2nd Edition April 24th, 2020 John Radoux

Are children in care about to slip out of view again?

I have a small amount of sympathy for the government.  I can understand why they were slow on the uptake – it is hard to change direction when you have grand plans.  Of course, I did not agree with many of the plans the Conservative government had, but that’s not the point – would the Labour Party have been any quicker to accept the new C- 19 reality and the sudden, near irrelevance of their manifesto?  I doubt it.  I am sure this is more the cause of the too gradual acceptance of the havoc C- 19 would wreak and early inaction of government, and some other organisations, than any malign intent. 

Certainly, it took me quite a long time to accept reality, to stop making dismissive jokes and to consider both the impact on my own life and the very troubling effects it will have on children’s social care.  Although, I was about a week ahead of many of my therapy and children’s home colleagues – giving me a few days of feeling like the unhinged panicky one.  You see, I had grand ideas too. 

I had hoped, some would say naively, that this year would see the start of a meaningful review into the care system for children in England.  I believed, perhaps vaingloriously, that I had, along with many others, played a small part in creating enough pressure on the government that they were about to announce something considerably more comprehensive than they intended when they included a rather vague line: ‘we will review the care system for children’, in their general election manifesto.  Crucially, I think we had won the argument for considerable lived-experience involvement. 

All I really did was write a letter, and ask people on Twitter to sign it.  Fortunately – with the help of a few others who shared and promoted the letter – 632 people with personal and/or professional experience of children’s social care signed it and off it went to the Secretary of State.  I am not a campaigner, or at least I wasn’t, I am a residential child care worker, child therapist and occasional writer.  I learned as I went a long about dealing with the media, the priorities of charities and, to an extent, the machinations of government departments. 

From the start I made it clear that every signature was equal and I meant it – they were not ordered on the final letter in any hierarchy of perceived importance.  However, I have a guilty confession to make – I did find the professional status of some of the signatories narcissistically gratifying.  Indeed, when a Knight of the Realm signed, I noticed my internal excitement and immediately berated myself for being a terrible socialist. 

As recently as early March, I was still accepting invitations to meetings and events related to the proposed care review in England.  In the back of my mind I must have known they were not going to happen, but I denied reality nevertheless – I wrote dates in my diary, thought about what I would say, wondered if it would be acceptable to wear jeans and t-shirt or if I would have to do some ironing.  

A few days ago, a friend who helps me with my websites asked me what I wanted to do with the site I had set up to help collect signatures.  “Take it down”, I said. “It’s all on the backburner now”.  I experienced almost no emotion as I said this.  It is only now, as I type, that I have become a little tearful.  I very much doubt the review would have been all that many of us wanted, but I think it might have been the best we were going to get from the current administration, and it could have led to recommendations and reforms which would have made a material difference to the lives and life chances of children in care.  

When the time is right, I will make my presence felt again – I will metaphorically wave letters in people’s faces, I will point to answers given in Parliament, I will do what I can to hold the government’s feet to the fire of its previous commitments. And I will try to rally people.  But, I am not optimistic, I think we are again many years away from, to paraphrase part of the letter so many people signed, radically reimaging and transforming the social care infrastructure in a way that will improve significantly the lives of hundreds of thousands of children.

I know that when the Covid- 19 dust settles, the government, local authorities and other public bodies, will be subject to all kinds of demands on time and resources.  I appreciate too that this will involve a great deal of special pleading – everyone insisting that their concern, their cause, must be given priority.  How far down the list will children in care be?  If experience is anything to go by, we can presume it will be very low down.  

A couple of months or so ago, some children’s social care campaigner types were due to appear on the Victoria Derbyshire show to discuss issues around the use of unregulated provision for children in care and care leavers.  The item got dropped at the last minute, because of news that the High Court had put a stop to Heathrow expansion.  Fair enough, you might think, but they still found time for an item on how easy it is to be a vegetarian.  I cannot know how this editorial decision was made, but it is reasonable to assume they considered what would be of most interest to the viewers. 

I relay this story to illustrate something which is easy to forget –  the government, of course, has ultimate responsibility for children in care and, if they chose, they could make radical improvements and many people are learning now, perhaps for the first time, about the importance of the state and how quickly and powerfully it can act if it needs to.  But know this: children in care have only been low down the list of numerous governments ‘priorities, because they are low down the list for the rest of society.  Indeed, usually completely forgotten. 

 John Radoux, residential child care worker.