Sunday, 20 December 2015

Two busy years

‘Two busy years’
The ECLCM campaign has now been going for a little over two years. Did we anticipate this being a marathon? Probably not. In our naiveté, we were probably remarkably naïve at the outset. I think we imagined that the campaign might be over in the course of a few months. Surely (we assumed,) when they reflected on the draft Children and Families Act that was eventually to become law in 2014, they would realise that there had been either a catastrophic mistake or that someone had overlooked the fact that the plan to allow children leaving care in foster homes to ‘Stay Put’ until they were twenty-one years old was wonderful but the omission of those care leavers from residential care was blatant discrimination?

Very quickly it became clear that this was neither a mistake nor had it been overlooked. The word ‘anomaly’ has been used much in recent times to describe this omission. In the view of the ECLCM team, this is the wrong word to use. If it was an anomaly then why, in the two years since, has it not been addressed?

Our ECLCM team includes some experienced campaigners but probably not with the expertise and resources sufficient to challenge the Coalition Government effectively, or the Tory government that followed. We were very willing, rather angry and highly motivated amateurs – but still amateurs.

Two years on and with approaching 10,000 signatories on the petition we are more battle-hardened. We are more determined than ever to challenge the government on behalf of our petitioners. We are determined to make this government take note of the views of the care leavers of yesterday who do not wish their experiences to be suffered by other care leavers, today, tomorrow or in future years.

ECLCM has grown and developed somewhat over the last two years, but we need to take our campaign to yet another level if we are to succeed. We know that and we are addressing it. The team has changed a little – though all our original members remain either in the (rather grandly titled) ‘Board’ or as fervent supporters of the campaign. We have a website ‘donated’ to us by a generous designer. We have more structured meetings and we have forged a closer working relationship (perhaps partnership?) with the Care Leavers’ Association. We have made presentations and attended many different forums of ‘the great and the good’ in the field of children in care but we still find that most things don’t change. We are still volunteers, we remain politically unaffiliated, and we have no funding. Through the course of the campaign we have experienced many ‘ups and downs’ but recent events have been very encouraging.

On 8th December this year Bradford City council became the third local authority to pass a motion effectively supporting the ECLCM proposition that calls on the government to amend the Children and Families Act 2014 to ensure that all care leavers are given the option to "stay put“ until age 21 regardless of their placement, and furthermore that local authorities who have had their budgets decimated by years of austerity receive adequate funding to enable them to offer this option for all the children. Warrington and Sefton preceded Bradford, and other local authorities will almost certainly follow over the course of the next few months.
On 9th December this year, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Looked After Children discussed ‘Staying Put’ and we were fortunate enough to be present through the discussion.

This blog will be in the public domain and as such be subject to scrutiny by others who attended that meeting. They are warmly invited to contest this article, as our recollection and judgement could be wrong – but we don’t think that it is.

 The panel at the meeting comprised well-informed and lauded individuals who recognised that there was no sustainable argument to oppose the extension of the ‘Staying Put’ option to children in residential care. They were not unanimous in this view but neither, I suspect, were the Education Select Committee in their report " Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options."  That report was of course ignored by the government and who are we to argue with a government?
We might say that ECLCM is comprised of care leavers and social care professionals who have been or worked with children in care for tens of years and as such have a valid opinion. We might say that we are supported by a very significant number of older care leavers, leading academics, social workers and care practitioners in the country. We might say that every council that we have had time to approach has, or is in the process of. formally supporting children in residential care. We might just say that discrimination against one group of vulnerable young people based solely on placement is simply wrong.  

More important than what we might say are the views of the many children and young people who spoke at the ‘Staying Put’ APPG. They supported ‘Staying put’ for all care leavers to 21 too, just as ECLCM do.

We heard from one young person who had been in a foster placement for 12 years but was compelled to leave because the foster carer couldn’t afford to keep them there on the ‘Staying Put’ arrangement. We heard from young people who had been happy in residential care but had to switch to foster care if they wished to ‘stay put’. We heard young people share that they knew that they were being discriminated against because they were in a children’s home not a foster home and were made to leave their placement.

We heard from young people who no longer had any ongoing CAMHS support, and young people who know that the only reason they were able to remain in their foster home was because their foster carers had subsidised their care.  We also heard from young people who are personally doing well but were appalled that others were being so blatantly discriminated against.
These are children and young people, not commodities but ECLCM are concerned that they might feel like commodities. If there was a voice of a child or professional in that APPG meeting who spoke in favour of the current exclusive arrangements for ‘Staying Put’, then we must have missed it. We were told that our Minister for Children Edward Timpson is a good man who cares a great deal about children leaving care and is looking at alternatives for children in residential care. ECLCM accept that, but the point was made that he has now been looking for over two and a half years. 

Why is he looking anyway? ‘Staying Put’ as an option should be for ALL children in care. Mr Timpson, sadly you had to send your apologies to the APPG and what a great shame that was. You could have heard children and young adults telling you for themselves that the government were wrong, and will continue to be wrong until fully funded ‘Staying Put’ for all care leavers to 21 is an option offered to all children leaving care at 18. Fine words do not make it possible – Government need to fund it.
One remarkable young man who asked possibly the final question of the night suggested that if the government made more effort to secure the tax liabilities of several well-known global companies they would easily be able to afford to implement the ‘Staying Put’ policy that he was unable to access.  Do you have an answer for him Mr Timpson?

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