Saturday, September 05, 2009

Yesterday was an exhausting but exciting day. I started off wearing my school governor hat, taking part in a professional development day at a local primary school where I'm a governor. We take it for granted that teachers take part in these days on a regular basis but on this occasion the whole adult part of the school community had been invited to take part. So round tables in the school hall were teachers, lunchtime supervisers, governors, teaching assistants, admin staff and the caretaker. We discussed what we expect from everyone in the school, what makes the school the special place it is, what could make it better and our relationships with the wider community.
High on everyone's list of hopes for the children is that they leave the school with confidence in themselves and a hunger for learning, able to achieve their full potential as people not just as exam fodder. I was sorry to have to leave after lunch to go to another meeting. Most people were carrying on in the afternoon and more governors were arriving for that session. I left feeling bouyant and excited about what would be happening in the school in the coming months and years.
The meeting I left to go to was very different - a meeting of the cumbersomely titled "Multi Agency Looked After Partnership", known as the MALAP for short! It's a gathering of representatives of all the bodies and agencies which have any responsibility for or do any work with the children who are in the care of the local authority. Until I became a councillor I'd no idea that I'd be taking on the role of parent to a number of children whom I'd probably never meet. But that's exactly what happens when a child comes into the care of the authority. Whether they're in a children's home or in foster care the council is their "corporate parent". We have a responsibility to ensure that they have a safe home, an education, leisure opportunities and so on - all the things we'd expect to give our own children. Over recent months some representatives of the young people in our care have been meeting with some council staff to discuss what they would like the council to provide for them and what their own responsibilities should be. Yesterday we were shown the results.
One of the young people concerned came along to the meeting and delivered a presentation to us, explaining what was important to the young folk she represented. She seemed quietly confident in herself, in her relationship with the council officer accompanying her and in her role as a representative of those less able to express themselves. As someone who's been in care for a few years she had some valuable messages for us.
The wishes of the young people were not in any way excessive. They wanted a commitment from the council that they'd have as normal a life as possible for someone who's not able to live with their natural family for whatever reason. The next step is a pledge to be drawn up to encompass those needs and for the council to commit to. Then there'll be a regular monitoring of how well we keep our promise and what we do if we fail on any point in it.
So two meetings, two different groups, but both on the same track of doing their best for the young people depending on us. Both looking for definite actions, not just words. The name of the group of young people doing all ths work - Let's Take Action - said it all.

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