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?