorial. The editorial talks about how:

  • Lincolnshire County Council have replaced their Coming into Care Kit with an app
  • Warwickshire Children in Care Council have designed a pack of QR coded cards to help young people find services
  • Not all young people in care have a smartphone (that’s why MOMO works on computers too)
  • One residential worker, Simon Hammond, developed a digital approach to life-story work with adolescents in care
  • Monmouthshire County Council have created a secure, closed networking site for foster carers
  • Cambridgeshire County Council have developed a secure section of their youth website for children in care to ask questions and get advice

Young People Using MOMOI must admit, we didn’t know about some of these initiatives so it was good to learn just how much is happening out there. It was also good to see the article talking about how face to face relationships remain important and how, in a world full of digital information, young people still rely on their social worker or advocate to give them the right info at the right time.

Three Great MOMO Stories

The best bit for MOMO. Here’s the full, unedited excerpt from CYP Now:

The App: Giving Looked After Children A Voice

David was 17 and in foster care in southeast London when one Saturday night last year, he got a call from his brother with news that came as a bombshell.

“My brother had been moved from his placement and my mother was put in prison – and I wasn’t told,” he says, recalling the sense of panic and anger he felt at not being informed, despite the fact these changes had happened more than a month previously.

“It was the weekend, so I couldn’t contact social services,” he says, but he was able to use an app on his phone, specially developed for children and young people in care, to put in an instant complaint. The app is called Mind of My Own – known as MOMO. “MOMO structures the complaint for you, asks how you’re feeling about it and writes it up for you, and then it asks who you want to send it to,” explains David.

“I sent it to my advocate, social worker and participation worker. I felt a lot more at ease that I had done something and I knew when they got into the office or checked their emails, they’d see it.”

On the Monday, he heard from his social worker and arranged to meet her via MOMO. Their discussion, which included reassurance about seeing his brother, left him feeling a lot happier.

Others like 15-year-old Cara, who is in  foster care, have used the “self-advocacy” app, developed by social enterprise sixteen25, to request more contact with her family.

“It worked. I saw my mum and my auntie at the family centre and it went really well,” she says. “I prefer the app because I’m a bit shy. Face to face is hard and you have to think what to say, but with this you can just click on the bit that says: ‘I’d like to see my family more’.”

A number of local authorities in England and Northern Ireland have signed up to the service. However, it is available to all young people for free regardless of whether their council is an official user.

It allows young people to use the prompts provided or write their own statements and is designed to make it as easy as possible for them to communicate with professionals and get problems sorted. David Hamilton, senior social worker for looked-after children at the South Eastern Health and Social Care Trust in Northern Ireland, recently used MOMO to consult children before their looked-after children reviews. “Our current consultation tool is paper-based and only 54 per cent were completing these,” he explains.

In a small pilot involving 11 children aged seven to 15, social workers visited with an iPad and went through the consultation using MOMO.

“They were excited about the iPad,” says Hamilton, who says the approach proved so popular that three social work teams at the trust, covering 220 children in long-term care, are now being trained to use the app.

“We also decided to start reviews by considering the child’s views, as reported through the app, which helped some get the decisions they wanted.”

The Full Article

We’re very grateful to Eileen, David, CYP Now and all the young and older people who were happy to be interviewed for the article. They are helping the children’s sector understand just how much of a positive impact technology can have for children in care. As MOMO’s custodians we think understanding this will lead to a better flow of information between young people and social workers (and vice-versa) and better decision making all round.

If you’d like to read the full article you can view it on the CYP Now website here. However the nice people at CYP Now have also given us permission to share a special pdf copy with you here (copyright CYP Now). Thank you.

CYP Now LogoThis article is based on an original editorial that was written by Eileen Fursland and appeared in CYP Now magazine and online on 22/07/14. We’re grateful to the magazine for permission to share and quote from the editorial.