Wednesday 26 February 2014

Monologue of a corporate parent

Listen in to this imaginary monologue:

“One of my children died today. I don't know the circumstances. I don't know where the death occurred, its cause or even which child it was. I don't suppose that makes me much of a parent does it? 

Still, I do the best I can. There are so many other things I have to think about, more than I can cope with. If I am honest, I haven't seen or even thought about this child since it was sixteen or so. You must think that as a parent I don't seem to care very much. I do care honestly, and I want to care so much more but I simply can’t cope. I know that this child probably never had a job and rarely went to school and I've heard that it used drugs and even served some time in prison!  Terrible, I know, but I believe this child did have somewhere to live - more than many of its siblings have.

I can hear you thinking "What sort of a parent do you think you are that doesn't even know what happens to your kids and just seems to be relieved when they leave home?"

"Well, I am Corporate Parent".

“Being Corporate Parent is a bit different to how you bring up your kids you know. I only have to be a parent until my child is 18 and even then I can normally get out of it sooner. I’m told now that if I place one of my children with a foster carer they might be able to stay there till they're 21."

"What happens to them then?" you ask me.

"Well basically it doesn't matter, because it's no longer my problem. I am busy looking after a whole load of different kids and don’t have the time or the money to look after the ones who have left me. To be honest, I know that many of them fail. I know that some of them end up in prison, or mental health wards. I know that some end up just living on the streets, being exploited or even ‘doing drugs'. OK, I know it is your tax money that pays for my kids, but at least they cost you a lot less when they leave me because you don’t support them anymore, it costs you nothing unless they have kids”.

“What’s that you say? How does that work out then?"

"Well, it starts all over again...I often become corporate parent to their kids and the whole thing repeats itself"

I can hear you now “How can this be? You look after a kid till they're 18 or so, then you throw them out, they fall apart and cost the likes of me a fortune keeping them in jail, or drugged up, or on benefits, they have kids and it all starts over again? What do the kids think?"

"Well, I don't know," I reply, "I haven't ever really asked them."

"What sort of parent are you?" You ask me angrily!

"I'm a corporate parent"

An exaggeration?  Perhaps ..but perhaps not in too many cases. Sadly for many of our children and young people in care, ‘corporate parent’ is a reality. The individuals who make up the corporate parent may care deeply, but the impact of the care experience for too many children mirrors that of the children of our fictional corporate parent above. For many, that monologue equals their truth. The “Every Child Leaving Care Matters” campaign believe that all young people leaving care, whoever they are and wherever they are placed, deserve to be treated equally and fairly, and to be supported to have their needs met until they are at least 21.  Let’s make that corporate parent monologue a thing of the past.

Tuesday 4 February 2014

Narey Slams 'lazy philosophy' of Care Home Campaigners

One of the great things about living in a media rich democracy is that people are freely allowed to express their opinions, however well or ill-informed they may be. Perhaps this is surpassed only by the facility to help those expressing opinions that they may have misunderstood something fundamental. The Every Child Leaving Care Matters core group, now happily swollen to eight individuals, fully accepts Mr Narey’s right to express his views and indeed celebrate the fact that he has done so. Perhaps, though, a little clarification may help him or others of similar views become better informed?   

Whilst we are most certainly a group of activists we are by no means political, in fact this campaign is determinedly apolitical as may be considered to be evidenced by some well respected parliamentarians supporting our campaign who generally might naturally move into different lobbies in Westminster at division time.  We have not accused “every member” of the Conservative Party of mendacity. There is a least one among their number who we and others have (rightly) lauded for his public statements and actions in the pursuit of equality opportunities for children in residential care with their peers in foster care. There are others who have chosen to support the campaign less openly, which is perfectly understandable. Let us be unequivocal we have no political allegiance or agenda and those we advocate for don’t even have a vote.

We are actually proud of being activists; we have no illusions of carrying on the tradition of other more famous and worthy activists such as the Suffragette movement, Stonewall, the anti-Apartheid supporters but we can draw inspiration from such magnificent groups in attempt to highlight and right an injustice. Neither is there anything “lazy’ about us including our philosophy which, in connection with our campaign is, we feel, unlikely to be considered as complex or developed  an examination of truth or concepts as perhaps was that of either Nietzsche or Aquinas, for example. We actually all have ‘day jobs’ with which we progress unabated devoting our ‘spare time and energy’ to ECLCM because we believe that we should; it’s really heartening to know that over 5000 people are supporting us in doing so.

A simple message of what this campaign is about for Mr Narey or anyone else who is interested may help – although we have tried to be clear about this before.

We welcome the government’s proposals in respect of children in foster care potentially remaining in their placement until the age of 21; this is an unequivocally good thing. We want the same opportunity to be afforded to children in residential homes.

Mr Narey appears to suggest that we may be critical of what the government has announced as being a “minor development”. Have we said this? No. Have we publicly welcomed this? Yes.

Mr Narey appears to defend Mr Timpson, although we feel sure that he can defend himself, by referencing Mr Timpson’s words “..if I thought that by including children’s homes in staying put arrangements was the right thing to do at this juncture, I would do it in a heartbeat..” We have asked to meet with Mr Timpson so that he can explain to us if not publicly what it is that makes him think it is not the “right thing to do”. He has not taken up the offer. Why is it not the right thing to do Mr Timpson? We ask this for ourselves, of course, and those who tangibly support us but most of all we ask it for the children who we work with, advocate for, represent or in some of our cases remember being. What do professionals working with children in children’s home tell them when they ask “Why are we, why am I different?” We don’t know the answer. We don’t know what to tell those children. Mr Narey, should Mr Timpson choose to talk through you we will listen politely to your answer. We do note that you use the word “we” when referring to the Government so be assured we would accept what you say as being the government’s view and could at least introduce this to the public arena for others to judge.

Mr Narey considers that we are being "inaccurate and unfair" in accusing ministers of being “uncaring” over their reluctance to afford children in children’s homes the identical opportunity to those in foster homes. We are not saying that ministers are “uncaring” per se, but please help us out Mr Narey, why else are these two groups of seemingly identical children being treated differently? Surely any parent of two children would want them to have the same opportunities? If one had two identical twins with identical ability, aims and aspirations and one chose to ask one to leave home at eighteen whilst not the other might one be accused of caring less for one compared to the other? Seems likely to us.

Mr Narey appears to have an ambivalent opinion of our campaign. On the one hand accusing us of an attack on the government whilst later dismissing us as an irrelevance and, we might say, with due respect to all those supportive of our nation of pet-lovers, appearing to draw a comparison between looked after children and kittens. He questions what starting a petition has done for the cause. Well, it was never the intention but it appears to have exercised his mind somewhat. He should not perhaps, dismiss the fact that an unsupported, unfinanced, relatively anonymous group of people who have nothing to gain personally from this campaign have gathered such significant support in such a short time. If we are not having an impact why does he feel the need to insult, dismiss and demean our efforts?

Mr Narey, you are a Government Advisor with, unless we are mistaken, no public mandate.  We are a collective concerned for the welfare of looked after children in general and in respect of children who are or will be leaving children’s homes now and in the future. We seek equality for these children with their peers in foster care. We may in your terms have “resorted to a petition”; what else are we to do? Nothing? At least that petition has given us, unlike you,  a mandate to ask questions not only on behalf of all the children who are now and will in the future be leaving residential care but also over five thousand others.

Monday 3 February 2014

ECLCM Reply To The Letter From Mr Timpson

On 23rd January, shortly after the adjournment debate in the House of Commons introduced by Craig Whittaker MP, ECLCM received a reply from Mr Timpson to their letter in December seeking to meet with him.

Mr Timpson raised a number of interesting reasons why he considered that young people leaving residential care could not receive equal aftercare support until they are 21, as the government proposes to do for young people leaving foster care.  We have addressed most of these already, but given Mr Timpson’s letter, it is probably appropriate to do it again.

Mr Timpson states:

“I completely agree with you, therefore, that young people should not feel pressured to leave care prematurely. They need to be consulted and involved in making plans for their futures and should only be expected to move on from their final care placement once they are ready to take this significant step.”

You need to know Minister that this is not happening in a great many cases across the country.  Young people being moved from settled care placements to supported lodgings and other placements when they reach 16+ is common. Even councils who have signed the Care Leavers’ Charter to consult and involve young people are still moving young people before they feel ready. The Care Leavers’ Charter will not work unless it is made statutory.

The Minister adds:

“Research has found that many young people are dissatisfied with the support they receive and, in particular, that there are shortfalls in planning and preparation for leaving care, which leaves their needs unmet.”

As care leavers and people who work with young people in care and care leavers, we would agree with you about this. Too many young people are being compelled to leave care and face the world with little support when they are 16 years old when they are not emotionally or practically able to cope. There is no doubt whatsoever that preparation for leaving care, be that residential care or foster care, needs to be improved and we will support any initiative to do this. We feel that this area for development supports our argument for ongoing support to 21, including remaining in placement where appropriate, for all young people leaving care.

We would go further than Mr Timpson. As we have reported before, national disadvantage statistics related to NEET, homelessness, mental health, custody, etc.  show care leavers are disproportionately represented. This is not because care leavers are necessarily predisposed to failure.  They are not. It is because they are not supported at a critical time in their life when they were facing crisis. 

The Minister has suggested that he will introduce changes “in a heartbeat” when children’s homes are good enough for children to live in. He suggests too many homes are simply not fit for young people to continue to live in without significant changes.

If that were true we would be standing alongside him demanding radical action. However, although there is work to be done, his own watchdog Ofsted in their recent report indicated that 68% of children’s homes were judged to be good or better, and only 8% were judged to be inadequate. This compares very well with the inspection findings of foster care.

Ofsted results suggest there is little problem based solely on the quality of the homes to prevent young people who wish and who would benefit from remaining whilst they gained the emotional and practical skills to become independent, and as the homes improved their own skills in supporting young people into independence.

Mr Timpson identified a practical issue in his letter to ECLCM:

“There would also be practical and legal issues to be worked through if, in the future, there was a duty on councils to fund 'staying put' arrangements for care leavers in homes registered by Ofsted on the basis that they are 'wholly or mainly for children'.”

The ECLCM team acknowledge there are statutory issues that would need to be addressed although we contend that the number of occasions the situation described by the Minister would be few. However, the Minister also pointed out that the problems would not be ‘insurmountable”. We agree and would be happy to support Ofsted to identify and address the issues if we can. We don’t see them as a major obstacle that need cause undue delay in introducing equality.

Mr Timpson added:

“I am aware of the evidence you mention that young people living in children's homes are more likely to make an early transition from care compared to those living in foster care. Many of these young people feel dissatisfied with the support they receive and report being poorly prepared to make their transition to adulthood. My department is, therefore, funding the organisation Catch22 to carry out the two year 'Getting Ready' project in the North West region. This project will identify how to get children's homes to offer high standards of planning and preparation for adulthood and will test out ways of enhancing care leavers' education, training and employment prospects.”

ECLCM have consistently argued that there is much to be done to prepare young people to cope when they leave care. Some of us have had to do it – our experience is first hand. The Minister proposes to have a pilot scheme which is not set up yet but which will run for two years before reviewing and reporting its findings.
It could be many years before the findings of any scheme were acted upon by government – and there is no firm commitment to act on them at all.

ECLCM identify a pressing need for government to take urgent steps now to support young care leavers (from foster care and residential care) who are struggling and facing destitution, poverty and worse as we speak. It can’t wait for years. This needs to happen alongside introducing equal aftercare support for all care leavers to 21. Recent research by the Centre for Social Justice reinforces our concern that urgent action is needed now to support young people leaving care.

Some commentators suggest that Ministers are doing all they can and there is very limited scope to improve the leaving care support arrangements further. They point out that £40 million is already being invested in improved after care support for fostered children.

ECLCM do not accept that. How much is allocated and how it is used is a political decision, not a social work decision within the gift of local councils. We want the same support being given to fostered children for ALL children leaving care.  Not to do so is a political decision based on resource allocation, and government ministers are responsible for that. Failure by politicians to take affirmative action will have a negative and potentially disastrous impact on young care leavers in the community. An unpalatable fact for politicians and their advisors, but nevertheless true. Further, to support one group of care leavers and not another based upon placement only is discrimination. That is the bottom line.  

Mr Timpson declined to meet representatives from ECLCM. That is a pity, because our offer to assist him to support all young people leaving care was genuine. The offer remains on the table. 

Saturday 1 February 2014

Behind The Statistics Are The People....

Most young people look forward to their birthdays most of the time. Many get excited at the prospect of a celebration, perhaps being a bit over-indulged. Some birthdays, are of course more momentous than others we guess 13 is a pretty good one- a teenager, 16 seems to be one that most teenagers look forward to and then there is 18, the coming of age, an adult, able to vote and all those other grown up things but often mainly an excuse for a big bash.

Most of us on ECLM are too old to be sure if 18 is actually the New 21; ‘key of the door’ and all that. What’s this got to do with children in care? Well, the fact of the matter is that at 18 most children in care don’t get the key of the door they get shown the door.

Children in care are, understandably, a rather amorphous body of people to most of the population of this country. They are neither ‘loved nor despised ‘as a group – perhaps and again understandably not even ‘thought of’ or within the consciousness of  the enormous majority of adults and young people who may never have (knowingly)met, or known or come across a looked after child. Actually they probably have.
If they have ever seen someone selling ‘The Big Issue’ in the street, perhaps begging, perhaps bedraggled and off their heads on booze or drugs then statistically they are likely to have been either looked after or they were. But what’s this got to do with birthdays? Because looked after children are all different, because they have no identifiable features, because they often try to hide the fact that they are or were looked after it’s all too easy not to think about them.

Let’s get personal. What follows happened today, Friday 31st January 2014. It happened to a real looked after child in a real children’s home. Let’s consider the child to be a girl for this piece. She’s not 18 today and we don’t know if she ever will be. She’s had a difficult life – none of it her responsibility.

For a whole range of reasons she’s considered to have mental health problems; in fact she really does have mental health problems but perhaps in another life, with another family, she would not have had them. But she does and this has meant that she has spent all too much of her adolescence locked up for her own safety in a secure hospital. She has a chance though more than a year ago she moved to a children’s home; it’s not been easy for her or anyone else. She has made fantastic progress and has started to enjoy some of the more ‘normal’ things that we take for granted -friends, college, an (albeit limited) social life; by and large no serious attempts to kill herself and manageable (by and for her) degrees of self harm - until last week. Two suicide attempts, two hospital admissions.

Why now? Why after such a long time (if a year is a long time). Today we found out. These are not her exact words we have changed them, but not their content. She is seventeen next week; she said that she knows she will have less than a year in what has become her home, her safe place, her trusted staff team. She knows it’s not long enough and she said she might as well die now as in a year. What do we say? Do you want to move to a foster home because then we might have long enough?

She’s right another year is not long enough to help her put right all that went wrong in the previous fifteen. EVERY CHILD MATTERS not just those for whom fostering is available and the right choice.