Imagining the corporate parents we want to be and the realities of life for "our children." The Guardian first published this story as part of the launch of the Change the Ending Collection.
Lessons in Corporate Parenting
I learnt almost everything I know about being a corporate parent from an extraordinary young woman I met courtesy of Radio 4. She came into my kitchen one Saturday morning, talking straightforwardly about her and her sister’s experience of local authority residential care. Her desire to reach out and support other young people whose birth parents were not able to nurture them was palpable.
New to social media, I tweeted about the interview’s impact on me. Right back at me came a tweet from Radio 4 connecting me to the young woman. It turned out that she is a recent care leaver and one of ‘our children’. We met in my office just as she was going to uni. We talked a lot about what care leavers really need. Actually, mostly I listened. Sure, we have always had a committed team of ‘leaving care’ professionals who have navigated fluctuating funding streams and shifting policy approaches. But now we have brought our care leaver children closer to their wider corporate family.
When one young man wanted to be a firefighter, we called the chief fire officer. When someone needed funding to attend an international care leavers’ conference, we found it. When a young woman’s roof leaked persistently, we didn’t get off the phone until it was fixed. We made sure more care leavers got apprenticeships. When we realised just how little the basic apprenticeship left a care leaver to live on, we introduced a ‘living wage’ apprenticeship.
Uni hoodies, Christmas presents, quick coffees in city centre cafes are all part of our ‘corporate parenting’ and, yes, on occasion, helping young women, sometimes now with children of their own, to find refuge from abusive partners. We are not perfect parents, but we do want the best for our care leaver children.
And what about our Radio 4 young woman? She is now an ambassador for student care leavers and about to have her foundation degree graduation. She cares for various members of her family, older and younger, and is a weekly visitor to her foster mum who doesn’t get out much any more. I am indebted to her.
Kersten England is the Chief Executive of Bradford Council