At the forefront of creating positive change in the lives of care leavers, the Children’s Commissioner’s office (CCo) recently had the privilege of attending the highly anticipated National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum event, organised by Catch 22. This remarkable gathering brought together care leavers from across the UK, along with local authorities, charities, and organisations, all united by a shared mission to address critical issues faced by care leavers. We aimed to expand our knowledge and gain insights into the role of a corporate parent, exploring whether being a care leaver should be recognized as a protected characteristic. The event proved to be a monumental occasion for fostering collaboration, sharing best practices, and amplifying the voices of care leavers.
Fostering a dialogue for positive change: The National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum event had the theme of a “Fair Offer for All” and provided a platform for care leavers to express their experiences and concerns. As CCo engaged with participants during the networking session, we were able to delve deeper into what was working well in their local areas and learn from the experiences of local authorities. Some of the key points discussed included the different kinds of support care leavers should get, from free driving lessons or driving discounts and wi-fi discounts to a higher leaving care grant, a higher education bursary, an allowance for necessities like accommodation, food, transport and clothing and support post-25. The vibrant exchange of ideas, information, and strategies between various charities and organisations opened new avenues for collaboration and laid the foundation for future advancements in care leaving support.
A collaborative and inspiring atmosphere: The gathering at the forum exemplified the power of collaboration and mutual support among attendees. The event’s significance lay in its ability to unite care leavers, professionals, and advocates, fostering an environment of empathy and understanding. At CCo’s stall, we had meaningful conversations with attendees, distributed informative materials such as IMO flyers, posters, and pens, and seized the opportunity to learn about upcoming opportunities for care leavers. The feedback we got from event participants reinforced the importance of ongoing collaboration and highlighted the need to continue amplifying the voices of care leavers.
Sharing and celebrating success: We were asked to write down quotes to inspire care leavers and one of the team, a care leaver now working at CCo, won the best quote of the event: “If you think about the past, you will trip over your future.” It summarised our commitment at CCo to uplifting care leavers and providing them with the encouragement and support they need to forge their path towards a brighter future.
The National Leaving Care Benchmarking Forum event was a transformative experience, serving as a powerful reminder of the importance of collective action in addressing the challenges faced by care leavers. By creating a platform that prioritised the voices of care leavers, the event enabled professionals, local authorities and organisations to collaborate, share knowledge, and develop innovative strategies to improve the care leaving system. It reminded us how important it is to listen to care leavers, foster dialogue and champion their rights, so that they have the necessary support and resources to thrive in their transition to independent living. Together, we can create a society that embraces and empowers care leavers, allowing them to overcome past obstacles and shape a future filled with limitless possibilities.