"Our top priority was, is and always will be education, education, education”, proclaimed Tony Blair, the then Prime Minister at Southampton University in 2001.
That was seventeen years ago and I can guarantee that now there will be seventeen-year olds in care who would love to be heading off to university and others through their own efforts will have overcome all of the obstacles in their way and be at the start of their university career. For both groups a common factor for many will be that they are doing it on their own.
No ‘Bank of Mum and Dad’ to bail them out financially when (surely not if) they run into money difficulties – we all did it as undergraduates. There will be no opportunity to make a reassuring call home when the loneliness begins to hurt, when they young person feels that they really need a hug from a parent more than any other form of reassurance. No family to return to at weekends or in between terms.
“Our top priority was, is and always will be care, care, care."
The Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign in England is not just about those who go on to Higher Education, though they are very much in our hearts and minds. We are concerned to secure the option for all care leavers to ‘Stay Put’ with their carers, be they foster carers or a residential team with whom the child and now young adult has formed a trusting relationship. Created in December 2013, the campaign sought to address the inequality represented by the English Government’s announcement that they planned to introduce an option to ‘Stay Put’ - continue to live in their home - for children scheduled to leave care on their 18th birthday – but only for those in foster care not residential care.
Our group came together to challenge this using the only tool available to them – social media - and primarily ‘Campaigns for you’, Twitter, @rescareto21 or #ECLCM and Facebook. Our information pack - available via our website includes some of the work undertaken and provides links to a range of material. Politically unaffiliated and unfunded we work voluntarily. Since foundation we have made some considerable inroads towards achieving our aims equality of opportunity for all care leavers.
Sir Martin Narey invited us to meet with him on several occasions as part of his national review of residential children's homes. One of his recommendations in that review was that we should be part of a team advising and working with Department for Education in England on proposals for Staying Close – which we see as an interim step towards the goal of having the option of Staying Put for all care leavers.
Many stand shoulder-to-shoulder with us including the Independent Children’s Homes Association and The National Association of Independent Fostering Providers. Groups such as the Association of Directors of Children’s Services have passed motions supporting the principle of Staying Put for all care leavers.
Some examples of our more formal activities in the last two years: Invitations to national debates including the Education Select Committee, ‘Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options’ that recommended the ‘Staying Put Option’ should be available to care leavers. The submission to the Laming Committee ‘Keeping children in care out of trouble: an independent review’ also demonstrated overwhelming support for the extension of the right to ‘stay put’ to all looked after children as well as calling for more funding to be allocated to supporting those (fostered) children already enabled in law but not in reality to ‘stay put’.
We appreciate that this is a political matter and success requires engagement and support from politicians in England. Westminster is a challenge although our patron, Emma Lewell-Buck, has undertaken to try to coordinate and mobilise Westminster where (to date) 78 MP’s have -signed up’ to @rescareto21. As for Councils we took our campaign to a number seeking support and have found agreement in every Council chamber visited in England all passed a version of this motion.
“This Council calls on the Government to amend the Children and Families Act 2014 to enable all children in care to stay under the care of the local authority until 21 years of age. Currently cared-for children who are with foster carers can "stay put" until the age of 21 but children in residential care must leave by the age of 18 …. These vulnerable children and young people in our residential care homes can have complex needs, and compared to those fortunate enough to have been placed in foster care are being discriminated against by Government. As Corporate parents we have a moral obligation to ensure that all children have the best services and support that we as a local authority can give. Staying put in residential care until the age of 21 should be acted on urgently and funded by Government”
Andy Burnham, Mayor of Greater Manchester, sees ECLCM as an integral voice and partner in his determination to fight homelessness in Greater Manchester and we are part of another Roundtable group determined that care leavers, who constitute a massively disproportionate number of the homeless population in the country, will not be forgotten.
We continue to garner the support of M.P.’s and in autumn 2017 we presented in Westminster to a range of M.P.’s and other high-profile supporters or observers such as the Children’s Commissioner, Anne Longfield and Mark Riddell the driving force behind the introduction of the recently published ‘Care Leaver Covenant’.
We will continue to follow up all of these opportunities in the future but the futures that really matter are those care leavers who are now new undergraduates, or are about to be evicted from care, or who are living on the streets – it is important to that these young people know that Every Child Leaving Care Matters.
Our campaign is based in England but wherever you are reading this blog we would welcome your support. You can follow our campaign on social media and contact us through our website.
Ed Nixon – Chair of Every Child Leaving Care Matters
For more English resources, please click here.