By Sean Geoghegan

In the hiatus, the await for the Care Review recommendations, and in response to the negative press around the use of residential care – it seems opportune for me to post this piece about the value of children’s homes. Both as a resource and to try to level up the arguments against them.

The recent Ofsted Report ‘Why do children go to children’s homes?’ that focused on residential care is welcomed – if only to divert thinking, negative largely, around the value of children’s homes by our public, policy makers and politicians. The same poor hegemony shared by the top tier architects of the current Care Review – with its family rights focus, zeal for kinship caring and its over reliance on and sadly, lack of critical perspective on upscaled fostering. Its overt bias against children’s homes as an option. Let me just say before I laud the opportunties that exist in State care children’s homes that I have no beef with foster care. Nor family rights and family ‘wraparound’ as I spent two years fighting for my own children in Family Court. And that I have no beef with kinship because after I left care I was kinship carer to my old younger brother.

What I resent is the absence of any deliberative discussion about good quality residential care. As a previous member of the EbE I can say with confidence that it was the cost implications of reviewing children’s homes within the Care Review that I feel stifled debate around them. That it was the cost implications that prevented an important sets of discussions needed to consider true ‘care’ value. One that vitally might also have included the need for mental health and trauma support that good ‘professional’ care might provide after family breakdown. What I want to share is that in my time in the EbE what I was witness to in the Care Review was a barrier, a theoretical bias against the very principle of State parenting that prevented the policy makers (running the show) from embracing the prospect of and the potential for good residential care.

I want to say on a personal note that depite my own dire experience in a community home in Islington in the 1970s I feel, if done right residential care can transform the lives of children coming into it. If you will allow me, I want to outline here why I think that children’s homes can form a vital part of a redesigned approach to the care system. To offer some points that might hopefully reinvigorate that conversation.

My story

It takes a village, according to the Nigerian proverb – to raise a child. I was five years old when I was transported out to the Essex countryside to an industrial sized children’s home. The eldest of four wee boys with a Scots brogue and ill-equipped parentage. The clothes were hand-me-downs. They had the scribbled in names of other kids in them. On white cotton tags stamped with the initials LCC. The London Country Council managed all the children deposited by or taken from parents across East and North London and transported us to a vast complex called the Hutton Poplars Residential Training School.

There were twenty-five huge children’s homes arranged around a large central green. Massive red brick houses, named alphabetically after English rivers. Me and my brothers were reunited at Fal House, after our youngest finally joined us from the Baby Unit. The fully self-contained community had its own store, a school, a farm, a gymnasium and even an indoor swimming pool. The bell tower of the Central Dining Hall was inscribed as 1906. That date stamp represented the first overview, or context I ever had into my own childhood. Evidence of the Victorian politicians who had constructed the vast village children’s home. Social Reformers who sought to deliver the waifs and strays from the ghettos of East London, beyond the corruption of the city, into training schools and the fresh air of the countryside. Effectively removing them from the very communities and predatory adults that were destructive to their well-being in the first place. Settings like this one were dotted around every major city in the country. London had five of them. Institutions of such magnitude that were capable of housing anything from 400 – 700 children at any one time. Offering a gated community with smaller family orientated children’s houses where the House parents (usually married) acted like Aunties and Uncles.

The negative impact of ‘institutional’ care is well documented. The unaccountable sadistic regimes, casual levels of child abuse and neglect, over-harsh punishments, the racism and imbedded paedophilia that has decimated so many lives of our elderly care experienced community. My own experiences – at the hands of a psychotic House parent who doled out cruel sadistic punishments – was terrifying. Life in care, up until I was eight was a torment. Not at all what the home’s founders had imagined – a safe country setting with Christian guidance, an emphasis on recovery and resilience, providing a different kind of family, where children could do more than just survive but were provided with opportunities to thrive.

That bastard House Father never came back from his holidays – much to our delight. And my  own world was magically transformed by the husband and wife replacement Houseparents Uncle Jim and Aunty Jean. It was under their tutelage and love that Fal House and the oversized Children’s Village would become what I regarded as my home. And with their help  I found a new sense of pride, of purpose and also of identity there.

Looking back I realise that we were heavily invested with social capital. Music lessons, sports activities, walks and runs and outings. We had Cubs and Brownies. There were yearly inter house competitions with silverware as prizes. Huge village events; Bonfire Nights, Harvest Festival, summer fetes where we were open house for the local community. The Housefather held his own mini competitions at dinner tables where we were quizzed about Continents, Countries and capital cities of the world. I can still reel off the county capital towns of England. At eleven years of age, I felt – after a horribly abusive start  – physically loved, hugged when I needed comforting. Yes there were rules to obey. But there was continuity, the Staff members were, for the most part, consistent across the lifetime of our care. There is one House Mother from Humber House who still retains lifelong support fifty years later today to those (elderly now) who were children in her care.

The regular visits to our own swimming pool – a beautifully tiled domed oasis – led me to join a local club, that also practised there every evening. I attended galas with Brentwood Swimming Club right across the South East every Saturday. I loved those coach journeys, the sing-songs, that special sense of comradery. I loved the bellowing support from my fellow team mates who would chant my name, that I could hear when I lifted my head for air when I was in a race, swimming. I became regional champion and even swam once for England.

Both Houseparent’s shared a talent for spotting the true potential of each child. With help from my Teacher, the kindly Sister Raphael I passed my eleven plus. Uncle Jim argued strongly for me at my interview at Grammar School. The Headmaster however was firmly against giving me a place. Too much homework he said. So the Housefather transformed an old cloakroom into a study and I became one of the first children from that home to make it into grammar school. I felt for the first time in my life a deep connection with everything around me; the love I got from the House parents Jim and Jean, appreciation from the other children in the home and love and respect from my siblings; who I knew were well protected. I took enormous pride in my new school uniform, the badge on the cap, the Catholic grammar school that had very high expectations of me. I felt a great connection with my class mates and their parents – whose homes I would visit. Each Sunday after mass I would chat with Father Barrow, the Priest at Saint Joseph’s where I was an altar boy and felt a new kind of relationship; a spiritual connection. I would visit a local elderly couple for tea – who were like grandparents to us. Such inter-generational connections albeit routine for most children helped me see life as if raised in a family.  A set of relationships that are especially critical for a child in care. 

Community Care.

In my second year of Secondary School I was suddenly removed from all of that. My three brothers and I became one of the first families to be relocated into an inner London ‘community’ children’s home. A spit level concrete box, set in a concrete urban ghetto.

It was the 1968 Report of the Committee on Local Authority and Allied Personal Social. Services, led by Frederic Seebohm that saw me removed from my home life, stripped me of my identity and friends and dropped me into the ‘local community’. The trouble was that it wasn’t my local community. And given the run-down area where it was built – and the type of people employed to Staff it – it proved to be an extremely dangerous place for me and my siblings to be in.  

The ‘Seebohm Report’ was a commissioned Governmental Report that set itself against ‘institutional’ care of the Industrial type. It determined that Local Authorities should assume control of children. That small group homes were to be designed, imbedded within the locality, that would keep us close to family relations and retain/build those social networks seen as vital for a child. It also established the very first Social Services departments to be set up in every Local Authority. And it brought the modern day Social Worker into being. Sadly,  as evidenced brilliantly by Ed Nixon the new workforce to run these little homes was a largely untrained and proved to be extremely incompetent – as proxy parents. They also harboured some of the worst elements that were attracted to the new ‘small scale’ homes. They were a million miles away from the ‘family style’ safe environment I had known, and appreciated as a small child in residential care.

The ‘swing’ in social policy away from Institutional care towards local community and networks was perceived as absolutely the right thing to do at the time but it’s implementation highlights the complete lack of awareness that a general policy has on a child’s special needs, in my case my own individual requirements and to date experience.

It was the Children in Care and Children’s Act 1975 that introduced specific new duties for the care experiencing (or those faced with adoption or care proceedings) – that all parties must for the first time ‘ascertain the wishes and feelings’ of young people. The ‘fashion’ of the day was clearly moving against parental rights (often unfairly targeted as potential abusers) and favouring trustworthy (?) State management; which only added to the complexities:

..securing the child’s welfare is now the dominant aim of child law, there is no shortage of persons claiming authority to decide where a child’s welfare lies. Nowhere is this more true than where a child comes to the attention of the welfare authorities. Children in Care Act 1975

The facts is, that no-one really gave a damn about children’s rights at that time in care. And the overall experience of community care in the 1970s, 80s and 90s would prove to be an absolute disaster for so very many of us. An annihilation of so many childhoods. Local Authorities keen to recruit Staff to a high ratio of children were infiltrated not just by the untrained but by predatory child sexual abusers. Our new Local Authority ‘parents’ having rejected the old ways of the institutions were sadly ill equipped to take the job on themselves. No more Aunty and Uncle. No physical activities or harsh regime but an emphasis on the internal, the mental impact of our incarceration. Reviews were way over our heads. And out of bounds. Files were full of psychological bullshit, false narratives created, Staff existed on a merry-go-round.

We kids were left rudderless, with no sense of ourselves and all prior connections we had built that were our own were terminally disrupted. Just as there were good Staff to be found in Institutional settings, so there were some excellent Staff who strove to bring the right conditions into this new type of care. If they were exceptional then they hardly ever lasted the course.

Child Care policy – the penduluum effect.

At the end of the 1990s almost all Local Authority children’s homes were phased out and fostering became the norm.  A financial win win for Councils able to sell of prime real Estate that was skilfully repositioned as good social policy. I recall in my advocacy work at NAYPIC (the National Association of Young People In Care) whole children’s homes being shut down even with their occupants still in them. Those who objected found themselves in a police cell whilst their belongings were removed and the home boarded up. Where once residential care was the flagship of State parenting it had become an embarrassment and a costly one too. Mass homes closure not only brought in revenue from the sale of central London properties but it cutely also curtailed the date on all future compensation claims. The paedophile scandals within Local Authority children’s homes created a major drive away from residential care that exists to this day. Another reason why residential care is tarnished as an option. The current payment scheme being offered by my Local Authority (Islington Council) for abuse victims in care homes dates only up until 1995 and not beyond. It deosn’t cover foster care either.

This swinging to and back – from State management to family intervention and community engagement – took a further spin in my own lifetime following the infamous Baby P disaster. Peter Connelly (also known as Baby Peter) was a 17-month-old who died after suffering more than fifty injuries over an eight-month period at his home in Haringey, London. Over the same period, he was repeatedly seen by the Children’s services and NHS health professionals. But this same London Borough had already failed seven years earlier in the case of Victoria Climbié. During her abuse, Climbié was in kinship care and had been burnt with cigarettes, tied up for periods of longer than 24 hours, and hit with bike chains, hammers and wires. Her death led to a public inquiry that resulted in measures being put in place in an effort to prevent similar cases happening. A few years later Daniel Pelka was added to the lengthy list of child deaths at home where it was also evident that a number of opportunities had been missed to identify him as suffering severe parental child abuse. The outcomes for the services following these abuses and deaths is that referrals began flooding in as other Agencies classified even more cases as child protection, terrified of missing “another Baby P”. But this was also nothing new. Maria Colwell was murdered in 1973 by her step father in Brighton and Darryn Clarke – was murdered in Liverpool in 1978 by his mother’s partner.

As Ed Nixon, ex Social Worker, puts it “there was a different focus in children’s social care as a consequence of the increasingly and rightly high profile ‘avoidable’ deaths (one) that did at least lead to greater levels of intervention by Social Services Departments which in turn led to children being removed from their parents care at an earlier age in the lead up to the Children Act 1989.”

There was the exact same explosion of outrage back in that time as we see today (pre-social media of course) over the ‘case” (how I hate that term) of Arthur Labinjo-Hughes and Star Hobson. The media attacks on social work for those to blame for missing numerous occasions children and babies are murdered by their abject parent figures. The usual platitudes of ‘never to forget’ and needing to ‘learn’ from it. But of course, we have already forgotten little Lily-Mai, Alicia Watson and Ella-Rose who are also recent very young victims of carer murder. There will be new names to add to that list after this paper is written and read.

Including the case of a teenager accused of murdering a five-year-old boy. The body of Logan Mwangi was found in the River Ogmore in Sarn, Bridgend, last July with 56 injuries. His killer has been described as “a monster”. The court heard the boy spoke of killing people and said he wanted to kill Logan shortly before his death. Logan was ‘treated like disposable rubbish in life and in death’, the jury at his murder trial was told. The 14-year-old boy, Logan’s mother Angharad Williamson, 30, and his step-father John Cole, 40, all denying his murder.

Or three-year-old Kemarni Watson Darby who was found lifeless by paramedics at his home in West Bromwich, was taken to hospital, but pronounced dead that same evening. A man and his partner found guilty of murder and causing or allowing the death of her son. The four-month trial heard how Kemarni was repeatedly assaulted by his mother and her partner. Significantly the trial also heard that Kemarni had expressed a wish not to go home to his mother’s flat after visits with his father. So his wishes and feelings, freely expressed, were ignored.

Child Protection.

The fact is that whilst ‘lifelong links’ prove invaluable for many with care experience and should be resourced fully what we don’t hear too much about are those who choose to leave their childhood homes, or enter care with toxic, narcassitic and dangerous family members. And we fail them when we dont include them in the solutions around how best to care for them.

The unsavoury fact is that domestic homicides rose from 16 in 2019 to 22 last year. Of those 12 were children aged 12 years or younger, where the suspect was a family member, usually a parent or guardian. And just as there is a sizable response from the public, media and politicians so there has always been equally so in the past. And then the forgetting moves in. And after a rush of public outcry and the additional workloads this bring to our social workers the ‘swingometer’ of social policy – having jumped towards child protection retreats slowly back to parental support away from the severity that is percieved then as State intervention. Because the State has become synonymous with overbearing anti-family draconian power and little is lft to work with that will see any improvement in the provision of the State to care more effectively for those who will always need it. Because State care must be ‘bad’ care. Whilst the constant demonising of the care experience is just one of the many ideological imperatives that has unfortunately altered the effectiveness of a balanced-out child protection approach – of placing children’s needs, their wishes and feelings central at all times. The massive and understandable knee-jerk reaction to such horrendous acts as child deaths at home flying in the face of effective social work or the potential to learn and improve in practise. It is an emotional juggernaut – practically unstoppable.

One of the central arguments of the book ‘Scandal, Social Policy and Social Welfare’ by Mark Drakeford and Ian Butler is that it is abhorrent events such as parental child abuse and murder that has played a major part in the constant reshaping of British welfare policy.

“Across the broad sweep of history, it is possible to pick out critical moments or turning points that seem to represent some qualitative shift both in thinking about welfare and in welfare practices. Often these do occur in close proximity to a welfare scandal..”

Following the Baby P case, a 40% increase in the number of children were subsequently taken into care by the State to reach a level of 70,000 children being ‘looked after’ in the system. The severe clamp down on parental care saw Social Workers characterised as incompetent child snatchers. And much like today, accused of focusing way too much on following procedures rather than what would most make a difference to children. Critical reaction was that too many assessments were carried out to no real purpose other than ensuring services appeared to be “fully covered if something, anything, went wrong”. Social workers were also said to be working “doubly hard” when supporting families where child protection concerns existed. The pendulum had firmly swung, decidedly, back towards State measures and control. As it is prone to.

Consider then – social policy for children in the care system as essentially fashion. I say that as one who has personally lived through it. Having grown up within touching distance of those early Victorian Reformers driven to clearing the streets of child prostitutes and beggars. Bold visionaries who crusaded for a brave new world for orphaned and abused children. Rallied against child death, brutality and poverty – believing that the State held the answers to poor and dangerous parenting. I was then placed as a teenager, by the policy makers of that day determined to undo everything that their predecessors held scared. That would emphasise – not the effectiveness of good State provision – but in the modern parlance (already old policy recommendations) of retaining children in community and family settings, reducing numbers of entrants into care, more fostering, improved social work training, lower caseloads, improved use of assessment tools and a rethink of social work training.

The Policy penduluum

As a policy maker in children’s services I would suggest that is as well to be aware of the cyclical nature of ALL previous Reviews and recommendations. One of the early pronouncements from the current Care Review was that were “increasingly adversarial relations” between parents and the State.  But we all know that’s nothing new; those tensions have been there since its very inception, there has always existed tension between State and parent in the care system. It is built into the model. Something we see played out disastrously in our Family Courts – which are totalitarian in miniature. Grotesque in the daily injustices that are carried out daily, within them. We must support families at times and yet never forget the awful potential for ‘birth’ families, kinship carers, adopters as well as Foster parents and Residential staff to wreak havoc on a child. That the main mechanism to support them aside from good social work practise and provision is for a child to know what its rights are and to have the opportunity to be able to express them and for those views to be acted upon.

It is an unfortunate side story that the emphasis on having a ‘family’ is at the denigration of State ‘care’ which has struggled constantly ever since those early days to recover from a tarnished image. Ever since it first interceded into the poor affairs of impoverished families and took on the assumed role of Corporate Parent back in Victorian England. When the parents of ‘othered’ children lost their rights and their obligations and the State and/or Charities (without accountability) were able to do with children as they wished. Some say it is still like that – to our everlasting cost.

As one who experienced abuse in community children’s homes I am not a fan of Local Authority provision but I can still believe in the possibility of a better system in care even within it. The concern sadly under this Care Review has not been how we can reimagine and radically reform State care for children – and possible even return it to its initial positive principles – but its acceptance of the eternal ineffectiveness of State Parenting as an ideal in itself. The lacklustre thinking around this question – that it is actually possible, appropriate and of course affordable.

The trouble is that ‘family’ based care is a narrative that cuts both ways. A double edge that suggests not just that birth family are the ‘for real’ family but that they are somehow preferred or ‘better’. And that any alternatives like a foster family or adopted parentage is the next best thing. That State care or residential homes – will always be a hotbed of abuse, a source of County lines and encourage prostitution – and are to be avoided at all costs. Not a positive message for those who will by necessity have to be cared for and who may want to choose a residential communal setting within the system. Not a view we want to share with the wider public either. That residential care is the worst last option. If stigma flowers then this sort of attitude is where it stems from.

But what of those who are unsafe at home, need refuge or respite in care, cannot settle in foster homes or who are just unhappy in that space or feel unsuited to it? Nor can we ignore those unaccompanied asylum seekers, teenagers often placed in unregulated care, who are 1000’s of miles away from home and trusted relationships like family, friends and school. Is the alternative for them to provide new networks of a similar kind? Or to be left like the vast majority of us to ‘sink or swim’. An actual child care policy too at one time.

The fact is that there’s a high degree of us (ex-care) who were badly let down by our immediate and our extended families. That may also have been ostracised or who fled from their original ‘communities’. Or who choose or prefer not to belong to it. The story of Hackney Child who at just nine years old arrived at Stoke Newington Police Station with her two younger brothers, demanding to see their social worker. She had decided it was no longer safe to live at home. the amazing care experienced author and socila worker Jenny Molloy spent much of the remainder of her childhood in residential care which she now famously decribes as a “positive thing”.

Whilst many of us may benefit from it there will also be those us who are not suited or keen on reunification or ‘lifelong links’ with those who abandoned us and who we choose not to love. Some us may also prefer to reimagine our lives. To move onwards and forge new relationships. Placing Care Leavers into so called ‘community’ settings they are at odds with as evidenced on Care Leavers Rock (FB page) has proved to be a disaster to many care experienced people. With zero choice in housing, often stuck in dangerous neighbourhoods, many feel threatened and abused. Our very elderly care experienced people are bullied or harassed, scared to go out – unable to move because they are not assessed as trauma impacted and treated wrongly just like any other member of the public seeking a transfer. Our community have been allocated the worst types of housing in the worst areas and are expected to act happy about it. The community for many can be the very place that they need to escape from. Family can also be the last place of call for so many.

We have to fully recognise there are those young people and children who will always need to come into a State Care system who might do better in or prefer residential care settings. Who may be in need of special guidance, discipline and support. We should not talk about them as ‘having to’ come into care. But on being welcomed into it.

There currently appears to be growing support (online enthusiasm) towards those Local Authorities starting to build their own children’s homes again. This, in obvious opposition to the obscene levels of expenditure that benefits only the shareholders of those companies. The chickens have certainly come home to roost for all those Local Authorities in a tearing hurry to sell off their residential assets back in the 1990’s and who are now being fleeced because of it. They saw the profit signs themselves in down grading the care provision in their locality in favour of the income from selling of prime real estate in prestigious neighbourhoods. These are the same Boroughs that are having to rebuild them now. 

The State must step up to the plate when it either removes a child or it has to take it on. It’s no good pointing at the rest of Society to take on something that the State isn’t also prepared to do too and to its very best. For a State-run service to put its resources and place the emphasis on birth parents or kinships as preferable or as ‘best practise’ is to create a new kind of stigma. One that impacts on those who are unable to form those family bonds due to severe abuse or prefer a life in care to one with parents who cannot or will not invest in its young people. State care is not to be treated anymore as a lesser form of parenting. With highly trained professions and the best forms of practise, our Society should be able to give a child in care at the very least a better standard of life, and more – an opportunity to transform their situation. And for those who advocate that what our young people really need is love: of course that’s true but even if we could facilitate it (and we should try) love is not all a child needs.  

Roots and wings

No-one cannot legislate for even one loving relationship for every child. Not in a system that currently cannot even guarantee everyone a safe or a steady home. Especially within a service that is unable to retain some of its best people. And it is as a parent (and not just as care experienced professional) that I can tell you that love maybe an imperative but it is also not nearly enough to raise a child. Certainly not one who has experienced abuse or abandonment. The Review will most certainly have to endorse trauma informed practise for all those who are tasked with caring for or supporting care experienced people (of any age). And whilst relationships and connections are indeed vital for a child or young person in care they must also include the ability to feel secure in the world, and most especially to be able to develop love and confidence in themselves.

Young people and children in care undoubtedly fall behind in education and socially too.  Creating a tick box of numbers is not solely the answer here. There needs to be a drive both for higher aspirations and for the accumulation of social capital. Something that the middle class know all too well. The kind of activities that has the potential to power a person through adversity. The accumulation of social capital and all that derives from it can be a true indicator of ‘independence’. Talent capitalisation. Empowerment is part of that thinking. Stepping back and allowing rather than over seeing. The basis for this has to set early on. An ownerhip of ones own ‘care’. Ones own life trajectory. But a greater support network of ‘family’ or community can exist within (and not just outside of) the care experience. We can create networks – that need to be resourced and effective.

I am definitely not advocating for industrial sized children’s homes but I would argue for some of those transferable positives that will complement and supply the love that is fundamental to every child. Like the principle of inter-generational living, set within a unique place where a child feels ‘special’ or a part of something larger than themselves. In America, a new movement seems to have taken that idea on, in a multi-generational village where a large number of Foster kids are raised together. Housing communities made up of children and their foster families along with older (post 55) adults. Siblings are kept together. There are various on-site services to aid residents in creating their own support networks. Social workers act as facilitators, coaches, and trauma-informed counsellors for residents, with a primary focus on helping children heal. There are intergenerational art and other classes, weekly community dinners, and a community garden, where young and older residents can meet and strengthen ties.

Dr. Mariela Neagu a Children’s Rights specialist in her latest work ‘Conceptualising Care in Children’s Social Services’ argues that good quality residential care such as boarding schools can provide suitable care and help many children fulfil their potential. Her belief is that a ‘rights’ based approach and meaningful consultation with the care experienced community would help prevent child abuse – ironically the main reason why they were closed down. This new sort of provision would prevent the foster care system being under such huge pressure and improve quality. What is true is that the current system is disempowering and demeaning for children and their families. Homes like this can provide stability and help children stay in touch with their families, keep siblings together, foster peer support and solidarity, providing good quality education and allow Children’s talents to be nurtured.

The cardinal principal of the 1989 Children’s Act is that the welfare of the child is paramount. That children need to be involved in the decisions that affect their lives. But they very clearly are not. Certainly not about how they hope to be brought up and in what kind of setting. It is vital that those in care have their say at all times going forward. And that includes at entry or precurement stage. Where a young person can help determine what may best suit their needs. That they are able to defer ongoing the requirement of family engagement and even of foster care should they choose to do so.

We urgently need a reimagined and renewed approach to children’s social care right across the country. And an extensive and informed debate around what children’s homes, and other provision, should look like and how they should be run. If a Regional concentration of resources or what a National Care Service might look like. Whatever the direction, the State needs to be primed – countrywide – to deliver a first-class support role to children and young people in care with a positive, therapeutic (not necessarily quasi-parenting) experience. The details of which should see us developing a nurturing safe environment for those who need or want it. A supportive structure with a diversity of people in situ to allow a variety of differing types of relationships.

A home from home that has sky high expectations and where children are given rules to live by. Gifted with love but also a sense of duty and a set of responsibilities. One that encourages every child to follow their own particular course and to dream large. Whose emphasis is on nurture and gained social capital. Challenges that are presented that will add to each child’s own inner CV. A facility that is sensitive through trauma informed practise. That will support culture and identity. Prepare for the stigma and the barriers that will undoubtedly come. And just in case none of the above works for whatever reason for even a single child, and because it will also elevate them – that places children’s rights front and centre at every point along the care continuum.

There is a Sudanese proverb that says: We desire to bequest two things to our children – the first one is roots; the other one is wings. We are let our children down if we solely concentrate on the roots – lest we forget that we also need to elevate our children and give them the wings they need to fly.

Thank you for listening xxx

Twitter is not a litmus test of the Care Experienced Community.

For all its many flaws, I do appreciate twitter. Largely because it helped me to ‘come out’ as a #CEP. I was intrigued when I first came across the term #CEP tagged behind the names of some extraordinary human beings. #CEP = care experienced person. And as I followed one #CEP to another I was honestly amazed to find that there was such a thing as a care experienced community. What had previously been prescribed as either ‘in’ or ‘ex care’ had shifted to a ‘Looked After’ person. It was very disconcerting to be described by a Support Teacher at my children’s school as a ‘PLAC’ or “Previously Looked After’ person by the way. Even though I had been brought up in care and was an ardent activist in my youth I didn’t self-identify that way. Especially as – with many – I had hidden my identity for the past thirty years and had only recently been comfortable making it known in my profile, professionally or in public.

Back in my day, there were no older care experienced people to look up to, not unless they were sports heroes like the amazing Nze Kriss Kezie Akabusi – a #CEP hero of mine to this day.

Leaving ‘care’, most of us were unlikely to publicise our ‘care experience’ certainly not adopt it as part of any profile. You just left care and that was the end of it. We were expected to disperse, inbuilt into the ‘care’ design, to be assimilated in maturity into the wider community.  That is the sorry work of the Social Services. To transform us from needy client to independent, stand up member of Society. Not to be identified again unless we happen upon a prison cell, a drug programme or a night shelter for the homeless. For the vast majority of ex-care adults our role was to marry, raise a family, get a job and never raise our status as a #CEP again. Certainly NOT as a badge of pride. Certainly not as a way to inspire or to assure others seeking to find their own way. Not as so many high-profile members of other communities are apt to.

And I say all this as someone who was never ashamed or timid of having spent my whole childhood in children’s homes. But who also couldn’t wait to escape them.

I am a founder of an organisation that back in the day (1980s) was a clarion call for young people in and ex care. Way before either mobile phones or the internet let alone twitter. We used the phone and sent out an awful lot of letters to reach young people in care.

But news spread (thanks to so many Social Workers) and we started up The National Association of Young People In Care. NAYPIC was the first and only campaigning body to be run by and for ‘in and ex-care’ young people. My voluntary work – around my degree study – meant (amongst other things) developing in care and ex-care groups at grassroots level, in the locality of every major region of the UK. Posters were the main way to get attention back then. I can’t recall if we grew very quickly – only that there was enormous demand for it. At its height, NAYPIC had a National Executive and Regional Officers and an active membership that grew from within children’s homes, foster placements, bail hostels, remand centres, the lot.

We held a weekly drop -in and published monthly newsletters, which I orginally edited. We convened Conferences – some of which were very chaotic and yet extremely productive. I ran workshops (video and writing) – where I came across a very young Lemn Sissay who came down to London to appear with other NAYPIC members from all over the country in the Black and In Care video. It was my directing debut and it highlighted a vital issue from Contributors like the remarkable advocate David Akinsanya and inspiring David Okora. Many others too that gave of their time like me, for free. It was an ad-hoc affair, made up on location. A production that was designed to bring all young black #CEP’s together and make them feel openly proud.

I made another called ‘Speak Out’ which covered the whole gamut of care issues. Video then, became an early ‘voice’ for the collective spirit of the #CEP. It sent our message wide. It gave the viewer the chance to see us as as providers of the answers to issues they never knew existed. Until we voiced them.

I also pulled together from numerous sources, the very first views of the ‘care community’ and put them into a Parliamentary Report (called ‘Sharing Care’) which formed the basis of the 1989 Children’s Act. As a national voice for the #CEP of its day NAYPIC advised the Government, the Labour Opposition, Local Councils, the major Unions (BASW, ADDSS), the national and Social work press, a very limited pool of Academics & Researchers, indeed almost every affiliate organisation turned to NAYPIC when they were designing policy, running workshops or Conferences – everyone wanted to hear the views of the Nation Assn. of Young People In Care.

Then I left it to go to Film school. I never told anyone who I was or what I had done. I wish I had because the @NFTSFilmTV along with other training facilities currently needs to improve on its track record of support for #CEP. I wrote my first screenplay about my time in care which the BBC was eager to film but – I found out later – without me directing my own story. I also tried to direct Tracy Beaker and was turned down. After three decades in the television industry and as long in the teaching profession I recognise that there are times it just doesn’t do to remark on your own care experience. And I totally understand that many people with care backgrounds (most people I think) still keep their back stories hidden. In the workplace, the neighbourhood or in club activities, because you can sense a definite shift in attitude that comes from others towards you once they are primed with the knowledge you spent your early life in care. Unlike with twitter, being ‘care experienced’ is still NOT a badge of honour in so many other arenas and many professional #CEPs feel rightly that if others have that knowledge about you it can put you at a severe disadvantage.

There was never any real ‘care’ community – until it came of age on twitter. And I am glad of it. A cheerleader section of so many talented and inspiring people able to raise the profile of the care experienced as one and hopefully bring advantages to others who are not so vocal. Major talents from this generation I am proud to call colleagues and friends.

But the #CEP community like any group also has its dissolute and reflects alternative opinions – which is to be expected and is healthy – and very evident even back in my day.  Not just on the floor at the NAYPIC Conferences which were highly charged affairs but also way back in the children’s home. Most care experienced people are used to flare ups. Living cheek by jowl you have to learn to get on with things like that.

It’s important to stress that twitter is NOT wholly representative of the care community. How can it be? We have a digital divide in this country that will act as a barrier. But crucially too, the vast majority of people who were in care are not known at all. They have dissolved into the wider community. They are not recognised nor represented, let alone appear on twitter identifying as #CEPs.

What we dont see is a ‘hidden’ much wider community as well as a connected but ‘silent’ one. Most of whom rearely tweet and resolve not to endorse any overt views expressed on twitter. In my own DM’s there are only a very few concerned commentators, that feel that what they see on twitter is indeed reflective of our community. And yet the notion has grown – not just that there is a defined ‘shape’ of a community but one that is currently also divided somewhat. And the narrative has arisen too that the Care Experienced community are actually at war with each other.

The thinking is that it’s the Care Review (so glad I didn’t highlight this earlier) that has brought about this #CEP schism; that there are those in support and those not. And as passions rise between Campaigners, Scholars and Promoters on both sides of the argument, there also appears to be a battle too for the minds of the Social Work community as well as the #CEP – especially the younger ones.

But can we also say that twitter reflects the Social Work fraternity? That it contains the core issues in it, or that it does well to highlight the activities, views and experiences of the vast world of Social Work? Of course we cant. The main difference with the Care Experienced community is that some people with ‘care’ backgrounds seem to have gravitated towards and settled on twitter as some kind of base or ‘home’. An outlet for self identification maybe (so important) and an arena in which to find liked ‘experienced’ (not necessarily like minded) allies and friends. And that for them being a #CEP is not only a badge of honour or pride but an avenue for change – which lets face it can be a daunting and a very lonely existance.

So, yes – some of our community like to make a noise. And good thing to. But those pyrotechnics are not te whole story either. So many others choose a different (maybe less vocal) tack. The amazing, personal and resonant blogs of Benjamin Perks spring to mind. His tweets as are those of Jamie Crabb brilliantly focus on our collective #CEP trauma. They are soulfull and educational. Idiosyncratic and yet chime with us all.

The practical and down to earth campaigning of Terry Galloway blows me away. Terry is a powerhouse. He makes the difference every day.

It is worth noting that there are #CEPs who have taken opposite sides over the Care Review who are still friends and stay in touch despite that singular difference. Because essentially, if we may not agree on the route, we do all tend to feel the same about what is needed to improve the care system.

Sadly, there have been monumental flare ups. There has also been some unnecessary abuse, which has led to hurt feelings and to people blocking or been blocked – the offence that hurts the previously ‘abandoned’ most it seems. Is it not okay to block or mute someone? Not everyone in our community needs to be friends.

I must include myself among the squabblers. Having defended – quite bluntly at times – the right of young #CEPs (or hidden voices) to speak up. To take part in this Review. I have also rather crudely had to stand up for myself and my own personal legacy. Not just because I was invited to take part in the EbE on the Care Review but because ‘speaking up’ is in my DNA. And that I wont stand by and see brave CEPs taken down.

The history of activism within the care experienced community has really yet to be written. Its my view that our disenfranchisement is a symptom of us having been cut off crudely from our collective past.

I was involved in a major parliamentary review of children’s social care when I was a young activist myself. It was every bit as bad both politically and economically as it is now. The UK was an unequal, racist, divided country in the early 80’s. The Tories were busy attacking Society, dismantling the power basis of the Unions and were massively against public spending. Children in care numbers was at an all-time high. And wards of the State were considered a major problem and a burden to the Government – both financially and socially. It was quite an experience for me to go into the heart of parliament. To try to educate and influence the thinking of antiquated, out-of-touch politicians. To bring change to a broken care system that had decimated our own childhoods.

It’s that seminal experience that informs my support for any young care experiencing advocate who wishes to give their views to the Care Review today. Even if those who are running it are characterised as equally biased, up to no good or out of step. My position is that it is vital that those in care have their say at all times. A serious issue that is not just aimed at the Care Review but within the system; with Local Authority ‘In-Care Councils’ and After Care groups – most of which look to be appallingly unfit for purpose. Children’s rights currently being a mockery of what they once were.

I do acknowledge the very real fears from anti-watch Experts by Experience. Some of whom as close friends are serious critics of the Review. These are #CEP with every right to express their distrust who have an equally admirable track record of supporting our community.

And I respect their views and support those campaigns that the Care review needs to act urgently on – there should be an end to unregististered children’s homes, young people should not be thrown out of care at 16 (not at 18 or 25 either in my view) and our older population need reparations for systemtic abuse whilst they were in care. That’s a national disgrace seen recently in the IICSA Report on Lambeth. It needs national action – now.

But I also stand strongly against (the very few) personal attacks and dog whistling or any attempt to prevent others from sharing their views. I have been aggressive in that defence I admit. Not least because in order to have a functioning community we must also have respect for inclusivity and pluralism.  

Sadly, those volleys fired in twitter spats between fellow #CEP feeds into the misconception that we couldn’t organise ourselves out of a paper bag. That we can’t possibly recreate the days of NAYPIC and have a national voice for the whole Care Experienced Community. I disagree. There are a range of strategic minded, professional #CEP from a vast range of professions who are capable of setting direction, supporting each other and who stand ready.Others who have run campaigns too.

And it is worth putting the infrequent though bitter arguments into context; that what is being expressed is coming from people who care. Care strongly about the appalling inadequacies of the system and the underlying and systemic causes of that.

The vast bulk of the Care Experienced have never even heard of the Care Review. And among our community are plenty of highly articulate, well educated and professional young #CEPs who have turned their backs. Who choose not to speak up at all. Their anger is not aimed at the Care Review but with Charities – the same organisations that the Care Review has sadly aligned with. These young #CEPs feel strongly that their experience and voices cannot find expression due to the crowded nature of the advocacy movement.  The chorus of disapproval on twitter and in Care Lovers Rock on Facebook is testimony to this.

The fact is that twitter is both a distraction and a distortion. With the overwhelming majority of #CEP either silent or who feel ‘silenced’. Whose opinions are just as vibrant (and needed) but are unheard. Evidence of this can be found in the latest peer led campaign (of which I am a member) called RECLAIM. An intergenerational support group wanting to see the advocacy space ‘reclaimed’. Who feel denied the opportunity to speak out without the intervention of a Charity that wants to ‘amplify’ it. These Advocacy Groups (some mighty Corporate Bodies) often in competition for the views and experiences of the #CEP have disincentivised and disenfranchised our young. They claim to represent the care experience and yet not one of them has a #CEP employed who will ever reach the position of CEO.

What needs amplifying are the regular complaints of intrusion, of personal life stories being ‘stolen’ often from twitter feeds by proxy advocate Agencies. Cheap offers made to entice or ‘commodify’ testimonies. Of insensitive Charity Managers or PhD Researchers who believe a gift token is an inadequate reimbursement for a life lived in chaos.

Children’s Rights it seems has been replaced by a plethora of niche advocacy, with no chance of any #CEP pathway advancement. Sadly, the very people we need to drive on Children’s Rights are dispassionate and lack urgency. These younger activists are disinclined are ambivalent also about the Care Review. Their response has not been helped by the view that as a community we are disunited, are in freefall, in a civil war or that the #CEP community itself is toxic.

Twitter is not a litmus test of the diverse views of the Care Community. There are some huge #CEP personalities of course. These are some players within the advocacy movement who demand to be listened to. We also have some persistent, respectful, mission based #CEP, who reach out to others and I support them or encourage them daily. These #CEP fill me full of admiration. There are also some magnificent campaigners, creatives and behind the scenes people who devote themselves quietly to reform, who plug away at the solutions they see, who will not be drawn into twitter spats. For instance:

The amazing Jerome harvey-agyei recently tweeted: “I dont wish to talk about problems any more. I am focused on solutions and self work in being a model of love compassion, meaningful action and beautiful connections.”

He is not alone in his attitude. That it is what we do and not the magnitude of our voice that carries most weight. There are no awards or accolades for these care experienced people – only the inner acknowledgement that they are giving back, pushing forward and enabling others.

All #CEP voices really do deserve to be heard. But not at volume over everyone else. Not at the cost of the quiet voices within our community. I myself have faced some awful lies and abuse since I arrived as a #CEP on twitter and some of it yes, has been hurtful. Especially when I am accused of benefitting personally in some way or as in one case it looks to harm my wife and my children. I get VERY defensive. If I am guilty in my lack of acknowledgement to others I do apologise, it’s been problematic at times for me, as I seek to find my own place in this community. Because the word community for me is a tricky concept. I have never felt part of one before – ever. It’s been difficult to navigate where I sit within this ‘community’ – rejection and/or abandonment has that effect. It’s likely I still don’t quite yet grasp what a community is about, how we are supposed to act at all times within it.

I do know what it is like to feel unacknowledged. I got no accolades for the eight unpaid years I spent as a youth activist. The films I made were made for no profit and with zero budgets. I took little credit. Having set up NAYPIC in London I quietly went about developing It to a national institution. I wrote a major Report without aid nor finance that impacted the legal status of children in care in this country, that affected policy and practise across generations. I never even put my name to my work – which I now see was hugely impactful. I never thought to monetise any of it or ‘brand’ myself. But then I didn’t get into advocacy for personal reward. I was a highly articulate kid when I was in care – and the loud noise I made was my protection. Kept the paedophiles off me and kept my siblings safe. However, there were also other kids in the same home who were not so vocal and who were disenfranchised and weak and it was THESE kids who were targeted for abuse and who were hurt the most. And that is what took me into advocacy and activism. It keeps me involved on a local stage in support of older care experienced people in the Borough of Islington. Here there are very serious issues too. It is EXACTLY the same as we have seen in Lambeth except that our older care leavers – who were sexually, racially and violently abused – have been offered a paltry financial offer instead of redress or reparations which is what we ask.

I have been kindly called an ‘enabler’ in my activism and I take that credit happily. I would like all enablers to feel acknowledged as I believe it is us enablers who make the real impact; we put others first, give something back, open the doors to those coming up behind.

What I see is needed now is a coming together. A national campaigning, advocacy movement run by and for #CEP to join up these many, many outstanding behind-the-scenes advocacy activists and the work they do. An organisation of our own that will get the same respect as NAYPIC once did but that will talk for the whole community – inter generationally. I am not alone too in believing that we should also collectively be pushing for the care experienced community to get recognition as a whole entity and be granted protected characteristics. And that may be the very least that the Care Review recommends.

What twitter illustrates perfectly for me is the industrious nature of the Care Experienced Community in seeking to make change. I feel that every single #CEP led campaign, peer to peer success story, improvement as part of a service or a policy change made by even one care experienced person is a contribution worth applauding and being grateful for. For the ultimate good of those who need it or can’t do it. Who come behind us. It is clear others feel the same – the ‘likes’ for such advocacy and activism is always high.

The way I see it is that we are all working to make change happen and that every major effort and small success is adding significantly to the legacy that we leave for future #CEP. Each of us in our own way is having a profound impact, as part of a movement, to fix this broken system. And that the one thing in common is that every #CEP recognises that there is an urgent need to do so.

The Care Experienced ‘diaspora’.

A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. Typically characterised by the Jewish experience or those of Scots/Irish, African or Romany heritage. That is, large scale populations that have emigrated or dispersed and have most often become forever separated from their roots.

I would argue that the Care Experienced community has its own epic story of diaspora. That for over a century we have been subject by central Government to a movement from care through ‘transition’ into what is laughingly called independence. That it is, in actuality, a process of ‘assimilation’ into the wider community. One that has us exiled from our cultural and historic roots too. And that, in my experience, the bulk of the Care Experienced community are actually ‘hidden’ from view. The vast majority of whom may feel disinclined towards any meaningful connection with their previous lives and may quietly struggle with their often problematic but also deeply problematised past. This unnamed mass of people with a chequered back story must be in the millions. And no Agency has ever engaged with it. So we have no idea of its actual size nor its make-up nor the issues that face it. Unless like me, you have siblings or parents who belong in this demographic. That often live quiet lives so brilliantly that it really deserves our respect and recognition. Some forced to suppress their past lived, others trying hard to forget, out there in Society, amongst the ‘normal’ folk. They may not self-identity as care experienced in the same way as I and others now do. But they are in my mind the very backbone of our community. They certainly live on still with the memories of a childhood blighted in care but without any special support for the lifelong trauma that was once inflicted upon them.

Prior to its appearance on Twitter there was no care experienced ‘community’ to speak of. In fact our only idea of ‘community’ up until that point was the wider one; the one in which we were supposed to belong and to which – as a Care Leaver – we would soon be heading. A very difficult trick to pull off for those for whom that very same community may not be welcoming and others, who may have good reason not to want to belong to it. Prior to Social Media there was Care Leaver and then vacuum. You might bump into a fellow traveller in your time after care but you could just as easily pass like ships. For we didn’t tend to announce ourselves as CEP (care experienced people). Having been through a process designed to shed our identity. And as you mature out there in the wide world you come to realise that the very mention of it (childhood in care) can set off way too many probing questions – ones that we often prefer not to answer. Our past for us (that we may need time to reconcile with) becomes like a hinterland in social settings and conversation. We develop subtle techniques in how best to combat the usual openers in conversation – about our parentage and where we grew up – that allows for the level to stay only at polite chat.

But now, due to the marvel of the internet, we finally get to see each other in our care experienced identity in its diversity and at varying stages and different ages. And so we find we can be more open about our past. Proud even of our accomplishments.

The State and the Institutions however have proved slow to catch up, to recognise us a diverse and yet holistic group. As one complete community. It has yet to offer us the ‘protected characteristics’ that we deserve. That will allow us to emerge as a community.

And the Local Authorities remain as keen as ever, to sever its relationship with us, to end any obligations they may have towards us. At an age on a sliding scale between 16 years of age and 25 years old – which is really quite obscene. For, as the #ECLCM movement has pointed out – what parent would abruptly end their ties with their own child at 16 years old? It would be an anathema to them. Send them off into the wilderness, tell them never to come back?

What do they think happens to us all – as we are scattered into the wind? Well, in the parlance of the system itself – we are deemed either in terms of success or we are failures, we either sink or swim. And for those that do happen to show up again (unwelcomed) it is only to serve as bad data. To inhabit the very worst off spaces of the public domain.

If you are to evidence post 25 year old Care Leavers lives through the prism of Research, the statistics (negative largely) position us disproportionately in all areas of social deprivation. We are presented them, as a warning to others, as the oversubscribed; we clog up the prisons, we kill ourselves, self-abuse, trot out babies that also end up in care, we lose our minds, we lose our jobs, homes too. And yet we also serve – at the other end of the spectrum – as examples, of accomplishment, of ‘success’ stories. We become icons and stars in the care experienced firmament. “Look they say “this is what you are capable of..”

But the fact is that the majority of us are neither prostitute nor poet. We go about our lives hidden in plain sight. Some of us preferring to keep secret even from partners and children (it has been known) the details of our past lives. It being far easier you see to create a fiction that we can live by. Possibly out of embarrassment and/or necessity. In lieu of us ‘learning to accept it’ and ‘not make a big deal out of it’ as is often recommended to us. But then, a childhood in care is very much a big deal. You will leave care but care never leaves you. And it is this effect – and of course the stigma we face – that we seek now to find the language and a common cause to express. There is also an acknowledged, powerful message that we each of us can send out, on the net, when we self-identify as #CEP – to other care experienced and experiencing people, who are coming up behind us.

In our new setting, as a diverse community, we have become also a direct challenge to the bad data that distorts (negates) our experiences. That paucity of evidence that any Academic is aware of, who wants to know what life is like post 25 years for the care experienced. For these potential policy makers so often find they cannot get access to that huge constituency.

I mean, how exactly are care experienced people who have ‘assimilated’ into the wider community expected to get involved in educational surveys? The non self-identifying ex care person is yet to feel the benefit of a like minded community and isolated out there they have no idea that such things exist let alone show any support or interest in them. What value to them that are not valued themselves?

The current Care Review is inflicted with the same problem. In trying to reach (or accepting that it is unattainable) out to a constituency that would likely be the most helpful to it. Those exceptional people who have experienced care and lived to tell the tale. Only there is no telling. I would hazard a guess that 90 percent of the care community within the community have no idea that a Care Review is even happening. Or what it is for.  

And, as the data is not there to advise Policy Makers, so Agencies and Local Authorities alike possess no actual knowledge of the experiences faced by Care Leavers as they age. Despite the fact these bodies are tasked to manage the ‘transition’ process. They cannot possibly know what a life may look like for a CEP in their thirties, forties and fifties. They can’t determine either what a Care Leaver now is likely to expect nor what kind of different issues may arise. And, as we are kept out of sight, the transition process discounts those that young Care Leavers can identify with. The transition process excludes actual experience and refuses co-production. Vital information for the young Care Leaver such important knowledge denied to a care experienced person pushed early, propelled out from the nest.

I feel that ‘transition’ throws up way more problems than it tries to answer. As a process, I’m of the opinion that it is fraudulent. No more than an exit strategy. A fact made worse as it is the most heavily resourced aspect of the care continuum. Funding, personnel and resources that could best be employed elsewhere in my view. Transition to independence has been described as a ‘care cliff’ it is not just the fall however but the leap into the unknown that is the cause of so much distress and fear.

The move from care to community robs many that could benefit from it of a sense of self-identity and of solidarity. So that, for successive waves of Care Leavers, their future, no matter how much support is offered through Apps or Advisors, will remain forever a blank canvas. And those of us who inhabit that misty, murky world in the land beyond – we find ourselves of zero use to the Care Leaver, when we could offer them so much more.

We are as unwanted now by the very Corporate parent as when we were unceremoniously dumped by them. And despite being the amazing resource and asset that we are we will remain unused, staying ‘hidden’ and unrepresentated, as we are expected to. And sadly – for I would value their contributions too – we throw away also the opportunity to learn from them, from others like me. How they managed to get by in the world: if they did it themselves and who if anyone was of help to them. This, the sort of valuable advise and insight that could really assist and truly transform the lives of our young CEPs currently leaving care. That would set the Care Review straight about what works and what really doesn’t.

Local Authority: Corporate Parent or ‘Lifelong Champion’?

Every Local Authority is obligated to act as a ‘Lifelong Champion’ towards Care Experienced people, regardless of age but how many Council’s actually do that and how many even know about it?

The Statutory guidance for Local Authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England (March 2015) states that:

As corporate parents, those involved in providing local authority services for the children they look after should have the same high aspirations and ensure the children receive the care and support they need in order to thrive. 

And: The corporate parenting principles intend to ensure that all councils have high ambitions for the children in their care.

But how many Councils actually apply their ‘Corporate Parenting’ principles as well as they should? Which means to the highest standards and in a flexible manner as the legislation requires of them? We all know far too many stories of Care Leavers who are badly let down by their so called ‘Corporate Parent’. But they are not alone.

A Local Authority maybe required to operate as a ‘good parent’ but the Care Leavers’ charter from the Department for Education goes even further; in that it refers to the importance of the Local Authority acting as a ‘Lifelong Champion’.

To be a lifelong champion: 

We will do our best to help you break down barriers encountered when dealing with other agencies. We will work together with the services you need, including housing, benefits, colleges and universities, employment providers and health services to help you establish yourself as an independent individual. We will treat you with courtesy and humanity whatever your age when you return to us for advice or support. We will help you to be the driver of your life and not the passenger. We will point you in a positive direction and journey alongside you at your pace. We will trust and respect you. We will not forget about you. We will remain your supporters in whatever way we can, even when our formal relationship with you has ended.

I have yet to learn of any Local Authority acting in this way; any local iniatives that actively support those who have left care but who are not ‘recent’ Care Leavers. And I have yet to hear of any older Care Experienced person who is still in touch with their ex Local Authority or Council to ‘keep them updated about their lives’ as any family might continue to do so over the decades. Who exactly at the Council would we get in touch with – for advice and support – anyway? And how might they go about helping us to be the driver of our lives?

I am of a generation of Care Experienced people who grew up in care and left when NO support was available. Many of my fellow, older CEPs have struggled through decades, most carrying severe trauma with them. Back in our childhod there was a failure of ‘corporate parenting’ by Local Authorities on an industrial scale. Systemic failings in the procedures and processes for child care and child protection which led to large-scale abuse and neglect of children in almost all of our children’s homes and placements between 1950 and 1995 (when the bulk were closed down).  Alongside the sexual abuse of boys and girls, institutional brutality and neglect, inhumane punishments, racism, dehumanising attitudes, separation of siblings, witnessing abuse of others – all these were prevalent.

As the UNICEF global Advocate Benjamin Perks has so eloquently put it. Members of the Care Experienced prior to the 1989 Children’s Act were victims of the greatest human rights violation. The onus on the Local Authority to support us through our lives after care never, ever happened. But then we never even got the apology so many of us sought either.

Every Local Authority needs to accept the responsibility – not just for its current crop of Care Leavers – but also for the older care generations it has routinely ignored and forgotten.

The interest in and the emphasis on our older CEPs is evident in Ofted’s recent survey; seeking data on our over 35’s. And in a new UCL-led report, based on research documenting people’s lives until their 40’s.

The Report published as part of the Nuffield Foundation funded ‘Looked-after children grown up project, shows up very notable widening health and social  inequalities. That early death rates rose from being 40% higher in 1971 to 360% higher in 2001 for adults who had spent time in care. Professor Sacked concluded: “Children who have to go into care are already hugely vulnerable. Our report suggests that over time they remain vulnerable compared with those who are brought up by their parents. We need to do much more to protect and support them in a way that makes their path through life safe, healthier and happier.

The fact is that many of or older care experienced community – some now in extreme old age – have struggled on in isolation with intractable emotional, psychological and health related issues over many, many years. And many within our community have resolutely refused to engage with Council Support Services who they see as the enemy. Their children are hugely disadvantaged too; lacking the same levls of support that children in he care system can lay claim to through eduction, health and employment ‘levelling up’ initiatives.

Our Local Authorities – who broadcast their proactive support for every generation of Care Leaver (which is questionable) – are guilty of abandoning generations of care experienced people who live daily with loss, anger, painful memories, as well as stigma and prejudice.

Acting as a Lifelong Guardian may come too late for the lifetimes of most of them but should be implimented immediately and a programme of outreach and enagagement put in to place staright away. These are adult lives that have been lived largely in conflict with Local Authorities by our brave veteran CEP heroes who as they grow into old age deserve to live a happy and positive life – for their children and grandchildren also – who, despite best efforts remain defined often by a traumatic and unresolved past. 

Acting as a Lifelong Guardians may come too late for the lifetimes of most of our elderly CEPs in the community but all the same it should be implimented immediately and a programme of outreach and enagagement also put in to place staright away. So many of our community lies ‘hidden’ after decades of a practise called ‘transition to independence’ which our Local Authorities have all subscribed to; wherin those of us who identify as Care Experienced are encouraged to assimilate into the wider community.

This is a practise that I believe has run its course. And that the vast amount of resources applied to driving yong people twoards so called ‘independence’ would be better placed into fully supporting Care Leavers regardless of their age (as most parents do) and throughout their lifetime if needed. So that their lives are not spent in conflict with Local Authorities. So that their children get the support they require. And that thier futures aren’t defind – as our brave veteran CEP heroes currently are – by a parentless, traumatic and unresolved past. 

Life after care.

How the older Care Experienced Community deserve so much better.

Care Experienced people have gone from a situation where many of us saw no support at all when leaving care, to the gradual introduction of services for support moving up from 16, 18 to 21 years of age. For a select group (in full time education) that support can extend until up to the age of 25.

It’s an age distinction which does not apply across the board to incude young people in children’s homes however. Something the campaign group ECLCM (Every Child Leaving Care Matters) have long fought for. Exactly why their is no parity for young people in residential care is unacceptable – especially as you could argue that residential sector contains probably the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of young people in care.

There is strong argument over the moral and legal obligation for Local Authorities to support the Care Leaver post 16 or 18 years of age up until even 25 as most parents will attest. A child is still welcome in the home regardless of their age. I believe that support for the much older Care Leaver is desperately needed currently, that it is also a moral obligation on every Local Council and that guidance exists that requires them to do so.

Within the Statutory guidance for local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England (March 2015) one of the overarching principles is that:

Parents want their children to have the best start in life, to be healthy and happy and to reach their full potential. As corporate parents, those involved in providing local authority services for the children they look after should have the same high aspirations and ensure the children receive the care and support they need in order to thrive. 

Under the Government’s Statutory guidance for local authorities of February 2018 (Applying corporate parenting principles to looked-after children and care leavers) it is recommended that a flexible approach is taken to what the legislatures call ‘Corporate Parenting’:

The corporate parenting principles are not about applying a formulaic approach to how services are delivered in relation to looked-after children and care leavers. Rather they describe the behaviours and attitudes expected of councils when they are acting as any good parent would do by supporting, encouraging and guiding their children to lead healthy, rounded and fulfilled lives. The principles intend to ensure that all councils have high ambitions for the children in their care. In doing so, the application of the principles must respond to the individual needs, vulnerabilities or disadvantages of looked after children and care leavers. This will assist in securing that such children and young people are not placed at significant disadvantage when compared with the support a non-looked after child or young person may receive from their family. Local authorities will need to consider the extent to which the corporate parenting principles are relevant to a particular service area or exercise of a particular function. This should be a reasonable and proportionate evaluation based on the extent to which the service/function is being carried out in relation to looked-after children and/or care leavers. 

Interpreting a strict observation of the legislation is not good Corporate parenting (a term many of us are not keen on by the way). As well as the emphasis on the Local Authority to act as a ‘good parent’ the Care leavers’ charter from the Department for Education refers to the importance of being a ‘Lifelong Champion’.

To be a lifelong champion: 

We will do our best to help you break down barriers encountered when dealing with other agencies. We will work together with the services you need, including housing, benefits, colleges and universities, employment providers and health services to help you establish yourself as an independent individual. We will treat you with courtesy and humanity whatever your age when you return to us for advice or support. We will help you to be the driver of your life and not the passenger. We will point you in a positive direction and journey alongside you at your pace. We will trust and respect you. We will not forget about you. We will remain your supporters in whatever way we can, even when our formal relationship with you has ended. 

The emphasis is on every single Local Authority to show that they operate (in the language of the legislator) a strong ethos in ‘Corporate parenting’. More personally, as a parent myself, I feel that ‘good parenting’ never stops. Never. Ever. That many children especially from middle class families will either have returned to the nest and some will never have left it well into their thirties. They will have also become to regular family visits that are never available to us from care backgrounds.

 ‘…institutional abuse does not stop when we age out of the system. Once in contact with the juvenile justice system we have a 90 per cent chance of becoming adult criminals. We have a one in three chance of leaving care at 16 as …girls pregnant or already with a child. We have a one in two chance of being homeless within that first year. Only one in 100 of us will get to university, but one in three of us will have attempted suicide. We are also highly likely to wind up addicted to drugs, engaged in prostitution, unemployed, mentally ill or incapable of sustaining loving relationships.’ (Murray & Rock, 2005)

Thankfully there is a far higher awareness of the problems faced by the Care Leaver these days. A huge amount of support that includes Advisors with pathways, employment and education possibilities. There is positive discrimination and fast tracking, backed by governmental legislation and guidance from numerous Agencies and Charities. The Care Covenant is an Industry wide commitment for additional levels of support for our Care Leavers. There are benefits from free Wifi to a year without paying Council Tax. There is also even a bespoke App available for the Care Leaver today. And Care Experienced activist and entrepreneur Terry Galloway has now developed a website that looks at the Care Leaver offers from every local Council in the country. That should focus the minds of those Local Authorities and force them to ‘level up’ and bring higher standards to the care leaver.

But where is the support for those who grew up when NO support was available. Who struggled through decades, some of whom carried severe trauma with them. Our older community are our very own veterans, war heroes. As the UNICEF global Advocate Benjamin Perks has so eloquently put it. Members of the Care Experienced prior to the 1989 Children’s Act were victims of the greatest human rights violation.

There was a failure of corporate parenting on an industrial scale for them as children; from those who should have cared for them and kept them safe. Systemic failings in the procedures and processes for child care and child protection which led to large-scale abuse and neglect of children in almost all of our children’s homes and placements between 1950 and 1995 (when the bulk were closed down).  Alongside the sexual abuse of boys and girls it also includes institutional brutality and neglect, inhumane punishments, racism, dehumanising attitudes, separation of siblings, witnessing abuse of others. The onus on the Local Authority to parent by developing their potential and giving them renewed chances for a brighter future never, ever happened.

The current pathways, support services, the Apps and Advisor’s support has proved too late in coming for most of that group. Good practise has in effect arrived for the Care Leaver today on the backs of the suffering of previous generations. And in their determination to be seen as ‘good parents’ to its current Care Leavers every Local Authority needs to accept the responsibility it also has for the older care experienced it has forgotten. And I feel strongly, to extend that ‘care’ out to their children/grand children also.

The children of Care Experienced people (some now adults) should be considered as second-generation Care Experienced. Some of them have become outstanding advocates for the community and their place in it assured. Respect to the amazing Amanda Knowles MBE, daughter of a care experienced adult, Your Life Your Story organiser and Campaigner for children’s rights and justice in children’s social care. And to Hayley Lewis from Islington After Care Assn trying to get a Community Centre off the ground and get reparations for those who were victims of abuse in care 1950-95.

And it is their children that I think deserve acknowledging. Children who may have been at risk of being taken into care and whose parent/s kept them out. These children are not recognised within the education system or other support mechanisms in the way that the current looked after or care leaver is. They are not to fast tracked or find special support – even though there are many who clearly require that kind of support.

The extended family of the Care Experienced should become the focus – holistically – to those Support Services that can assist them. But who are currently the focus of Local Authority Services and a Family court system that is prejudiced against and vilifies them.

“Most, if not all, care experienced individuals lack a feeling of belonging and find it hard to find a place that makes them feel whole, complete.” Letesha Kirton-Adams, Care Experienced Social worker.

The fact is that many of or older care experienced community – some now in extreme old age – have struggled on in isolation with intractable emotional, psychological and health related issues over many, many years. That most within this community have resolutely refused to engage with Council Support Services and that there are many – who feel isolated and unrepresented – who also feel the gaping need for an organisation that will bring all care experienced people together, offering peer to peer support – as an avenue of trust and a thrust for accountability.

The Care Experienced has its own story of diaspora. Prior to its appearance on Twitter there was no ‘community’ to speak of. There was the Care Leaver and then came the vacuum. A vanishing trick that has been pulled on us for over a century that decimated our culture and deleted any sense of self-identity or solidarity. And that loss is felt strongly by those of us who decided to ‘hide’ our past lives, create a fiction in place of it. Out of embarrassment or necessity. But what of each generation of care leaver who has nobody like them to refer or relate to?  No representation and little or no understanding of how they might cope with the adversity that their future holds for them.

The land ahead – in their thirties, forties and fifties. What they are to expect and what kind of different issues may arise. They have no-one to look to or look up to. And as successive waves of Care Leavers literally dissolve into the wider their future – no matter how much support is offered through Apps or Advisors – is a blank canvas.

The only evidence available to their professional support is from data that may or may not distort that experience. And as the Research is not there to advise policy makers, so Agencies and Councils alike have no knowledge of what the experience for us older ones is actually like. If you are to evidence post 25 year old Care Leavers lives through the prism of Research the data (negative largely) positions us disproportionately in all areas of social depravation.

In a University of Hertfordshire Report Care leavers’ experiences of being and becoming parents this mixed dish of complex issues for the post 25 year old parenting Care Leaver reveals:

‘..a lack of consistent support from family friends, partners and professionals is frequently encountered in the international research on Care Leavers as parents. Care Leavers have also reportedly been considered to have difficulties in romantic relationships, such as choice of partners, difficulties with trust and closeness in relationships and a lack of stable lasting relationships Instability in living placements and a lack of trusted confidantes has also further led to difficulties in knowing about and accessing available resources. A lack of emotional and social support could also be seen to contribute to the poor mental health of mothers’, a large proportion of whom had mental health difficulties that were present prior to their pregnancy captured the overall experience of mothering whilst in/from care as “prevailing on the edge on my own” which they felt captured the loneliness and precariousness of their existence. 

As a parent and a CEP I was determined to break the ‘care cycle’ and be different to my own birth-parents. That can place huge pressure on my parenting that is very real. For some it has the potential to bring up intense feelings of negative self-worth. Examining the limitations of their own parenting and reliving their own childhood through the eyes of their own children is especially difficult for parents who were in care. Mixed feelings are also brought about through a fear of being like their own parents and/or the very real (unimagined) fear of social services involvement.

The Research shows that a number of CEP’s sadly go on to experience CPS involvement with regards to their own children, resulting in a comparatively high proportion having their children removed from their care. Some studies have estimated the figure for intergenerational patterns of having children taking into the care system as similar to intergenerational patterns of abuse, of between 10-40%.

A lack of consistent support from family friends, partners and professionals is frequently encountered in the international research on Care Leavers as parents.  Care Leavers have also reportedly been considered to have difficulties in romantic relationships, such as choice of partners, difficulties with trust and closeness in relationships and a lack of stable lasting relationships. Instability in living placements and a lack of trusted confidantes has also further led to difficulties in knowing about and accessing available resources. A lack of emotional and social support could also be seen to contribute to the poor mental health of parents, a large proportion of whom had mental health difficulties.

The Researcher Jade Louise Weston comments: One wonders who or what Care Leavers as parents draw on in the formation of their identity as parents and in their parenting role. 

If the statistics show clearly that the care experienced are over represented in homelessness, prison, and mental health and addiction services then members of this community deserves better. The Care Experienced of any age (Department of Education) deserves a “good parent” who will walk alongside them and be there throughout their adult life when advice and support is needed.

I have spent most of my social work career working with young people in care.  My experience of continued contact with these young people as adults is that they are frequently living with the effects of their chaotic childhoods well into adulthood. It can undermine so many aspects of their life, relationships, health, work, and their ability to fulfil their potential and own wishes and dreams.

You may leave care but care never leaves you. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be parented throughout our lives by our birth family know what the consistency of relationships, love and sense of belonging gives us. We probably take these things for granted as we take them on into our independent adult lives. Our childhood experiences define our adult lives for us all. We also appreciate that – should they live long and healthy lives – our parents will be with us through all the events in our adult lives, the good and the bad, the celebrations and the sadness. They will offer the wisdom of an older generation and support us in every way they can. There are many failings in the care system and the local authority as corporate parents would probably not measure up too well on any good parent indicator. There is no provision for the state to continue to provide support and advice after the age of 25. Of course, there are universal services but there is no dedicated, special, fast-track provision.

Being a child of the state should at least mean that you get to the head of the queue for any wellbeing service, any addiction service, counselling, family support services and so on. The public parent should acknowledge you. Jenni Randall, retired Social Worker, blogger and winner of a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Social Worker of the Year Awards.

There is an agreed and growing need for all Statutory Agencies to open the debate about providing more accessible, specialist services to those the State/Local Authorities have parented – for all or part of their childhood. Many of whom manifest problems that Charities, Agencies, the LA and the State may feel they are currently addressing but – and if that is true and there is no way of knowing – issues that affect the older Care Experienced parent and their offspring are being dealt with in a non-holistic, piecemeal manner. Ignoring the core issues that manifest in an inter-generational way for our Community.

There is a real need for dedicated services that should be accessible when requested, fast-tracking all care experienced people through universal services when required and providing grown up systems for accessing files and personal history. To empower the Care Experienced releasing the shackles of the care experienced person’s history so that a happier, more content adulthood/old age awaits them.

What would have made the biggest difference would have been my local Council giving them advice and financial support, or sign posting me to services that could have helped. I am one of the lucky ones. My beautiful seven-year-old was never placed into care. But not all care leavers can say that. Lauren Parker, Coram Voice creative writing finalist.

The evidence generally points to the parenting outcomes for Care Leavers as disastrous. That approximately 40 percent of young Care Leavers will see their own children taken into or received into care. But this leaves out over half of the equation – of those who have managed despite the obstacles to bring up a family and navigate their own careers and tap into the potential of their own children. In other words, all Care Experienced related data is pessimistic and questionable. And because the State determines to assimilate us into the wider community and the CEP may not wish to engage or even know about CEP studies – statistical or experiential data post 25 years is negligible. Any data that purports to investigate the parenting experience of Care Leavers from their own perspective and in its entirety and diversity is scant. The professionals simply do not know.

Parenting for instance currently looks almost exclusively at young women with small babies – almost all of whom have recently left care (with some bearing children from within care). These are always single, isolated and young Mothers. This experience – as valid as it is – bares little or no relationship to those Care Leavers who have raised not only children (who may now have grown into adults) but also grandchildren. It excludes men as Fathers and the LGTBQI+ experience. The needs for a diverse understanding of the CEP experience later in life is never met nor evidenced. This lack of data is the black hole that represents the ‘hidden’ isolated and at times aggrieved and unrepresented grouping that is represented here.

The need for CEP’s to reach out to their own siblings – brothers and sisters who have often been forcibly separated in care – is also starkly not evidenced. You need only look to TV programmes that illustrate the pain and anguish of older separated siblings when they are reunited to see that this pain never goes away. That the need for extended family remains acute and is essential as CEP’s reach old age.

Decision makers try to take into account the views of care experienced people when making future plans.  And these people are normally aged up 18, or 21, or in some cases 25 years of age. This is commendable as well as vital, but not sufficient to address the challenges that young people will face whilst they are in and leaving care. Views and experiences change dependent upon age, experience and the length of time since young people have left care – and this variation is important.  Imagine if older care experienced people could have a dialogue, exchange thoughts and ideas with their younger peers, and could offer encouragement, advice and positive role models. Imagine also if those who made decisions about care had access to the massive experience and understanding of not just one band of care experienced people but could speak with care experienced people of all ages and in all their diversity, including those still in the care system and those who have successfully negotiated it and are now in the community. How services could be improved!

I am all for a package of reparations from our Local Authorities. That includes finance, support services (that are trauma informed) and a community centre or hub that would include Art therapy and other activities. A point of return (so many old children’s homes have been demolished) and place for the community to bring their own families to.

Our Local Authorities – who broadcast their proactive support for this generation of care Leaver (which is questionable) – are guilty of abandoning generations of care experienced people who live daily with loss, anger, painful memories, as well as stigma and prejudice. These are adult lives that are lived in conflict by our brave veteran heroes who ask for nothing and get less than and try to live a positive life – for their children and siblings often – that despite our best efforts remains determined by a difficult and unresolved past.

The Children’s rights Movement and the Charity sector.

Sean Geoghegan 26/03/2021

“I am a firm believer in the power of shared experience & storytelling for healing, but you are kidding yourself if you think it is healing when the same organisations that are begging us to tell our stories do nothing 2 help us change the trajectory of our story” (Anonymous CEP Contributor).

The close relationship between the care community and the Charity sector goes way back in time and it has undoubtedly brought many benefits – at times operating as a huge support to the work of the care experienced advocacy movement. But there are also examples of how its proximity and at times the outright control over our lives during the difficult but important task of self-determination has proved a largely deeply uncomfortable experience. The duality of ‘care’ and Charity in the minds of the public is complex and the effect has been to create layers of problems for us, often based on the public’s misconception. – from pity, sympathy through to abuse and anger – as a response to what others see as our ‘condition’.

But it’s not solely about misrepresentation. It needs to be recognised too that the mission statements, aims and objectives and direction of their very business models – the lack of CEP representation above the line – that has also impacted dramatically on our ability to develop personally and collectively. And where we have we see the power of the Institution and big money, that is able to adopt all too often policies that we have developed as their own.

The bespoke interests of a proliferation of Charities are mostly welcomed. The preponderance of them within the care sector has been a significant in helping a great many children in care and care leavers. And a natural tolerance exists between the care children’s right advocate and the majority of them. That is when our interests collide and where the respect for the lived or care experience person is evident.

But we are at a point in our two histories where many care experienced people are repelled where they once felt included and there is a feeling growing widely that as a community that we have been inhibited, not encouraged, in our ability to organise due to their activities. The role of the proxy advocate can be to block us from advocating for ourselves. And all too often our own potent experience has been devalued by the use of promotional, fund raising or advertising techniques. The manipulation of our stories and images – at times against our wishes and not directly in our interest – can be viewed as a modern version of the staging and manipulation of images that are today seen as unacceptable but were a major source of fund raising and increasing public awareness from the time of Barnardo’s through the post war period and up to the later part of the 1900s.  Testimonies and images from our community were once routinely used to facilitate fund raising or raising awareness by children’s Charities. Such obvious exploitative practises have – it can be argued – been replaced by more subtle abuses of our voices, experiences to facilitate the needs of Corporate & Charities who profess to speak on our behalf.  

It’s worth a look at the history of our two lineages. The Children’s rights Movement and the Charity sector. Their development one from the other and jointly – in an attempt to untangle the relationship and look to where we hope to get to next. 

The origins of public provision for deprived children can be traced back to the Elizabethan Poor Law. The response to that provision – appalling, degrading and punitive – was widely  deplored as it was felt that the offer of charity merely encouraged the poor and wretched away from salvation and useful labour into a life of idleness and greed. But society’s ills were not solved by the use of or the threat of forced labour camps. Poverty, illness and squalor combined to fuel a continuous supply of wretched, abandoned and impoverished to the Workhouse doors.  In the early 1700s the situation for struggling parents was particularly acute in London. Mothers unable to care for their children as a result of poverty or illegitimacy had few options, leading to some abandoning their babies. It was estimated that around a thousand babies a year were abandoned in London alone. This was the situation that confronted Thomas Coram who founded The Foundling Hospital in 1741 in London, as a children’s home for the “education and maintenance of exposed and deserted young children.”  Coram set the course for Children’s homes and the Coram charity supporting vulnerable children and young people.

It was a Victorian missionary, Thomas Barnardo who took the concept and developed it. Barnardo was on his way East to convert the Chinese when his course was altered by the chance encounter with an orphan who showed him first hand the widescale homelessness, effects of alcoholism, sexual and physical abuse within the middens of London. As an Evangelist Preacher Barnardo could draw in mass audiences and access the necessary private sources of funding to transform the lives of thousands of ‘waifs and strays’. Barnardo’s is a major Charity today and their founder and patron is widely acclaimed as creating the first of many children’s homes in 1867.

What is less well known is that Thomas was not a Doctor, that his mission as a saviour of children coincided with his mission to rescue non-Christian souls (including Catholics). That as his Empire grew Barnardo – who worked tirelessly in his mission – began removing children from their birth families without consent which he described and justified as ‘philanthropic abduction,’. It’s well documented that Thomas Barnardo had a photographer’s studio where he staged photographs of children – placing them in reconstructed imagined scenarios to depict their poverty and abuse – to construct ‘Before’ and ‘After’ narratives he then presented to Women’s Groups and large scale speaking events to create the impression that he and his organisation were ‘rescuers’. Barnardo’s would in later years be complicit in forced child migration, where children from poor backgrounds were taken without their parent’s consent and sent to former colonies, right up until the 1970’s. Least well know is that Barnardo was not the author of the many techniques he developed expertly to create sympathy and bring in the funding and drive up the catchment into his emerging ‘care’ empire.

Twenty five years previous a shy German Minister new to Britain called George Müller had it in mind to open an orphan house in Bristol – to prove he said that God existed. He prayed that he might be given £40 as an encouragement in his work and subsequently received gifts of around £50 from unexpected sources. Mulller with his wife began in 1836 with the preparation of their own home at 6 Wilson Street, Bristol for the accommodation of thirty girls. At that time, there were very few orphanages in the country – there was accommodation for only 3,600 orphans in England. In his Annual Report for 1861, Müller informs that there is still “entirely inadequate accommodation” in the UK and that admission was by votes for most of the available homes. This, he said, made it “difficult, if not impossible, for the poorest and most destitute of persons, to avail themselves of them. … .. Thousands of votes, sometimes even many thousands, are required, in order that the candidate should be successful. But the really poor and destitute have neither time, nor money, nor ability, nor influence, to set about canvassing for votes; and therefore, with rare exceptions, they derive no benefit from such Institutions”.

Although Müller ran the orphanage on Christian principles, no regard was made to the religious denomination of the orphan. Müller’s requirements for admission were that the child be born in wedlock, that both parents were dead and that the child be in needy circumstances. He would later alter his criteria to include children out of marriage. Muller at no point sought fame or reward, never deployed children in his care as material for funding or promotion. He never made requests for financial support, nor did he go into debt, even though the five homes he built cost over £100,000 to build. By the time he died in 1898, Müller had received £1,500,000 through prayer and had had over 10,000 children in his care. The Muller homes were still in operation in the 1960s – as a charity. They and the land were finally turned over to the Bristol Council.

Most Charities today receive the greatest part of their income from national aid agencies not from individual donations. The public view remains; that they are there to provide assistance to those considered ‘needy’ ‘vulnerable’ or ‘suffering’. The word ‘charity’ originates from the old French word charité which roots come from the latin word ‘cartias’ – commonly translated to mean a distinct form of ‘love’ or “Christian love of one’s fellows.” Originally, charity came to mean ‘love of humanity’.

It is undeniable that both Muller and Barnardo both ‘loved humanity’. They devoted their lives to the welfare of children but its notable too that they were different kinds of men and went about their task in totally different ways. George Muller of Bristol’s Müller never fund-raised or asked for money. He famously turned down funding from what he senses was a destitute woman. The fact he is the lesser known in his work doesn’t diminish him or indeed the good Thomas Barnardo but it does beg the question. How do Charities exist without the express need for self-promotion and perhaps without purposefully meaning to demean the care experienced do they go about the business of advocating ‘on our behalf’ if they are also soliciting and promoting false narratives about the care experienced and experiencing?

Our earliest charity organisations were founded by religious groups, the nobility, and wealthy individuals toward helping and caring for the sick, the neediest, suffering and poor members of society – usually orphans, widows and the sick or disabled often ‘sheltering out of sight’ in hospitals, orphanages and poor houses. Historically the base logic of charitable institutions view recipients of charity as tragic and pitiable, their circumstances the ‘problem’ not social barriers, not systemic issues that are oppressive wherein good citizens should feel pity for the person’s tragedy, or inspired by their achievements. This understanding of charity began to shift after a public court case that brought some bad practise to public attention and saw Barnardo stripped of his Doctor title as his management of the children’s homes empire he founded and the finances he accrued through public giving made more accountable.

The Charity Organisation Society was founded in 1869. It coincided with a growing concern amongst some middle and upper class members of British society that the Poor Law was being ‘abused’ – that people were claiming relief outside of workhouses. Its primary aim was to determine who the ‘deserving’ and ‘undeserving’ poor were; with the belief that money was not being used effectively. They began a pattern of methods which have become familiar today: to work out whether or not people needed monetary help, they would repeatedly visit the person claiming in their home, trying to ‘scientifically’ ascertain their needs. This was the beginning of social work as we think of it today. Even in this early stage, its main purpose wasn’t to try to help and support people, but was to ascertain who really needed help. Suspicion and gatekeeping have formed a major part of charity ‘help’ from its beginnings.

The inequity of child labour and the need for access to education and welfare reform were the key campaigns for the Victorian children’s rights advocates. Legal and attitudinal battles driven by principles of justice, faith and empathy from many worthy advocates of the day. Among them Charles Dickens, the renowned author and advocate, and Lord Shaftesbury. Anthony Ashley Cooper, 7th Earl of Shaftesbury was a proponent of the Ragged Schools movement, which gave poor children some education for the first time. Part of a movement to champion children’s rights in and outside of parliament Shatesbury tirelessly worked developing and promoting laws such as the Ten Hour Act, at first rejected by parliament that aimed to restrict child working to ten hours a day.

In the context of human struggles, the idea of a rights ‘movement’ for young people living in care seems at first sight a little pretentious, as well as perhaps veering on the romantic. After all, we think of ‘movements’ as reserved for the great historical struggles, such as civil liberties, peace, labour, women – though not all social movements are as progressive. Yet, although large in numbers, these and other great movements are usually made up of the combined actions and endeavours of smaller local groups sharing similar goals. It is the local associations, branches, youth and community groups that are the bread and butter of national organisations. And these great movements do not suddenly appear – ‘or rise like the sun at an appointed time’ – they are present at their ‘own making’. They often have very small beginnings and come about through the beliefs and activities of a few. (Mike Stein)

In his book Careless Lives: The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care, Prof Mike Stein marks the birth of our emancipation as 1973 with a group of young people living in children’s homes in Leeds, known as Ad-Libbers, who  came together for the first time to talk about their day-to-day experiences and to campaign to improve their lives in care. This local youth group goes down in ‘care’ history as the first known organised group with the purpose of giving young care experiencing people a voice for the first time. The second significant marker was to come two years later through parliament. The Children in care and Children’s Act 1975 is a legal landmark in regards to children’s rights. It recommends specific new duties for the care experiencing or those faced with adoption or care proceedings that all parties must for the first time ‘ascertain the wishes and feelings’ of young people.

At a time when it has become unfashionable to speak of parental rights over children legislation is passed putting the law respecting “rights” over children into a state of unprecedented complexity. The reason is that, although securing the child’s welfare is now the dominant aim of our child law, there is no shortage of persons claiming authority to decide where a child’s welfare lies. Nowhere is this more true than where a child comes to the attention of the welfare authorities. Children In Care and Children’s Act 1975

The introduction of these new “consultative rights” are significant by bringing in the ‘Welfare Principle’ for children and young people. This development placed the interests of the ‘child’ as paramount and separate from what had been legally binding beforehand as the interests of ‘the family’. The 1975 Act had also made provisions for the separate representation of children in court from their parents through the appointment of their own representation on courts settings of a Guardian ad Litem.  It is an apparent coincidence that National Children’s Bureau set up the Who Cares? Project in the same year of 1975.

A one-day conference where for the first time ever young people from children’s homes across England and Wales were brought together nationally. The intention was to listen to the views of young people about their lives in care in the hope that the NCB could use the outcomes to potentially impact on good practice, on policy change as well as further research. The Bureau sought funds for two development workers tasked across the UK to “engage with young people living in children’s homes in a dialogue with adults about their experiences of care”.  Four regional groups were set up from the South East, London, Birmingham and Leeds. Each group to identify a task to be carried out locally. And jointly they would “find ways to bring their group’s views and concerns to a wider public, in particular, by influencing those responsible for shaping their lives, including teachers, local councillors, and social work staff.” (Mike Stein. The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care)

A day conference was held in each of the regions to which all young people over the age of 12 living in children’s homes were invited, accompanied by their ‘carers’, their house parents or social workers. Significantly a small number of adults, selected and prepared by the Bureau, were elected to lead the event. This illustrates how in those days enfranchisement of the care experiencing (no after care groups) was a new phenomenon and that adults were still required to manage and act as a conduit for our testimonies. That the purpose of the rights movement was driven by our testimonies, poor experiences and stories. And that the development of our own rights movement was managed and to a large extent predetermined by the focus of the Charity. It is a major step forward that young people wishing to take things further were given the chance to join an ongoing regional group. And one of the major outcomes was that local groups held ‘open days’ to which social workers, teachers, magistrates, residential workers and local councillors were invited.

The Who Cares? initiative was like a petri dish for ‘care’ experience and data. The NCB was able to conclude from the feedback to its Development Officers that young people living in children’s homes right across the country “shared many common experiences: their lack of knowledge about their own lives and about the care system generally; their lack of power and control over their lives; their fears and worries about leaving care and coping with life after care; and their wish – too often thwarted by movement, disruption and staff turnover – for a stable trusting adult in their lives”.  In 1977 Who Cares? published the first Charter of Rights for Young People in Care. (link) This represents for the ‘care advocate’ a moon landing moment. It was the start of something bigger and it allowed direct challenge to the way children and young people in care were understood and treated by child care professionals. It made the profession for the first time accountable. The idea of rights for children in care would begin to gain professional and political ground so that ‘clients’ of the care system were not subservient to official practise but we began to be seen as having ‘rights’ as well as ‘needs’. Conversations within social work would lead to a call for better training and to raise and improve on codes of ethics that would place for the first time the ‘client’ at the heart of good practise.

This shift towards rights was also reflected in wider debates in social work about the status that should be attached to the views of ‘clients’, especially adults, including their participation in decision making and their right to quality services, as well as to complain if they were not satisfied with the service they received. This new way of thinking also represented a serious challenge to the status of professionalism, especially the established view that the professional always ‘knows what’s best for you.’ (Mike Stein Careless Lives: The Story of the Rights Movement for Children in Care)

The NCB had led the way by focusing on ‘care’ issues its demise led to the setting up of the National Association of Young People in Care in 1979. NAYPIC was the first and arguably the only national organisation to be run solely by and for young people in care to date. The new role of self advocacy was about to arrive and replace the models of the proxy advocacy groups. As effective as they were they could never guarantee a constant input of care experienced views or provide pathways as NAYPIC planned to do.

NAYPIC started with regional representatives at its heart with ‘in care’ groups made up of young people and adult members from Bradford, Coventry, Hounslow, London, Leeds, the North East, Wakefield, Wandsworth, Westminster and Scotland.

The aims of the new organisation as defined in its the constitution were:

1. To improve conditions for children and young people in care;

2. To make information and advice available to young people in care;

3. To promote the views and opinions of young people in care; and

4. To help start, support and develop local groups.

Membership was to be open to ‘anyone who is in care or has been in care in the past and other people voted in by a local group.’ Importantly, the age limit set for its paid workers below 25 years of age would ensure that it remained that way – its reach into children’s homes and foster care offering pathways for a regular supply of fresh faces and new ideas into the organisation for many years to come.  

NAYPIC was intent to develop groups at grassroots level and provided leaflets in how to run a group as well as a membership pack. It had a National Executive as well as Regional Offices with paid representatives from Bradford down to Devon. Local groups could affiliate to NAYPIC and be entitled to have one representative on the management committee, ‘which should be a young person in care.’ The constitution importantly stated that co-opted adult members were not to form more than one third of the management committee. This would ensure that it would always operate in the interests of younger people from care backgrounds and these voices could not be used or manipulated by older non-care experts, allied adults or professionals.

NAYPIC’s first campaign was to Ban the Book – the hated clothing order book, that many young people had to use to obtain their clothing. Other key campaigning activities included access to files, participation in reviews, highlighting the plight of abuse victims in children’s homes, bringing to public attention the use of physical restraint and the ‘liquid cosh’ in dealing with young people in lock ups, improving provision such as the grant available to care leavers, organising to block the forced sale and closure of residential care homes, improving representation from within foster care. NAYPIC utilised surveys to garner the views of its members. It set up Conferences and ran workshops to get feedback on issues that care experiencing and care experienced faced. These workshops would also highlight the creativity of the care experienced and produce the first care videos (link) and poetry. These videos would be available for sale and were utilised within teaching and very effective in public awareness.

NAYPIC’s defining moment was surely its highly important and pivotal Report to parliament called ‘Sharing Care’. An encyclopaedic collation of the views, experiences and suggested improvements put forward by young people in and ex care themselves written by a care experienced person. The Report formed the basis of NAYPICs evidence to the parliamentary committee on Children in Care known as the Short enquiry that was set to try and improve the legislation and the conditions for people in care at the time. Major policy areas for NAYPIC – from assessment to access to files, attendance at reviews, use of punishment and control, lack of privacy and personal rights, the unacceptable amount of fostering placements, the rampant racism, poor education outcomes, lack of after-care support and notably the need for a complaints system. All of these policies bar the last would be adopted by the policy makers, create best practise, produce radical changes to provision. It notably also brought the issues of race, gender, disability and the abuses – neglect, violence and child sex abuse – that were systemic in the care system.

 ‘Sharing care’ is NAYPIC’s stand out contribution to the rights of children and young people in and ex care. It was described as “highly influential” by the Parliamentary Committee on children in care the 40-page report, with its concluding children’s charter was said to be ‘methodical, comprehensive and representative of an increasing number of children in care’ who are “becoming vocal in expressing their views”. The contribution of care experienced experts (all of us) was recognised both at a general level, of the need to listen to the views of young people – referred to in their Parliamentary Report for the first time as ‘children’s rights’. Later the House of Commons Committee on Children in Care stated, ‘children’s rights are now being recognised as never before.’ It was the setting up of NAYPIC and the Report ‘Sharing Care’ that marked the beginnings of the right’s movement for young people in care.

NAYPIC operated on the basis that young people be involved in decisions that affect their lives. That their ‘wishes and feelings’ be considered by the courts, as well as those making decisions about them in care or accommodation. Local authorities were also required to ‘give due consideration to the child’s religious persuasion, racial origin, culture and language’. They were also for the first time required to establish complaints procedures including ‘an independent element’ and publish information about services. This led to first children’s rights officer in the UK and a small number of local authorities introducing complaints procedures for young people in care. The impact of ‘Sharing Care’ was not just felt in parliament but right across the ‘care’ landscape and in a raft of more specific and bespoke initiatives. The views of black and mixed race care experienced people led to a video called Black And In Care (link) where NAYPIC members were interviewed on camera for the first time about their experiences in care. It highlighted the creativity of the #CEP as well as their collective experience and views on how to change things. This video led to the establishment of the Black and In Care movement and a worker employed by the Children’s Legal Centre who organised a Conference in 1984 at London Kingsway.

The one area that NAYPIC failed to impact at a legislative level was in its call for a Complaints procedure. The Short Report concluded that the “crucial nature of the decisions made every day by social workers has led to a widely perceived need for a system to provide for the possibility of complaint or appeal against decisions”.

A booklet released by A Voice for the Child in Care at the same time points to the use of complaints procedures as “fail-safe” mechanisms, which” balance the power of the social worker and the rights of clients.” The National Council for Voluntary Organisations supported a complaints procedure saying it would “enhance the service”.  This one issue in the NAYPIC policy document would hae profound impact on the care system for decades to come.

The 1989 Children’s Act remains a milestone and marker and has had such a huge influence over the ‘care’ landscape that it is still referred to and still remains in place. It’s significant too, that the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child was due to be adopted in November 1989 (although not to be ratified by the UK until 1991), and that it includes the landmark Article 12, recognising for the first time “the human rights of children as individuals in their own right, including the right of children to participate in all decisions that affect them”.

At its height NAYPIC was recognised by Government and senior policy makers, achieving recognition in the field of child care policy supported by the A.D.S.S., the S.C.A, the National Children’s Bureau, the National Council of Voluntary Organizations, the National Foster Care Association, Community Service Volunteers and many others. Significantly it was invited to every briefing, Conference and Workshop and its views were sought from every Research facility and every teaching body. NAYPIC was not just a key player in the children’s rights lobby but officially recognised as the only ‘consumer’ group for young people in care, giving the organisation the highest degree of legitimacy.

In Wales, in 1993 NAYPIC Cymru changed its name to Voices from care Cymru (VFCC). By 2001 it would become so influential it was able to affect the recruitment of the children’s commissioner for wales – the first children’s commissioner in the UK. In 2005 it was guaranteed as a registered Charity. Remarkable considering back in 1975 NAYPIC was not considered eligible to do so and relied on grants and Department of Health funding.

NAYPIC itself after such heady days and making such a profound impact slowly unwound over the early 1990s. It was involved in the most high profile survey and within media for championing the untold and hidden experience of survivors of child sex abuse. This would see it come under the most intense scrutiny. Today of course we can see that the stories and experiences of victims of CSA were accurate and deliberately confounded by politicians, police and administrators. Child sex abuse of both genders by bothe genders was endemic and systemic within the residential settings and foster care placements run by all our Local authorities, Charities and Religious Institutions.

NAYPIC experienced an internal spilt. Its demise came about partly because the grassroots of the party stuck so ruthlessly to its core principles. Its mandate and its constitution. Unable to access Charity funding from the beginning and hampered by Government finance it came under pressure by the its Governmental and Charity funders to accept a management structure  by an adult group that required all future NAYPIC Reps and Officials could only be sanctioned by the same group. NAYPIC was wound down in the mid 1990s and would be superseded immediately by A National Voice, a care led iniative and a year later First Key and The Care Leavers Association which stands to this day.

A year later in 1996 came The Voice for the Child In Care – not Care Leaver led – that would morph into just ‘Voice’ and later become part of The Coram Organisation – it’s now known as Coram Voice. The Children’s Legal Centre which came to an end as NAYPIC did, transititioned into the Coram Children’s Legal Centre.

In Scotland where a Who Cares Conference had been held in 1978 and a NAYPIC group had also been running – it would take another ten years until 1998 when a Scottish care experienced peer led group would be become fully recognised by the Scottish Office and with Local Authorities. It was the Save the Children Fund who provided funding to set up an office space and employ Development workers for the very first time. Who Cares? Scotland was up and running. In its early days followed a structure based very much on the NAYPIC approach of an NEC, funded Regional workers, running Conferences and forging campaigns (establishing ‘rights in care, improving pocket money and clothing allowances to start). It sought to drive up local members with membership packs and produce resource packs for local groups.

Today a plethora of Advocacy Groups and Charities now operate where none did before. They have evolved from the early groundwork of the Ad Lib Leeds group, the NCB and Who Cares, of NAYPIC and the Children’s Legal Centre. There are today niche organisations that focus whole teams on areas that were once policy statements on #CEP policy documents. The law importantly also guarantees advocacy groups in every Local Authority through Participation Teams for both children and young people in care and those leaving or left care. Some of these groups are highly effective and well run. In Kirklees the Children In care Council and the Care Leavers Forum are run by a CEP. In Bristol likewise a CEP oversees the advocacy and after care for the 600 plus children and young people there.

But there are huge concerns currently about the unhealthy relationship between some of the Charities – at least some concerns about reported poor practise – and their engagement with this generation’s care experienced and by implication our community more widely. The most recent care led group RECLAIM have drawn attention to the need for space, that too often Charitible activities can be exploitative in the same way we saw back in the Victorian times – only far more subtly and more pervasive.

Charities, local authorities and support organisations claim to ‘listen to us’, to ‘hear our voices’, or to ‘speak for us’. We can speak for ourselves. Campaigns are often approached extractively to elicit ‘a story’ – whether it’s a success story or a trauma story. We don’t want others to profit from our stories. They’re exactly that – ours. Often it takes us years to get to a point of being comfortable with telling our story.  Participation work can be tokenistic, using the same voices again and again, drowning out the diversity of care-experience. We want people to recognise that asking for our stories in campaigns can feel exploitative and cause harm. This all needs to stop, and we need to be enabled to genuinely shape campaigns, practice and policy.

We acknowledge that there will always be power relations that affect how we work with others. For example, not properly remunerating a care-experienced person for participation at events when external ‘expert’ speakers are paid generously. Why is their labour seen as more valid than ours? Why does support for care experience end at age 21 or 25, when we have a whole life to live beyond that? We think it’s important that support for care-experienced people doesn’t just disappear. Older care-experienced people are left to cope alone when we would really benefit from support. We want to change that by recognising our community healing is bound to understanding our transgenerational history, collective trauma caused by systemic harms and mutual support across generations. RECLAIM Care Manifesto.

​There is clearly a need for the younger #CEP to understand their own history. To reclaim the very stories, views and policies that emminated from the community which have been comodified as part of the business model of these Cdvocacy Charities.

The care community has never been more visible or vocal before than it currently is on twitter. As well as the Charities, we have 152 Local Authorities all obliged to run advocacy groups for care experiencing and experienced. And yet the views of the #CEP – especially those less vocal, the marginal, the unsexy, the unacknowledged – these voices don’t have the same cache or capital to them. Within an obvious digital divide, in all the clamour for attention, the power of the Advocacy Charities, the numerous ‘niche’ projects that require attention and support, the Academics and the narrative that abounds about ‘care’ success that favours big personalities and hyper celebrity. And among some is the complaint about their stories being ‘stolen’ or ‘amplified’ often from twitter feeds by Corporate Bodies – many in competition for the views and experiences of the #CEP – or PhD Researchers who believe a gift token is an adequate reimbursement for a life lived in chaos.

Our own history and legacy suggest that the current clamour for wishes & feelings of the young #CEP is at odds with their own self-interest as it has, bizarrely, both disincentivised and disenfranchised our young. These advocates will never reach the position of CEO. And sadly the very people we need to drive on children’s rights are dispassionate about both organisations in general and sadly also for the time being about the Care Review.

The opportunities for the care experienced to express their views may indeed never been apparent. But they have never been more valuable. For the views of the #CEP have now been commodified. The fact is that ‘care’ experienced testimony has become (no slur intended) a source of capital for Charities. That the overall lack of narrative or policy tends to make their own findings have more significance. And the basis upon which these Charities exist is that are delivery agents of and constantly in search of our voices. They exist to propagate the ‘views and feelings’ of the #CEP and their cache is greater if what they can reproduce comes from the most marginalised or the most maligned or misrepresented sector of our community. In their desperation – when they can’t access a #CEP representative – some Corporate bodies are not above ‘outing’ an Associate that may not have agreed to their identity being used as a promotional or marketing add on. It is surely a GDPR issue for business’ to utilise the status or experience of a care experienced person to improve the #CEP representation within their own ranks. This, to give the impression that the #CEP lies at the heart of (higher level) decision making within these organisations which is not actually the case. And maybe that is the heart of the matter. That #CEP inclusion should go to the very top of these organisations and bodies. That the role they have set themselves in ‘amplifying’ the views of the #CEP community maybe at odds with self-advocacy in general as well as the individual’s needs and feelings.

The role of the proxy advocate can – instead of guiding and accompanying the #CEP – lead to apathy and a disinclination towards a political solution. Children’s rights replaced by an ethos of selective success based advocacy, of individual and not collective pathway advancement based on a Corporation’s demand for and reliance on positive outcomes to justify an Agency’s existence. It’s the drip drip promotion of ‘success’ stories required by the Agencies to illustrate their own successes that can lead to such alienation.

The concern is that policy is the defining factor for much of these Agencies and the data is no longer going to be made available. As organisations grow out of touch the marginalised, the extreme, the diverse expression of #CEP experience lies beyond their capability.  And such groups will exist only to keep themselves afloat while we sink or we swim.

Early advocates for Children’s rights (this term did not exist) clearly couldn’t come from within the care community itself. It would take hard won legal reforms, from maverick politicians and from Union members, post second world war Labour wins, the sixties social revolution, the small gains and historically hidden work of many iconic unknown activists and documentarists that would lead to a social revolution that would form the seedbed for political action for the care experienced themselves. We are grateful to them all.

We are eternally thankful for those unacknowledged advocates – who spoke back to power – from within our own ranks from days gone by. Who. as survivors of child sex abuse, victims of harsh regimes, of racism, violence and neglect, of siblings lost and families torn asunder made their grievances known. Their voices and testimonies are lost in time, to be found within the archives of our CEP legacy that still lies secured fast in Officialdom. Those stories located within police statements, within the redaction of our files and the Social work commentaries that document our families and little lives. Those who agitated as whistle blowers, angry young people moved on into secure accommodation, given the liquid cosh, forcefully removed from their homes or placements, moved out of care prematurely.

Countless children and young people, their parents and families often, who challenged the very people supposed to protect us, Staff and Social Workers, Administrators and politicians given charge of us – as Corporate Parents – who were most often our worst enemies our abusers. Who demanded our silence. We give thanks to those silent advocates that victims and survivors would gravitate towards – Teachers, Domestics, Care Staff, Police Officers, some Field Social Workers – who stood up for us or offered us solace or escape. We give thanks to their contribution to our late emancipation. With no complaints system in place and no one to listen or create pathways for us, how could we ever hope to advocate for ourselves?

Can we now?