Care Day 2022

February 18, 2022

On Care Day 2022, family law practitioners Jacqueline Deans and Celestine Greenwood provide their thoughts on the importance of acknowledging and celebrating the rights of children with care experience.

What is Care Day?

Jacqueline Deans

Today is Care Day.

Since 2016, Care Day has been celebrated in the UK and Ireland. It started as a joint initiative across 5 charities:

  • Voice of Young People in Care (Northern Ireland)
  • Become (England)
  • Empowering People in Care (Ireland)
  • Voices from Care (Wales)
  • Who Cares? Scotland (Scotland)

Care Day takes place on the 3rd Friday of each February; its purpose is to celebrate, worldwide, the rights of children and young people who have been in foster care, lived in children’s homes or have been cared for by family members or friends.

Those of us who have worked with or on behalf of children ‘in care’ should acknowledge the adversities that some, if not all of them, have faced and how they have overcome these adversities and wish each of them a future of success, achievement and equality.

“It takes a village to raise a child”: Reflections of a child protection lawyer

Celestine Greenwood

As a legal practitioner and human rights activist who often describes her day-to-day role to non-lawyers as ‘child protection lawyer’ I am delighted to celebrate Care Day and honour the successes and achievements of children and young people with experience of care.

This Day recognises the achievements of some children in whose lives I and my colleagues have perhaps played a small, indirect role when their lives were the subject of care proceedings.

I am thrilled to know that some of the children I have represented have found love in a nurturing and stable home from which they have been able to reach their potential. Equally, it is distressing to be involved in cases in which I fear, if not know, that no such happy outcome will develop. So, for all those invaluable and uplifting ‘success stories’ of children and young people that are being honoured today I would like to draw attention to all those children and young people who we have, or are, failing.

When I say ‘we’ I am not just referring to those of us, lawyers, social work professionals and others, who are professionally involved in care proceedings in which decisions about a child’s placement in the care system is determined and approved. I am referring to all of us.

As the theme of this year’s Care Day reminds us: ‘it takes a village to raise a child.’

Those of us who were lucky enough to enjoy a childhood with sufficient love, nurture, stability and encouragement that we have been able to develop and enjoy healthy relationships, to explore our interests, grow in directions we find interesting, and achieve our goals and ambitions will, if we stop to think for just one moment, remember that our childhood was not just inhabited and guided by a loving, capable parent(s) but a range of others – grandparents, wider family members, teachers, adults involved in extra-curricular groups and just members of our local community – who took an interest in us, who believed in us, and who willed us on to be the best version of ourselves; that was certainly my experience and I am so grateful for it.

Indeed, the report of the Children’s Commissioner, ‘Children’s Social Care: putting children’s voices at the heart of reform’ published in January this year[1] and based upon a survey of almost 600,000 children conducted last year, states: ‘The most consistent message from our work with children in care is that they want the same things as all other children: to be loved, to have friends, to make plans for the future and to be able to pursue their own interests. The system fails when it fails to provide these basics.’

Referencing the fact that we are all part of a ‘village’ the report also notes, ‘Children do not experience the social care system in isolation.’ This is where we are all come into the picture and where we all can, if we choose, make a difference to the life of a child, whether they are child in need or not.

That report is written and serves as the submission of the Children’s Commissioner to the ongoing Independent Review of Children’s Social Care chaired by Josh McAlister [2] which is now engaged in the phase of writing recommendations. The Review, which commenced work in January 2021, published a report setting out its early findings and thinking in June last year: The Case for Change[3]

In his foreword to that report the Chair of the Review, Josh McAlister, wrote the following that has resonated deeply with me and of which I was reminded when I saw that the theme for this year’s Care Day is ‘it takes a village,’

‘But we know that children’s social care isn’t just a system. It’s a collective endeavour involving all of us and we have stepped back from playing our full part in the way that we need to.  Some of this is because the system pushes away help from neighbours, extended family and the wider community…. But, if we are being honest with ourselves, it is also because we have backed away from our mutual obligations to one another to raise future generations as a community. This needs to change.’

It seems to me that we can interpret this observation as a rebuke or as an exhortation, a call to action. In deciding to accept it as a call to action we can note that the executive summary of that report highlights four key recommendations and points:

  • ‘We need to do more to help families’
  • ‘We need a child protection system that keeps children safe through more effective support and decisive action’
  • ‘The care system must build not break relationships’
  • ‘Change will not happen without addressing the system causes’

As lawyers involved in the child protection system, we occupy a privileged position in the ‘village.’ We have the privileged opportunity to play a significant and effective part in contributing to making these recommendations a reality for the families with whom we engage – one case at a time, one family at a time. This is how change can happen.