Friday, 29 July 2016

Eve and Ella praised as "influential figures"!

I suppose we should both be flattered at being labelled as "influential". Particularly when the comment was made by somebody who has a lifetime of academic and practical experience in the twin areas of fostering teenagers and in the senior management of Children's Homes.

If only it were true!

The sad fact is that for years we have battled against the indifference and ignorance of paid professionals without converting more than a small number to our point of view. By most we are seen as an annoyance - unworthy to be included in the deliberations of the great and the good.

The end result is that life changing decisions are made by people who have no first hand experience of the Local Authority provision they have been tasked with overseeing. Inputs into the limited debate that does take place are carefully orchestrated and younger users of the service are usually excluded from the process.

Can you imagine a major retail outlet that has no interest in the views of the customers? Even Governments are called to account every five years by the people they aim to serve - that is the electorate. But when is comes to improving the life-chances of young people who come into the Care system for the first time as teenagers those most directly involved are marginalised at best or, more often, regarded as having nothing useful to contribute.

If you really want to depress yourself  read the document "Children in Care" - especially appendix 2.

In the section "Our Evidence Base" - there is no mention of asking former foster children or young people who actually lived in a Children's Home for their vews. Grrrrrrr!

By-the-way we sometimes wonder if readers of our blog are afraid to openly support our views. The number of readers we get is - by normal blogging standards - huge but the number of public comments people post about what we write is almost pathetically small.

Friday, 22 July 2016

Ella and I learn a new word - diatribe

A diatribe is a bitter, sharply abusive denunciation, attack, or criticism.
For reasons that are a long way from obvious three members of the Newcastle Organising Committee (N.O.C.) - the group behind the unsuccessful bid to hold the 2016 Care Kids Conference in their city - have decided to send out a long, bitter, aggressive and abusive email to everybody who was involved with the recent Cardiff conference.

So, to nobodies surprise, we got a copy of the diatribe and equally unsurprisingly Ella and I came in for shed loads of venom. The word on the street is that some people on the circulation list have been left seriously upset by what was written about them and others have been left more than a little annoyed.

I suppose bemusement plus a degree of weary amusement is what Ella and I are feeling. Many of the points raised by N.O.C. just don't deserve a lengthy reply or at least not from Ella and I. What I will do is to say a few words about things where we have detailed first hand knowledge. 
  1. None of the authors of the diatribe were present at the conference so it isn't clear where they got their information from. Most of the "facts" they list are just not true and most of the "opinions" they quote are not typical of the feed-back forms that the conference participants filled in.
  2. Every penny of the sponsorship money has been accounted for. Virtually all of it went on paying for speakers or subsidising the hotel costs. Less than 1% was paid out to the organisers to refund their expenses and far from "leaving with their purses bulging with un-spent sponsorship money" the organisers were left slightly out of pocket.
  3. Apparently the "inner circle" had all the best hotels rooms while the delegates had to put up with "second best". All the rooms I saw were basically identical and were allocated in order by the hotel receptionist as people arrived. I didn't hear a single comment about the quality of the rooms during my time at the conference.
  4. Yes the external speakers were rather disappointing. But the amount that would be charged by some of the high profile speakers I have heard mentioned would have been totally out of the price range the organisers could afford.
  5. I have zero clue how anybody could have felt the arrangements for the evening meal were "hopeless". The delegates were given a list of more than a dozen places to eat within a 15 minute walk. None were expensive and many were quite cheap. Some delegates went off to eat in friendship groups: as was their right. But the organisers, plus Didi, Ella and I waited round at reception so that none of the delegates who attended on their own felt forced to eat solo. Two groups of 5  were created and as far as I know everybody who wanted to be social had the opportunity to be exactly that.
  6. Nobody has yet expressed any interest in running the 2017 Conference. And who could blame anybody for thinking that it is a totally thankless task! Any suggestion of a stitch-up by the hard core to meet next year in Blackpool is just silly. If the N.O.C. want to put in a bid for Newcastle then they should go ahead. I still think that geography is the biggest weakness of the Newcastle bid and if you plot the locations of the current electorate on a map then the facts speak for themselves. Manchester or Leeds perhaps but surely not Newcastle!

Friday, 15 July 2016

2016 Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - joining the wider world"

2016 Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - joining the wider world"

Well the conference has been and gone so it is time for an honest and realistic appraisal of how things went and what lessons have been learned.

The late move of venue from Penarth to Cardiff was handled well and having the delegates staying in one reasonably priced hotel but meeting in another more expensive hotel worked better than I had expected but probably not as well as the organisers had hoped.

The rooms allocated to delegates were all close together on one floor with the curious exception of two rooms that were three floors and a longish walk away. The rooms were fine and good value at the rate that had been negotiated. Breakfast was, as usual, a chaotic bun-fight.

The conference facilities were OK once Ella had made a fuss at reception about what had been promised and what the manager wanted to provide on the day. Nice one Ella!

The outside speakers were - with one exception - very poor but the internally organised seminars were brilliant which leaves me feeling rather confused! The key-note speaker was clearly re-cycling a talk she had given elsewhere without making more than a minimal attempt to customise it for her target audience. I suggest that future conference organisers look long and hard at doing away entirely with external speakers. In my view they tend to be rather poor value for money. 

The wide range of after-hours events on offer to delegates was much appreciated by all concerned and there was no reason for anybody to feel abandoned or left out as had been mentioned as a problem last year.

It proved hard work to get sponsorship for the event. In the end just over £8000 was gathered together from various organisations and people but £5000 of this was from a single source (an adult friend of Ella and I).

A total of 69 delegates attended at least 1 of the two days. 41 people made their own arrangements: either staying in their own home and commuting to the venue or alternatively staying with friends in the area. That left 28 who stayed in the hotel with their costs heavily subsidised by the sponsorship money. Delegates came from as far away as Blackpool, Sheffield, Nottingham, Norwich and SE London which was the good news. Sadly nobody came down from the Newcastle area - perhaps the unsuccessful bidders for this conference were making a point here? I don't know and haven't asked!

Next week I will deal with the content of the talks and seminars.

Friday, 8 July 2016

Why Ella and I never get drunk

Neither Ella and I have drunk more than tiny amounts of alcohol for many years and the back-story behind this decision is rather curious.

Ella and I arrived at the Children's Home a few weeks before the start of year 10 at school. People who think of us as an indivisible pair are always surprised to learn that it was only by complete chance that we arrived at the Home so close together in time. Even more surprising with hindsight is that Ella's promised move into foster care never happened and that she was allowed to continue sharing a room in the Home with me.

We were too young to drink legally but there was a local pub that routinely served residents of the Home so had we wanted to get drunk we could have. We had more sense - you very much needed to keep your wits about you in the Home if you wanted to avoid the attentions of the hormonal lads who shared the Home with us and the lustful desires of the local low-life. Smuggling of drink into the Home went on all the time, as did smuggling of tobacco products, but, strangely, we saw little evidence of drug abuse.

At 18 we had to move into 2 separate flats (a long story that I have shared before) and money was so tight that paying bills and having enough food to eat left us nothing spare for luxuries like alcohol. Then it was off to university for me and into employment for Ella. Money was still tight so again drinking - and smoking - just didn't happen.

The post marriage but pre children era was probably the first time we could have afforded to drink large quantities of alcohol but we didn't. Neither husband was more than an occasional social drinker so there was no tradition in either household of large scale consumption of booze. Some of our friends did drink too much and I still remember the Big Boss Lady (my employer) getting spectacularly drunk in a hotel in New Zealand when I was on an overseas trip with her.

Then we got pregnant - common sense and medical advice dictated that neither of us should drink at all for those 9 months, so we didn't, and by the time we became parents we were so used to not drinking to excess that we never bothered to acquire that particular vice!

Boring aren't we!