Vicky meets the Conservatives

The intrepid team at Action for Children has spent the past few days at Conservative Party Conference, meeting ministers, MPs, candidates and ordinary party members to talk about how we can work together to improve things for the most vulnerable children.

Out of care: now where?

We kicked off in style on Monday morning with our fringe event, held jointly with Barnardo's. Over 40 Conservative Party delegates came to discuss the challenges facing young people leaving care.

Sam, a young man supported by Barnardo's, began by painting a vivid picture of the kinds of issues young people face when they're starting out. He was offered a lot of practical help, from useful household tools when he got his own place to looking for work. But what he wanted most was more time with his advisor - a friendly ear, some good advice when things go wrong and patience and positive encouragement when things seem bleak.

Sam's story set the scene for our workshop session. The young people we've spoken to over the past few months said that they wanted politicians to put themselves in their shoes. So we asked the audience to imagine what practical and emotional challenges a young adult might encounter. They considered things like education, wellbeing, friends and family.

The Minister for Children and Families, Edward Timpson MP, joined us to hear recommendations from each discussion group. The themes closely matched what young people told us:

  • the need for continuity (not chopping and changing social workers, for example);
  • more suitable accommodation;
  • people they can trust, like mentors;
  • emotional support as well as practical;
  • agencies working together instead of shuttling young people from one team to another.

Mr Timpson reminded everyone delivering children's services that "the role of corporate parent is the most important role you have".

The event was rounded off by Vicky, a young woman from an Action for Children project, who talked about some of the issues that had come up in our workshops. She described young women who, after leaving care, become pregnant but struggle for the right to keep their child because they are judged on their pasts rather than their fitness to be parents now.

Vicky also reminded us that "most people on their eighteenth birthday plan where to go out for a drink - but if you're in care, it's a question of where you're going to go". Her words clearly struck a chord - it was one of our most retweeted tweets of the event.

Finally, our inspiration for the workshop, she made a plea for everyone to put themselves in young people's shoes. She said "sometimes young people don't know why they act up - listen to us when we say that."

Best of the rest

There's a lot going on at party conference, and we can only scratch the surface. Delegates were keen to talk about children's issues. The Secretary of State for Education, Nicky Morgan MP, talked about helping young people to develop the resilience to cope with modern life. Sarah Wollaston MP warned the Government not to remove housing benefit from young people. She also argued that intergenerational fairness required a greater focus on children and young people.

Certainly, the need to act early to prevent crises was a big theme again. It seems like both Labour and the Conservatives are hearing us loud and clear on that one. Now they need to act on it.

Next week

We're in Glasgow at the Liberal Democrat conference. Will we hear more about early support? They certainly will.

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