Let’s work out together how best to care for children

John Radoux
Wednesday, September 2, 2020

For me, and no doubt most of you reading this, the fact that society can decide to remove a child from the care of his or her parents, so they can be looked after by other people, is so much part of our daily milieu we barely pause to think about it.

I ask you to pause for a moment now.

With the possible exception of long-term incarceration, it is the most serious way society can impose itself on individual lives.  But, while we could argue about exactly how much agency people who end up in prison had over their own lives or, indeed, the agency of parents whose children are removed, we can be sure of one thing – children who are in care had no control over the circumstances that led to them being in care, or the decision they should be cared for by other people. 

So if, as a society, we think it is sometimes necessary to insist that children are looked after by people other than their parents – and I agree that, sadly, sometimes it is – the responsibility we have to care for those children properly knows no bounds.  We simply have to get it right.  While you and I might debate many issues – SI445, ACE research and much else besides – surely we all agree on this?

But, for many thousands of children, we are not getting it right, are we?  Their experiences of the care system are not only not good enough, but actively harmful. This is despite many people’s good intentions, despite various reviews and examinations of aspects of the care system and despite numerous changes to regulations and legislation. In my 17-year professional involvement with children in care, irrespective of some tinkering around the edges, there has been almost zero improvement in the lives and life chances for many of the children society has taken on the responsibility of caring for.

What is required is a radical and imaginative whole system reinvention at both a macro and micro level.  No more tinkering, no more fudges, no more half measures.

This is where we must look to the long-promised care review. When the Conservative election manifesto made a, to be honest, slightly vague promise to review the care system, I felt desperate.  Desperate for it to be done properly, desperate that this opportunity was not lost.  It was for this reason I organised a letter to the Secretary of State signed by over 630 people with professional and personal experience of the care system, calling for an independent and comprehensive review.

Initially, the statements coming from the government gave me hope. Today, I have hope, but no faith and I am fearful. Fearful of scaled back ambition, fearful of submissions via website portals and half-baked attempts at engagement, fearful of a handful of well-connected care experienced voices providing cover for something unsatisfactory, fearful that a once-in-a-generation opportunity will be lost and, ultimately, fearful that hundreds of thousands of children who will come into care over the coming decades are about to be betrayed. I pray that I am wrong.

I implore the government once again, please do not waste this opportunity, and I implore those of you in positions of influence, those who I know are already being consulted regarding the scope and nature of the review – stop for a moment, imagine what is possible and what you could help to achieve. Be brave.  

Let’s set aside ideology, let’s set aside political, organisational and personal self-interest, and let’s set aside the fear so many of us have of real change. Instead, let’s work out together how best to care for children who cannot live with their parents and then let’s do it. 

John Radoux is a children’s counsellor who has worked in children’s homes for 16 years

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