The ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ campaign group past, present and possibly future, are coming to Westminster on 11th September. We look forward to meeting with friends and supporters from all over the UK for the first time to share ideas aspirations and opinions. We are extremely grateful to Craig Whittaker, MP for making this possible and for agreeing to play a part on the day, and very excited about this opportunity to get together.
If we pause and reflect for a moment, it may seem odd that we are so excited about this opportunity to further promote our cause, but how much more odd is it that we should even have to exist, let alone have approaching 8000 signatories encouraging us to persevere with our cause?
In many senses a group such as ours should not be required in the United Kingdom in 2014, given our raison d'être. Given this odd situation, it is perhaps appropriate once more before the meeting takes place to reiterate our position and the context in which we came about and remain intact and as passionate as ever some nine months later.
There are many admirable and dedicated individuals and organisations who exist to support care leavers and happily many will be represented at the Harold Wilson room next week. Given the vital work these good people do, and indeed the contributions of thousands of social workers, their managers, residential staff, affiliated professionals, councillors, members of Parliament and corporate parents around the country who work to support children in and beyond a life in residential care, one may ask what possible need there could be for a small, passionate (if occasionally frustrated and even rather angry) group of strangers to come together over the course of a few days in the lead up to Christmas? What vital aspect of life for children in residential care could have been missed, overlooked or simply ignored to cause such an unusual event to happen? Of course, that event was the way the government proposed to implement its commendable ‘Staying Put’ initiative.
Given Society’s expressed commitment to equality and justice, we as a small group found it hard to believe that in this day and age a British government could introduce a policy that on the face of it openly discriminates against one group of vulnerable children leaving care based solely on where they are placed during their final year in care. This policy appeared to us to differentiate between blameless children shamelessly. We waited for the public display of outrage, and for the social work and national press to crawl all over the issue. Nothing. We waited for those people concerned with social work with children and families and the care of children to speak out and to tell the government that they must have made a dreadful mistake? There was virtual silence, and as a result, ECLCM was born.
Following the initial ECLCM campaign and the welcome support of some caring MPs, the issue of support for young people leaving care was reviewed by the Education Select Committee. To their credit, the Education Select Committee, after careful deliberation and review of the evidence, agreed with ECLCM that all children leaving care should be supported equally to at least 21 years of age. We now await the government response to their recommendations. What will happen to their recommendations, whether they will be introduced into a programme in advance of the next election? Who knows.
Let’s remind ourselves about the issues. Let’s consider our ‘three stooges’. Imagine three 17 year olds with similar needs, challenges and aspirations. One lives at home with a caring family. He or she will receive the support of the family as they grow older. There are no ‘cut off’ points based on age. They know the family will be there for them practically and emotionally into adulthood, and indeed, for the rest of their lives.
Let’s assume the other two 17 year olds are in care, but to all intents and purposes have identical backgrounds, needs, fears and hopes to the young person growing up amongst family. One of these is placed with foster parents and the other in a children’s home. Will they be treated differently? Well, it seems that under the current implementation of the ‘Staying Put’ initiative that is exactly what will happen. The fostered 17 year old may now expect to stay in care to be looked after and supported as any seventeen year old might expect in their home until they are 21. The other 17 year old living in a children’s home must leave and fend for themselves.