Cllr Catherine Gibbons is North Somerset Council's executive member for children's services: "The last year has brought tremendous challenges to the education sector with only limited access to schools and the majority of pupils being educated at home due to the pandemic. I want to pay tribute to all parents and carers for taking on the role of teachers and to everyone in our schools for the support they've provided and all the work that has been going on behind the scenes.
"One of the areas I am particularly committed to is supporting the increasing number of families in our communities who are struggling and I'm so pleased that we've extended welfare support so they can continue to receive free school meals for their children outside term-time. No child should go hungry.
"Giving children the best start in life is really important so I was so delighted when we achieved the Unicef gold standard for breastfeeding and infant care."
Cllr Gibbons outlined some of the things which will be happening in children's services in the coming year:
"We're showing our commitment to improving outcomes for children by investing an additional £150,000 into our children’s improvement plan. We'll be developing family hubs at our children’s centres including the additional resource of the Carlton Centre to serve families living in Central Weston to make them more suitable for activities for children, young people and families. "We’ll maintain the momentum of increasing the number of in-house foster carers – we’ve been successful during the pandemic and have reduced reliance on external foster placements.
"The innovative Mockingbird Family Model of delivering foster care is something we will continue to use. Developed by the Fostering Network, the model provides respite care, peer support, regular joint planning and training, and social activities. The programme improves the stability of fostering placements and strengthens the relationships between carers, children and young people, fostering services and birth families.
"And we’ll improve the support to our care leavers so that we see an increase in the number supported into employment or education as a result of developing a bespoke mentoring and support offer."
Cllr Gibbons added that other initiatives include continuing to improve services for children with additional needs and their families; providing additional capacity to work with education providers across North Somerset, focussing on the most vulnerable children and young people; and investing in schools (for example the Winterstoke Hundred Academy and the Baytree expansion at Clevedon) to ensure children with the most acute needs can attend school locally and their needs can be well-served.