A former foster child spoke to about 300 social workers at a conference in Brighton this morning (Wednesday 18 May).
Councillor Tom Bewick chairs the Children, Young People and Skills Committee on Brighton and Hove City Council.
He addressed the council’s entire social services team at the Amex stadium, in Falmer, where they are holding a conference on improving the life chances of children in care and those leaving care.
Giving the opening speech Councillor Bewick said: “It’s a real privilege to be here this morning. As lead member, I share with you the statutory role locally to look after the city’s children and keep them safe.
“But I’m also here as a former care leaver. I grew up in foster care in the Midlands in the 1980s.
“I consider myself extremely lucky to have left the care system and relatively succeeded in life, despite leaving school initially with few qualifications.
“Today, I have three children of my own, a fantastic partner and a successful business that takes me all over the world.
“Indeed, despite some of the dire statistics about care leavers, we should always remember that some of our most creative artists and entrepreneurs are former kids in care.
“We need to celebrate these successes. And of course we need to have a frank and honest debate as a society and a local community about where things can go wrong.
— Cllr Tom Bewick (@Lab_Westbourne) May 18, 2016
“When you look at the national statistics, of course, it is obvious that looked after children and care leavers face an uphill challenge.
“One in four of the prison population were in care. The majority of homeless people have been in care. And looked after children are four times more likely to suffer from mental health difficulties compared to the general population.
“The challenge is similar here in Brighton and Hove. The city council knows the challenges. As frontline practitioners you certainly know the challenges.
“The public knows the challenges but alas only comes into contact with your work when they read in the media, in a minority of high profile cases, that social work practice may have gone wrong.
“The public rarely reads about the times when you ensure things go fantastically right. That’s because, for good reasons, you have to operate behind a veil of client confidentiality. The only time that veil is removed is when things go wrong.
“But as a politician and a foster care leaver, I know the fantastic difference you make in children’s lives. I experienced it in my own life. I see it every day in my lead member role.
“Last year when we came to office, the administration put in place a new deal for our looked after children and those at risk.
“We’ve set the ambitious goal of becoming an excellent local authority when we are next inspected by Ofsted.
— Cllr Tom Bewick (@Lab_Westbourne) May 9, 2016
“In the last 12 months we’ve reduced the number of children on child protection plans. Despite national pressures, we’ve also been able to reduce the number of children coming into care.
“That’s because we are intervening earlier to support families. We’ve reorganised our social work teams so that they are more effective at managing case workloads.
“So take it from me, I will continue to be a really strong champion for your work. I want to be lead member of the best children’s services department in the country because, if we reach for the stars in that way, I know that it will result in better life chances and outcomes for children and young people in our city.
“In the next year, I am determined to introduce a Care Leavers Trust Fund, so we can once and for all support our children in care like they were truly our own children.
“We need to build on that support programme by employing more of our care leavers as high-quality apprentices working in rewarding careers across the council.
“I came into public service to break the link between demography and destiny. No child’s future should be defined by their poor circumstances or the postcode in which they were born.
“Working together we can make a difference to every child in our great city.”