Thursday, 23 January 2014

Who Are The ECLCM Team?

It’s time for a little introduction to this rather varied and experienced mix of people!

Ben Ashcroft

I am a care leaver, author, advisor, speaker and campaigner.  This is my passion. I work as hard as I can to make a difference with Children in care & those working with Children in care.

I support this campaign because I was that Child in care that I am fighting for. I am now a proud father of one son and I could not ever see him out on the street at 16-18 without support or knowing he can't come home or lend money when he is short. Or if he needed someone to talk too. I know what that feels like and it isn't nice.

It's simple for me. I wouldn't kick my son out at such a young and vulnerable age. And I wouldn't do it to the most vulnerable young people who need that support at such a vital stage in their lives.

I was here from the very start and I will be here at the very end! My passion for this has no limits.

Rosie Canning

I grew up in a lovely house in Muswell Hill, North London. We had two cats Marmalade and Tinkerbell. I had piano and ballet lessons and learnt how to sew. We went to the cinema, theatre and at least twice a year we went on holiday. I had access to books and good old fashioned home-made food. I was in the children's home for 8 years. Children came and children went, some I don't remember others will stay in my heart forever.

I was assessed by an eminent psychiatrist who suggested the psychological damage was so severe that a residential setting would be the best place for me. His name was Dr Soddy! And he was right. For me, the children's home was a safe haven and I still go back there in my dreams.

After a number of years I was offered a foster placement. In those days kids weren't asked whether or not they wanted to go. I was one of the first children to be asked. I said NO!

I am a writer and a campaigner. I was a key player in the campaign to save Friern Barnet Library and have since written a book about the experience, ‘Occupied and Opened’.

When I heard the announcement about vulnerable care leavers, that children in foster care would get support until they were 21 but those in residential homes would still have to leave at 16, I was determined to fight for their rights, to fight for those without a voice, to fight for those too young to understand.

If there is injustice we have to stick together, we have to uphold care leavers integrity, and never give in until justice prevails.

I’m supporting the ECLCM campaign because I believe children in care no matter where they live should have equal support until they are 21.

Lisa Cherry

I am an author, speaker, trainer and coach with a long career in Social Work, Education and Social Inclusion. Up until 5 years ago, approaching my 40’s, I dealt with my experiences through an unconscious process of survival, denial, shame and ‘getting on with it’. When my recovery came to a halt because denying my trauma in its full entirety was no longer an option, I learnt not only deal with my past but to become proud of it as a part of my unique history.

I spent my adolescence in foster homes and children’s homes leaving care at 16 years old which was followed by two years living/surviving as a vulnerable homeless young woman, some of that was street homeless, with the final stop of that part of my life being made at an AA meeting, my last drunk, at the age of 20.

I am a mother of a 14 year old and 17 year old. I seek to pull together the personal and the professional and will campaign tirelessly on this matter. No-one, not one child, should have to endure what so many of us have and what young people continue to live, let alone be subject to legislation that actively encourages poorer outcomes for looked after children by definition of where they are placed.  

Ian Dickson

I am a widower devoted to my daughter and 4 little grandchildren. I am also a retired social worker. I spent almost 40 years in the profession in field work, residential work, inspection, regulation and advocacy.

The direction of my adult life was determined by a childhood in care, a miserable experience, leaving at 18 with nothing to show for it and no prospects. I was one of the lucky ones and life gave me a chance to have loving relationships, a good academic education and a normal life. Many of my peers never got that opportunity.

My career and adult life has been dedicated to ensuring other young people leaving care don't have to experience a childhood like mine in order to have a happy and fulfilled life.

I remain a passionate and uncompromising advocate for the rights of children in care and care leavers.

Louise Holt

Falling into the job of your dreams is not usually how the story goes but for me that is the reality.
Becoming a residential support worker was not the route I wanted to follow. I wanted to be midwife! Two and a half years down the line I am now an assistant manager and couldn’t think of working with any other group.

Never once have I felt the dread of getting up for work. I love the pace of the job, not knowing what I will face each day or how we will overcome this new challenge.

Anyone who works with young people in care know the rollercoaster you get on every morning of everyday. We laugh, we love, we disagree, we worry, we stress, we cry but my god, we care and somehow we make a dark day bright again for the kids.

I want to stay on the really is far more fun :)

Ed Nixon

I have spent a (working) lifetime bearing witness to the lives of children in care. I have been a social worker, a manager, a Chief Executive Officer. I remain a social worker committed to trying to make a contribution. I have earned my living and contributed to bringing up my family because I get paid to work with of children who have been abused, abandoned, taken into care and sometimes abused again, passed from one home to another and then sent on their way far too early. I am proud to say that I have always tried hard and occasionally ‘made the proverbial difference’.

I have twice carried or helped to carry the body of a child in care to its grave. One died as an infant and I was, with his mum, the only mourner; the other was murdered and I was privileged to be invited by his mother help him on his last journey.

Children in care are remarkably average, they are bright, challenged, skilled, clumsy, well-behaved, poorly behaved, tall, short, black, white and so on. Remarkably average. Except that they don’t get average chances. Children in care don’t ask to be rescued and we should never think that this is what we are doing. We should be trying to afford them an average, equal opportunity to become average adults. The average adult didn't leave home at 16 or 18 years of age. The average child in care shouldn't be made to either. Every Child Matters (even if they have been in care)….

This is why we are here and this is why we are not going anywhere until we improve outcomes for ALL young people in care through equal legislation! 

Wednesday, 22 January 2014

Comments on Mr Timpson’s Response to Craig Whittaker’s Speech Last Night....

We’ll start with Mr Timpson’s positive comments.  The Minister helpfully agreed that residential care is not a ‘last resort’ and young people should be able to remain in placement, when in their best interests to do so.  That is very welcome.

Mr Timpson’s commissioning of the National Children’s Bureau, The Who Cares? Trust and Catch 22 ‘to look at Staying Put arrangements in children’s homes over the coming year’ is also very welcome. 

However, the way the Minister described this step was ambiguous and this is an issue which needs clarity. The evaluation and discussion cannot be allowed to drag on interminably.

That said, this was the one significant new initiative.

Some of the Minister’s other comments relied on questionable or unreliable data. For example, Mr Timpson cited the Care Leavers’ Charter, saying over 120 authorities had signed up to support children in care up to age 21. He should have added this is entirely voluntary, unenforced by regulation and isn’t centrally monitored.

We are already aware of signatory councils who don’t implement the Charter: voluntary arrangements provide no sort of safety net for care leavers.

Mr Timpson spoke of ISA’s for young people leaving care; more generous leaving care allowances and the requirement for Directors of Children’s Services to sign off pathway planning.

Practical measures and support like this is commendable – but what about ensuring a statutory entitlement to the less tangible but nevertheless crucial emotional and parenting support for young people in care?

Mr Timpson said that local authorities are already able to support people beyond the age of 18 years in children’s homes and aware of some councils doing this. Also, that many young people left residential care to move into adult care.  We assume he is referring to young people with disabilities in both those instances. 

However, we are not aware of any local authority supporting young people beyond 18 in children’s homes.  And even if there were, there is no additional funding to support this.

Mr Timpson expressed caution about allowing young people to remain in children’s homes, lest they alter the registration status of the home. This is an interesting legal and regulatory issue which needs to be addressed: and as the Minister said, the difficulties presented are not insurmountable.

In response to Mr Whittaker’s comments about Ofsted’s positive judgements of 400 children’s homes, the Minister pointed out that this was under the old Ofsted inspection regime which was being enhanced to ‘push up’ quality and standards. 

While this may be factually correct, there is no evidence suggesting that Ofsted have failed to pick up on poor practice and poor standards in children’s homes. If anything, a new regime should ensure standards are improved further. One step in that direction would be for young people from care or young care-leavers to be part of the inspection team. How about it, Ofsted?

There is no routine follow up of every young person who has left care to review the success or otherwise of aftercare planning and outcomes.  Young people in children’s homes may still not be seen or spoken with by an Inspector, and questionnaires circulated by Ofsted may not include young people placed at the home at the time of inspection.

There is a great deal of scope to improve both monitoring and regulation by involving young people from care and young care leavers in inspection teams and in the routine “Regulation 33” monitoring visits each month. If Mr Timpson is looking for confidence that outcomes and standards of care given to young people are accurately assessed, this is the silver bullet which delivers it.

The Minister also expressed concern that there were ‘too many’ children’s homes still not operating at a good enough standard. Yet since Ofsted have regulatory powers to take enforcement action or even close children’s home in those cases, either few children’s homes are giving serious concern, or Ofsted are not doing their job.

We welcome genuine attempts to raise standards of care and safeguarding children and young people. This is why we seek similar initiatives for foster care.

Children and young people being fostered have the same issues as their peers in children’s homes. This is the core rationale behind the campaign for legal parity: before discrimination and the unintended consequence of a ‘two tier’ care system develops.

Mr Timpson recognises that many young people from residential care have been unhappy about arrangements to support them once they leave care. So are we – that’s why we seek parity.  

For now, though, we have a new inquiry by the Education Select Committee into post 16 care options specifically looking at residential care....this is good. This is very good!

Living At 'Home' Is Just Not An Option For Those Leaving Care

The BBC reported this week that there is a massive increase in the number of ‘twenty and thirty-something’s’ living at home with their parents. A sign, it is suggested, of the economic downturn. Being the BBC I am sure that they are right. These are difficult times to set off independently, with or without an income and a roof over your head. 

There have been radio phone ins, surveys and various commentators who appear mildly amused that such a large proportion of our ‘bright young things’ cannot afford to live independently in Britain 2014. It is, of course, very difficult for those perhaps Ed's own daughter who has spent three or four years in ‘under’ and then post graduate studies accruing considerable debt in the process. 

How fortunate then that the 3.5 million 20 -34 year olds (Labour Force Survey, Office for National Statistics) identified have parents and, or family homes to return to. How helpful that their degrees have at least increased their chances of being in employment as they weather this newly identified crisis in independence. This is a real concern and indicative of just how challenging life can be in Britain for relatively young people.

Imagine then the challenge for someone perhaps 10 years younger than the average member of the cohort studied by the ONS. Someone perhaps who is most unlikely to be heading towards university, or employment or an apprenticeship; a child who has no family on which to rely; an individual who has parents, but they are Corporate Parents, not quite identifiable because they sit in a council chamber and are generally inaccessible to ‘their’ children. 

What parents would consider it quite reasonable to tell their 16, 17 or at most 18 year old child that they must leave ‘home’ and never return because someone else will be sleeping in ‘their’ bed, ‘their’ room?  They cannot bring back their laundry at the end of term - there is no term for these children, except perhaps the long-term. 

They cannot visit at the weekend and enjoy a meal with their family – the family has changed. They may not borrow some money until the weekend to get them by, they are not the family’s responsibility any more. If they are cold and homeless and victims of exploitation then they should tell the police because their family is no longer their family. They are alone.

These are a large proportion of our society’s looked after children. Of course many fail – by reference to the usual measures, we seem to ensure that they do. Someone once said you can judge a society by the way it cares for its children and animals. Some might feel that one out of two isn’t bad. We don’t agree. Looked After Children should be supported until they are at least 21. Surely our looked after children deserve to be looked after at least ALMOST as well as those 3.5 million others? 

Tuesday, 21 January 2014

Edward Timpson Does Care

I can’t remember how I first heard about the government press release, ‘Children to stay with foster families until 21’, but, I do remember I felt bewildered by a press release that began ‘All children in care…’ but by the end of the first sentence had excluded over 6,000 children in residential care.

What is going on?

This was the new support that would be available to children living not in residential homes but in foster homes until they were 21 years of age. At the moment when a child in care reaches their sixteenth birthday, they begin the journey to leaving care – some do leave when they are only 16.

Almost immediately discussions ensued between Ben Ashcroft, Ian Dickson, Lisa Cherry, Ed Dixon, Louise Holt and myself and we decided to start this campaign: Every Child Leaving Care Matters.

We believe this statement 100% - EVERY Child Leaving Care Matters.

I’m sure Edward Timpson believes this too. His own family fostered nearly 90 children, and I imagine his parents will have supported many of the children they fostered. However, there is a reason he has campaigned for children in foster care to have support until they are 21. He has had first hand experience of seeing so many young children moved on, or asked to leave his family home and I can only imagine that he concluded that in some instances, this was wrong. I can only imagine that maybe there were some of those children whom he grew fond of and whom he wanted to support. In the government press release, Timpson said:

‘I know from the many foster children I grew up with how crucial it is for them to be given sufficient time to prepare for life after care.’

So, again, I can only imagine, that Edward Timpson, does care and is aware that children in residential care are even more vulnerable than those in foster care and also need that time and support to 21.

‘Young people leaving care are among the most vulnerable children in our society. Even those who have had a stable placement may have very high levels of need. Many children who have been in the care system have had a childhood full of instability and trauma, with over 62 per cent of looked after children being taken into care due to abuse or neglect.’
(Barnardos - Still Our Children. Case for reforming the leaving care system in England)

The government press release goes on to say: ‘Children in care typically have much lower educational outcomes and are more likely to be out of education, work and training.’ And as our previous blog showed, there are also all the awful statistics that show some care leavers end up homeless, in prison, with mental health problems, pregnant just after leaving care and worse still are four or five times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood. For me, this last statistic is the most worrying one of them all. Because once a young care leaver is dead, there is absolutely nothing anyone can do to help that poor person ever again.

We have had a few worrying comments along these lines via the petition. Just recently, after Scotland announced that from 2015 they will be supporting ALL care leavers until they are 21, they put out this tweet:

As our previous blog mentioned, some care leavers, and others in the care industry prefer to align themselves with those that demonstrate the ‘positive’ portrayal of care leavers.

I believe 100% that positivity is the way forward. I am currently working on a PhD proposal that looks at this very subject, so I believe in the power of positive representation. I want to see an end to the public perception that children in care have done something wrong.

With support from the Scottish Government and Association of Directors of Social Work, Who Cares? Scotland’s 'Give me a chance: phase II' campaign is tackling the stigma and discrimination which children and young people in care and care leavers face.

Here are some podcasts made by some Scottish care leavers:

However, if we are to help the next care leaver who may kill themselves or worse be murdered – and we have been told about both of these distressing acts and have read about them in national newspapers – then we have to keep campaigning. Until there is support to 21 for ALL care leavers, we will have to continue letting the public know about these worrying negative statistics.

"Every human life is worth the same, and worth saving."-J K Rowling. Children in care are the same regardless of where they live.

Stop Press: There is to be an important Adjournment Debate in the House of Commons tonight Tuesday 20th January, 7.30pm, Watch LiveCraig Whittaker, MP will debate the Staying Put agenda for looked-after children in residential care. This will be a chance for Edward Timpson to once again show that he really does care.

After the debate, there will be a discussion on Twitter at 9pm via ECLCM @rescareto21 use the hashtag #rescareto21

Rosie Canning – was once a care leaver but doesn’t live there anymore.

Sunday, 19 January 2014

Are There Two Types of Care Leaver?

Those of us who campaign for aftercare support for all young people leaving care until they are 21 do so because we have seen first-hand the disadvantages that care leavers can face.  We have seen how loaded the dice are against care leavers and how easy it is for them to suffer when they leave care.

We know that the overwhelming majority of children are admitted to care through no fault of their own (recent government statistics have shown that about 62% of young people admitted to care were abused or neglected and only 2% were admitted for socially unacceptable behaviour,) yet the number who appear in disadvantage statistics in adulthood is frighteningly high.

For example, recent statistics showed that, of the number of young people now aged 19 years who were looked after when aged 16 years:

        34% were not in education, employment or training (NEET);
        only 400 of the young people aged 19 years were in higher education;  6% of all former care leavers;
        29 % of the former care leavers were in education other than higher ; and
        23% of the former care leavers were in employment

Other statistics in recent years have added to this frightening picture. For example:

        About 23 per cent of the adult prison population have spent some time in care;
        around a quarter of those living on the street have a background in care;
        care leavers are four or five times more likely to commit suicide in adulthood;
        a quarter of care leavers were pregnant or young parents within a year of leaving care;
        in 2011 just 12.8 per cent of children who had been in care for a minimum of one year obtained five good grade GCSEs, including English and Maths. For other children the figure was 57.9 per cent;
        11% of care leavers in England live in ‘unsuitable accommodation’ upon leaving care; and
        between 45-49 per cent of looked after children aged 5-17 years show signs of psychosocial adversity and psychiatric disorders, which is higher than the most disadvantaged children living in private households. Physical and mental problems increase at the time of leaving care.

The ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ (ECLCM) campaign has often demonstrated its case by sharing this negative and frightening future faced by so many care leavers. However some care leavers argue that it might be more helpful to show a more positive picture of those leaving care. They argue quite reasonably that showing care leavers who have successfully left care and built successful and fulfilling lives would offer positive role models for young people in care and also offer a leaving care template for others to try and emulate. They want to show that good care can and does save lives and helps young people succeed.
Sometimes, these two ways of describing the leaving care experience can appear to be in conflict with one another – one is the right way, the other wrong. Indeed, there are sometimes lively debates between those who favour each way of presenting the care leavers’ case.

There is no conflict between the two approaches. Looking around the care leavers who form most of the ECLCM campaign team, we include a cross section of people who have experienced many of the disadvantages listed above. We have all been government statistics.  We have tasted the disadvantage & helplessness, the hopelessness and stigma of being in care.  We have been ‘failures’ of the care system.
A closer look shows that we also fit the second model. We include happy and fulfilled individuals, successful professionals, university graduates and opinion shapers.  Things have happened in our lives that have helped us to halt the decline to despair and rebuild our lives. In all our cases, this was after we were 18 and had been discharged from care.

A look at our wider care leaver acquaintances show they can be include doctors, lawyers, writers, teachers, academics, poets and artists, successful people in the professions and the arts.

We know that many of these people were also statistics. Like us, many knew homelessness and deprivation and sampled the agony and despair that hitting rock bottom can bring when they left care.

We argue that the care leavers who appear in the disadvantage statistics and the successful care leavers are not two sides of a coin. They are not different groups - they are the SAME people. Their stories show that at critical points in their lives, they received uncritical and unconditional care and support, and were encouraged to use the resilience and inner strength that most people have if only they are encouraged and enabled to use it.

That underpins our campaign. We believe that supporting young people leaving care at a critical point in their lives will give many of them the cushion they need to lean back on, and then the push they need to develop and grow, to become the ‘positive’ examples of care leavers.

There are not two kinds of care leaver, the deserving and undeserving.  There are only vulnerable young people who will succeed and graduate happily into adult life if we give them a vital hand.

Friday, 17 January 2014

The Facts About Residential Care and This Campaign

Yesterday, we came across an article that was so factually incorrect that we felt compelled to answer it point by point. We must ensure that if people are unclear about the actual reality of young people and children, in and leaving care, alongside the reality of residential and foster care provision, that we are in the very least informative.

We are a diverse group of campaigners and in no way align, as a group, to any political party or belief system. We are focused on the best possible outcomes for children and young people and do not concern ourselves with political lobbies or factions. 

The article in question appears in Conservative Home. To reiterate, the political affiliation of the magazine is not our concern, but the article certainly is.

The first paragraph tells us that "6000 children are placed in institutional care, children’s homes".  It is immediately obvious that the author has limited idea about his subject. Institutional care is not the prerogative of children’s homes. It may be present in poor children’s homes and foster homes anywhere in the country, and equally absent from good children’s homes and foster care. It is about the regime and the care, not the type of care on offer.

Harry Phibbs goes on to say “Wherever possible it should be avoided. Children are much better off in the family setting of foster carers and much better still with the permanent loving home that adoption offers.”  This is apparently a "widely accepted" wisdom. No, it isn’t. The author might refer to research at this juncture.

For the record and the author it seems, different children have different needs and not all want to live or would be better off living in foster care or being adopted.  Children in care, like other children, have feelings, wishes, and families.  Some have had very bad experiences in family settings and are unable or unwilling to live in a family placement at particular stages of their lives. They want and often benefit from, caring and positive residential care.  This is where asking those in care about their views might be helpful instead of telling them what is good for them! Phibbs might also pause for a moment and consider that many children are placed in residential care following multiple breakdowns of previous foster placements or because they have proved too challenging for a foster placement.

Our author continues.  “For any child to be kept in a children’s home unnecessarily is a scandal. Of the 6,000 there are 200 in “secure units” so that is understandable that they would not be deemed suitable for foster carers to cope with. Yet, on the other hand, many of 6,000 are able bodied and in mainstream schools. This survey found that 41 per cent were in mainstream schools or FE colleges.” It would of course be a scandal for any child to be kept in a children’s home, or foster care, unnecessarily. They are there because they are placed there to meet their assessed needs. Otherwise they would be at home or living somewhere else.

Apparently the 200 children placed in secure units would not be ‘suitable’ for foster care. Is he saying that children in secure units are ‘bad’ and ‘bad’ children don’t get placed in foster care?  This simply isn't true.

He makes reference to "able bodied children" which is confusing and could be perceived of as discrimination but we'll leave that for you to decide. 

Also, why is not acceptable for young people in children’s homes to attend mainstream school or FE college? Where on earth should they go?  Does the author want them to remain within the walls of the ‘institution’ and not mix with other people? A better question for me would be why only 41%? Why not more?

It is frankly astonishing that the author should think that a child in a children’s home would be more likely to ends up in a PRU as a consequence. Has he not seen the latest Ofsted judgements of children’s homes nationally that show a significant majority of children’s homes being judged good or better on all the indicators as opposed to a small minority being found to be inadequate. We are concerned that Phibbs has not taken any time to read the facts, the research and the evidence and then published an article as if it is the 'truth'. It is an article of his opinion. No more or no less.

The debate about closing all residential homes has been around for a long time. Those of us who have been around a while have seen them open and then close only to see them open again. Young people need choice and appropriate support as do foster carers when a placement breaks down. Children’s homes are part of the spectrum of choice and a resource that social workers are able to use to meet the needs of children. 

The author cites Leicestershire County Council.

“By placing more children with families rather than in children’s homes, being more cost-effective with care placements and re-shaping services, we’re proposing to reduce the budgets for children in care and safeguarding.”

 I’ll bet Leicestershire County Council signed the Care Leavers’ Charter to provide the best care for their children. Yet in the statement, they clearly intend to put fiscal concerns above the best interests of the child. What is the Charter worth, I ask?

This ill-informed and ill researched article has done nothing to further the cause of good child care based upon the needs of the child and we're certain that the Conservative party disassociate themselves from it.

Monday, 13 January 2014

Ben Ashcroft Shares His Passion For the Campaign

Why am I doing this? Why is a campaign like this vital?

Let me run a few statistics by you:

  • 40% of 18-21 year olds in Prison or YOI are from care
  • 57% of women prisoners are from care
  • 1 in 5 homeless people were in care
  • 72-75% Re-offend within a year
  • It costs 100-200k a year to lock one person up
  • Care leavers much more likely to commit suicide
  • 80 × more likely a care leavers child would go in care
So with this information anyone can see that prison is expensive & ineffective.

If we supported young people in care until they were 21 there is no doubt in my mind that this would reduce the long term costs to government.

Another way of looking at it is this; if anything happened in your life and your child was taken in to care because there was no one to look after them, would you want them kicked out at 16 or 17 with no support? Isolated? On their own? No. And we are talking about some of the most vulnerable and damaged kids who have already experienced trauma and lack stability. 

All we are asking for, is that equality of support is available until a young person is 21 years old, just as it is for those young people who are fostered which becomes a part of legislation in April 2014. 

We dont discriminate against colour, gender ect so why does this government think it is ok to discriminate against kids in Children's homes who arguably need more support?

With regards to residential homes, recent research shows only 5% of homes are inadequate. 82% good or better. The Government need to do something about the ones that aren't up to standard and are expensive with poor outcomes. That is the right thing. Not punish ALL kids in residential care homes because a minority are inadequate. 

Shut the bad ones down by all means. I support that too. I work with some Children's homes and they are amazing with all the kids settled and happy. That is because there is a lot of great work being done by them.
I will ask you this. If you agree please sign and let's not let this government discriminate against kids in homes because of where they live!

Ben Ashcroft

Saturday, 11 January 2014

Thoughts from Nev...

I am not at all sure what drove my early thinking towards altruism but it's always been easy to assume that my dysfunctional family and becoming subject to a 'care order' in the 1970's played its part. Institutionalised care during that period was awash with scandal and abuse in all its forms and god only knows what it was like in any distant past, from workhouses to orphanages.

I find it hard to believe today that systemic failings continue to negatively affect looked after children and young people, when there is robust legislation already in place to prevent such. If that wasn't difficult enough to understand, the current political incumbents are hell bent on creating discriminatory legislation for certain looked after young people? I sometimes wonder, relative to history, how it is possible to seemingly learn nothing and fly in the face of good and proven philosophy?

Democracy and equality, in philosophy if not entirely in practice, were born over 2000 years ago and all the philosophical notions of welfare and well being in some way are ancient and principled ideals. How is it possible in the 21st century to get things so horribly wrong when history is littered with failed examples of bad governance and despicable treatment and abuse of those most vulnerable in society?

Its 150 years since Barnado formed a charity for those exploited and vulnerable children in Victorian Britain and barely a 100 years since the suffragettes fought for the emancipation of women and equality of rights and opportunity. Through two world wars, the formation of the NHS, reams of international legislation, the 25 year old Children Act and still we have to suffer the tyranny and inequities of insensitive and uncaring governance.

My experience of the 'care system' was actually pretty awful and in later life I tried, through being employed in the same authority, to make a difference and that too proved to be pretty awful. Political machinations, corrupt local authority, crisis management, historical abuse scandals and many other issues all played their part in bringing the systems into disrepute and the lives of young people into chaos and dereliction. 

Fortunately for me I met some very endearing and capable professionals along the way that over time have become very close friends, I would even consider them my family if I am honest. Without these few individuals my life would have been lost I believe because they consistently remained there for me when i faltered and failed or attempted to look me up or support me when I was isolated. I suffered cancer last year and lost a lung in the process of 3 major operations to save my life and those same professionals-friends-family, were there by my side helping and encouraging me to pull through. So far so good!!

The reason why every chilld leaving care matters and why every looked after child or young person deserves equality in status is simple, it is their fundamental right! They deserve the best society can offer them to make up for that which they have lost or suffered. They deserve the same opportunities, the same education, the same employment, the same welfare and the same considerations. There may be differences between children and their placements but there is categorically no difference with respect to their inalienable rights!
They deserve no more and no less than equality because not only does every child leaving care matter but every child everywhere is our legacy to a better world. 

Mahatma Ghandi said, “the greatness of a nation and its moral progress can be judged by the way its animals are treated.” 

What does it say about our nation if we cannot treat our children right?

Care Leaver, Former Youth Offending Team, Former Residential Worker

Friday, 10 January 2014

Thoughts From Harvey Gallagher...

The case for young people staying in care for longer than most currently stay is common sense and I won't repeat the arguments that have made been so well made by others - we should just do it. And the argument has largely been won with government, I believe - think of Staying Put (though small in its implementation) as well as the current plans for young people in foster care. And the NCAS Leaving Care Benchmarking forum is doing what it can to improve local authority planning and provision in this area. So, what's the problem, then? Here's my list:

* Current government thinking seems to be based on the importance of the 'nuclear family' kind of lifestyle for young people, where the state has a very small role (look at the huge emphasis on adoption). And this is coming from politicians with a limited personal experience of a very small upper strata of society, so I'm not even sure it's what I would think of as 'family'. The 'nuclear family' has got some good things going for it, but it's not what all young people would choose, neither can the needs of all young people be met in this kind of setting. This government view also tends to mean that young people in placements of less than a year (which is most young people in care) or those who have the most difficulties (and stay in care) tend to end up on the margins of government priorities.

* Politics responds to an agenda set by the media - this makes no sense at all for most young people. Media is driven by the need to have an audience, not by what young people need, and it boils issues right down until they're hugely over simplified. So, too much of the hammering that children's homes are currently getting is based on a small number of shocking examples (and I have no wish to play those down as they impact on some young people), and not enough on what young people say (those for whom residential care is right and those for whom it is not) or on evidence-informed policy making. What must young people living in children's homes think when they see the deluge of bad news about their homes?

* There's a principle at stake, for sure, that all young people leaving care should have the same rights, entitlements and support, but as a sector we can't let these issues divide us - united we stand, remember? It's not the services that are important, it's the young people who are. I see too many managers working in children's services who focus on what the services can and can't do and not what young people need them to do. This is reflected in local government commissioning of placements for children in care and the established pecking order (largely not based on what children choose or need) - adoption, in-house foster care, independent foster care, residential care (seen as the last resort - imagine how that feels to young people living in children's homes?). Local authorities are unwilling to make long term placements with independent providers because of a poorly informed view of how they compare with in-house services.

* Making it happen on the ground given huge local authority budget cuts is likely to be very, very slow - government are good at setting national policy but will not get involved in local decision-making (for fear of being blamed for the cuts, perhaps?). So, let's welcome the positive changes, campaign for lots more, but be realistic about what is actually being promised.

* Preparation for leaving care has been largely forgotten. NAFP published a paper about the hugely important role of foster carers in this a few months ago. As much as some young people need to be able to stay in care for longer, they need to be supported and advised by the people who they trust and who know them best. For many young people, that person is their foster care. But delegated authority, as we have come to know it, is struggling to make headway when risk adverse services have to cover their backs for fear of recrimination when things go wrong.

Let's not play games, or play politics. It's not politicians, or local government, or services, or adult priorities and sensibilities that matter, it's young people that matter - get behind Every Child Leaving Care Matters, you know it makes sense.

Harvey Gallagher
Chief Executive
Nationwide Association of Fostering Providers

Wednesday, 8 January 2014

Pivot Care Talk About Why They Support ECLCM

"How many people in any kind of home do you know that leave at 18 never to return? How many don’t need or want the support of the people in their life who have cared for them, know their inner most secrets, wishes and dreams? How many don’t need that support?

That’s why Pivot Care Ltd support the every child leaving care matters campaign.  It  is a moral commitment we should have to people who can often be the most vulnerable. Their vulnerability is often born from the actions of others, however their desire to succeed burns as bright as anyone’s.  But the support IS needed and often isn’t there because of financial constraints.

Several of our staff have worked together previously and shared a vision and belief that need differs for many but often the long term aims are the same for all, success, happiness, acceptance, belonging and happy memories. We see this vision, ethos and belief come to life when the young people are supported for as long as possible.

It is our aim to enable children to go on to lead a happy life with a family that they can enjoy and be part of confidently. The confidence will come though experience and support.

To build happy memories and allowing a childhood that nurtures and develops a person, who can confidently handle the future and become successful, resilient and most importantly happy with themselves, does not stop in late teens. It is about helping and guiding someone to become an adult who has resilience, strength of character and direction. How many people have that at 18?

This can all be done with need rather than budget being the focus. Care, love and support is needed to help all people grow and by offering physical, emotional and financial support in these areas will reduce cost in others areas such as crime, health, rehabilitation, counselling, missed education, social work time etc.

It is about daring to be different and realising that people need support at different times no matter where they sleep. The ages between 18 - 21 are key times that if not supported and nurtured, can impact on the lives of not just individuals but communities and generations.

Let’s start to think and act differently using our gut instincts of moral and community obligation.

Let’s take the hard data often used to ostracise the people who need support the most, to make a REAL difference and a lasting impact on happiness and life opportunities for all.

If the funding is given to all until the age of 21, we can dare to imagine what can be done to enable all young people in care to move closer to their dreams. By building on some of the quality work that is already been delivered across the country by many professionals and volunteers #EVERYCHILD"

Pivot Care
8th January 2014

Tuesday, 7 January 2014

Fantastic News from the Scottish Parliament

From April 2015, in Scotland, teenagers in residential, foster or kinship care who turn 16 will be entitled to remain looked after until the age of 21 under new provisions proposed for the Children and Young People Bill.

This increased support, to be funded by £5 million a year up to 2020, is in addition to the Scottish Government’s recent commitment to provide support up to the age of 26-years-old for care leavers to help them move into independent living.

Minister for Young People Aileen Campbell said:

“It is vitally important that the support available to young people leaving care will help make the transition to independent living as comfortable and successful as possible. Care leavers in Scotland currently receive care and financial support up to the age of 21 and we have already committed to extending this to 26. We are now able to announce that, from April next year, those 16-year-olds in foster, kinship or residential care will have a right to stay up until the age of 21 before receiving aftercare.’

So fantastic news from Scotland. And in case there was any doubt, this proves it can be done!

This is, sadly, in marked contrast to the conspiracy of silence and abdication of responsibility evidenced by UK Ministers. We wrote to Edward Timpson before Christmas to ask if some of the ECLCM team and children in residential homes could meet him to discuss a way forward. To date we have had not even had this acknowledged – never mind a substantive  response.

At the Education Committee on 16th December 2013, Michael Gove, Secretary of State for Education, appeared to answer questions, some of which came from the public via Twitter. He was asked why there was a different care leaving age for foster children than for children in children’s homes, given that those in children’s homes are often the most vulnerable?  

In response, Mr Gove said:

"Until we are absolutely certain that we’ve got the situation right with residential homes—residential care and residential care homes—and the policies are properly aligned, we won’t extend the age there…Fostering is different…’

If care leavers don’t get support, many will then go on cost the state more in:
  • the criminal justice system
  • the benefit system
  • the mental health system
  • in homelessness

As the new reforms for those in foster care are implemented, we will have a two-tier system – those in foster care will get extra support until they are 21 – those in residential care will be forced to leave, what has become a place of safety for many, when they are 16+

Duncan Dunlop, Chief Executive of Who Cares Scotland said:

 “…all the resilience in the world can’t help them overcome some of the dreadful issues they face as young adults when they leave care at 16 or 18. The long-term effect of what they experience as young adults impacts on them heavily. Many lose hope; stop dreaming for better or look to coping solutions which include drugs and alcohol to get through the day."

A recent comment on Twitter by a government advisor stated this: ‘Some who resent fostering reform would welcome a cure for cancer by bleating "What about heart disease? We want equality for all diseases."

We resent any inference that we ‘resent fostering reform’ – we wholeheartedly celebrate this news.  To liken equality for all ‘vulnerable’ children (as this it what they are) in care to different cures for diseases is imbecilic. 

We have a question for Mr Gove:

What part of ‘equality’ don’t you understand?  

The ECLCM team and all the signatories of our petition embrace the concept of equality. Any two babies of whatever colour, creed, gender, ethnicity  etc, born in whichever  maternity ward in Britain with a heart condition would and should expect to receive the best medical assistance available. Any two four year old children will be offered schools to attend. Any two children needing medication will have it provided for them by the NHS. Any two adolescents who need a brace for their teeth will be able to ask a dentist to do it for them and the state will pay. Any two children deemed to be in need of care and protection will be looked after by the state. One goes to foster care and the other to a children’s home one of them can stay till they are 21 the other can’t. How can you justify that Mr Gove?

Saturday, 4 January 2014

Time To Reflect

The number of signatories to the “Every Child Leaving Care Matters” petition for equal aftercare support for all care leavers has now passed 4000 continues to rise.

We have come on a long way and learned much since we introduced the petition to gain this support following what we saw as a discriminatory step from government, so perhaps it is time to pause and reflect for a moment.

First of all, let’s be clear. Some have sought to misrepresent our objective, indeed one spokesman suggested we ‘resented’ the partial changes being introduced for fostered children. That is mischievous nonsense. Our objective is to gain equal aftercare support for all young people leaving care up to the age of 21, wherever they are placed.

We have never advocated raising the care leaving age. What we are campaigning for is for all young people leaving care to be treated equally.

We recognise that not all young people will need to remain in placement until 21 years old, of course. But there needs to be equality of support offered that is not dependent on whether a placement is foster care or residential care. All care leavers should be treated equally.

It has been suggested that to include young people from children’s homes in the changes would be ‘unaffordable’. We don’t accept that either. The issue is about allocation of resources to meet need. To suggest a change is unaffordable is a political statement based on the resources government are prepared to allocate.

We argue that the cost of not including young people from children’s homes in the change is far more expensive. What is the cost when supporting young care leavers in:
  • the criminal justice system,
  • the benefit system,
  • the mental health system,
  • in homelessness
Mr Gove suggested at the Education Committee that similar changes might be introduced for children’s homes in the future subject to unspecified conditions being met in an unspecified timescale. He made no firm commitment to change at all.

 How many young people are we prepared to see suffer while we wait? The division of support is clear discrimination.

Mr Gove said the issues involved in including changes for children’s homes are ‘complex’. Indeed they are, but they not so complex we cannot address them. They have been complex for generations as government after government has avoided addressing them. The ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ petitioners include care experienced people from every generation back to and including the 1950’s. Many of us have campaigned for better after care individually and in organisations for decades. We understand the complexities and are happy to discuss them.

We include a massive cross section of experienced care leavers, social workers, residential care providers, foster carers, academics and teachers. We have the support of some Directors of Children’s Services who clearly feel the same.

We are delighted to include leading charities amongst our supporters. These are:
  • A National Voice 
  • The Care Leavers Association 
  • The Children's Society 
  • Coram 
We salute these colleagues. We have written to all the organisations that supported the ‘Staying Put’ initiative to seek their support. We still await some replies.

Our position is that we seek any initiative to improve after care support for young people leaving care. However, we do not accept that qualification for such care be based on placement at the point of discharge and not on need.

We call upon people who care about vulnerable children leaving care to sign our petition. We are happy to meet and to discuss the issues involved with ministers, and indeed wrote to Mr Timpson to seek a meeting before Christmas. There has been no reply to date.

We will not go away or be silenced until we have equality of rights to after care support for all care leavers.