Thursday, 14 July 2016

The ECLCM Westminster Pop In Day in July 2016

When ECLCM was formed in December 2013 we couldn’t really have imagined how our journey might unfold. The naively optimistic might have thought that the omission of children in residential care from the entitlement to ‘stay put’ was just an oversight by the Minister or his DfE advisors; one that would be quickly rectified. Others seemed to think that we had no role to play, that ‘they’ were there to represent all care leavers and that ‘staying put’ for children in foster care was as much as could be hoped for and a small, inconsequential group of volunteers should stop interfering in a world that they knew nothing about.

Let’s pass over the last two and a half years and just concentrate on the last couple of months. We’re still here. We have been actively involved in Sir Martin Narey’s review of children’s residential homes in England, we have had a very cordial and useful meeting with the Children’s Commissioner Ann Longfield, we have a meeting with the DfE scheduled for 24th July to talk about our vision for children leaving residential care and hopefully how we may remain involved in their planning for the introduction of pilots in preparation for a much improved (on what is currently in the public domain) version of ‘staying close.’ Then there was our ‘Pop in Day’ in Parliament last week and that is what this blog wishes to mark.

The marvellous Emma Lewell-Buck MP for South Shields, who along with Kriss Akabussi, is patron of ECLCM offered to organise a Pop In day for us in Portcullis House. Frankly we didn’t even know what it was but as ever with ECLCM we accepted! As the time approached we began to get to know the equally marvellous Michelle Gribbon who is Emma’s Parliamentary Assistant (and now considered to be a Super-Hero by members of the ECLCM team, peerless save for our own Jane Billows).

With all due respect to matters of State it could not have been worse timing for a day in Westminster for a small group like ours. Despite Emma and Michelle inviting all MP’s, Peers and researchers and our own Paula Doherty undertaking a marathon mailshot to all MP’s we did not and really could not have anticipated that not only would the Brexit vote have just occurred but that both major parties (in England at least) were in the midst of leadership battles. – indeed the Tories were voting on the day. However, as we have come to accept in ECLCM ‘You play the hand you have been dealt with’.

The team (Ian Dickson, Rob Gillespie, Jane Billows and Ian Gould) set off at ungodly hours from various parts of the country and gathered at Portcullis House at 11.00 to meet the redoubtable Michelle. Emma (no doubt with Michelle’s agreement) most generously made Michelle available to the group all day and despite pressing parliamentary business devoted hours of her own time to hosting our group – we shall forever be grateful to both. In fact, as far as I can judge, it was very much ‘Ladies Day’ as Ian Dickson, Rob and Ian Gould simply did what they were told all day by Jane, Michelle and Paula. And how well it worked.

The following decision makers attended on the day and save for Catherine McKinnell and Baroness Fiona Hodgson, all pledged their support for the campaign (some, as regular readers will know, had already done so but it was nonetheless pleasing for them to come to meet us). All were happy for us to use their photographs – which will be on our website very soon if not already.

Catherine McKinnell                        Labour

Lucy Powell                                        Conservative

Mike Wood                                         Conservative

Sir David Ames                                  Conservative

Jim Shannon                                      Democratic Unionist

Jeff Smith                                            Labour

Lord Tom McNally                            Liberal Democrat

Khalid Mahmood                             Labour

Sarah Champion                               Labour

Baroness Fiona Hodgson               Conservative

Alex Cunningham                             Labour

Bill Esterson                                       Labour

Holly Lynch                                         Labour

Robin Walker                                     Conservative

Andy McDonald                                Labour

George Howarth                              Labour

Emma Lewell-Buck (of course!)  Labour

We are also aware that the following individuals had planned to come but were unable to do so:

Lord Mike Watson                           Labour

Lord Jonny Oates                             Liberal Democrat

Lord John Bird                                    Cross Bench

It is wonderful to have so much cross party support for the campaign and we will as time allows be in regular contact with all of these supporters to thank them individually for ‘Popping In’.

This is a key time for the campaign with the changes in Government and indeed Her Majesty’s official Opposition coinciding with the transition of Sir Martin Narey’s report from recommendation to enactment and we are pleased and grateful that his recommendation that ECLCM be invited to discussion with DfE has already been acted upon – we have an initial meeting on 24th July and hope to be involved, as recommended, in the progress towards the development of ‘Pilots’ and thereafter. Our vision of Staying Close is very clear and supported by what Sir Martin has indicated in recognising that those children leaving residential care at 18 (and not all should) must continue to receive the guidance and support from their residential staff who they have come to trust and to whom they have an attachment.

Where does ECLCM go from here? Our belief is that we continue as we are. We have lots of positive indications that change for the better may occur but until those indications become reality then our job is far from done. It would be wonderful if we can plan to bring this campaign to a close but we are not even close to thinking about that yet. Care Leavers, whether they are leaving residential or foster care have been badly treated by our society for decades and that same society is in many ways represented by those we elect and others who are selected to govern us. We met probably as many of those elected and selected representatives as we could have coped with on the day and we were thrilled and delighted that they chose to come to us. Others could not, due to understandable prior commitments which we fully appreciate and told us so in advance, but the reality is that we met 16 of 650 M.P.’s, 2 of 760 Peers– if change is to happen then initially we need at least 325 M.P’s to support us. Please do contact your MP and seek their support. We are continuing to meet with local councils but our time and resources are so very limited that this is a massive task and one that we can (and will) only ‘chip away’ at. Your support by asking your M.P does (s)he support @rescareto21 would be invaluable – especially if they, too, can pledge their support and perhaps allow you to take a photograph of them demonstrating that support. ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ but to achieve this please understand that every single one of you getting such a pledge matters too.

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