The Martin James Foundation; fearless champions for reforming alternative care

The Martin James Foundation; fearless champions for reforming alternative care

By Justin Rogers, CEO of Martin James Foundation

I have been reflecting on some of the experiences I have had, witnessing the lived realities of children who are growing up in institutions.

Many of you know about the research I have been undertaking in childcare institutions in South East Asia. Some of the homes I have visited have 500 children residing, where they often grow up in isolation from both their families and communities.

It is estimated that 80% of the children in these orphanages have family members. Their placement may be driven by poverty and the parents’ desire for their children to be educated, giving them better life chances. The staff often seem kind enough to the children and they are doing their best, but they are caring for large numbers of children, and often the staff to children ratios are too low.

One state orphanage I visited had two members of staff on twelve-hour shifts, caring for thirty infants under the age of 12 months. Some of the babies were clamouring for attention whilst others looked distant, resigned to the reality that attention will not be forthcoming.

Whenever I am confronted with these types of experiences, I always end up questioning: is this good enough for these children? I then employ the test I used to assess and support foster carers in the UK: would I leave a member of my family here? And would I feel safe in the knowledge that they were being cared for?

Unfortunately, most of the large-scale residential homes I have witnessed would not pass that test. The experience of witnessing these harsh realities has provided the motivation for me to commit fearlessly to promoting the reform of alternative care for children. Because these children that through no fault of their own, find themselves in these situations, need fearless champions.

I find myself ‘feeling the fear’ when I am chairing meetings with Government ministers or presenting talks to networks of NGOs. But as the saying goes, I feel that fear and do it anyway because children in those institutions don’t have the power or opportunities to make change.

Being part of the Martin James Network has afforded me the opportunity to work with colleagues that are doing this for some of the world’s most vulnerable children on a daily basis. Recently, the MJF team were on a call with UNICEF and the Government, developing a foster care handbook in Madagascar. On the same day, our colleagues from Key Assets Canada were training practitioners in Colombia on the value of family-based care.

If you reflect on what goes on in our teams and across our network, it’s clear that we are a group of people committed to making a positive social impact. We are fearless!

EPIC Youth: Our first official launch – Eleanor Covell, Head of EPIC Youth

EPIC Youth: Our first official launch – Eleanor Covell, Head of EPIC Youth

When Ayyab Cockburn founded EPIC Youth, she wanted to give young people from disadvantaged backgrounds the chance to become young entrepreneurs and build amazing, self-sustaining, and vibrant businesses.

Often when we hear about start-ups and businesses, the term self-made is used. But when you look closer, mentors, investors, and education all help build a self-made person. Many young people have the passion, the vision, and the drive to build empires yet lack access to capital, mentors, and skills. EPIC Youth is here to change that.

Ayyab started the EPIC Youth Programme in January 2020, and just 14 months after it was created, EPIC is having its first business launch!

B-London Collections, a start-up Beauty Business run by a young 23-year-old woman of colour from London, became EPIC’s first young person to launch successfully. Currently, she is selling high-end false lashes with the hope to branch out in the near future to hair and eventually run her own complete beauty brand.

 

“I am so proud of our first EPIC Business launch, congratulations to B-London Collections! When I founded EPIC, my vision was to support young people create real businesses, may this be the first of many.” Ayyab Cockburn – Founder

B-London Collections’ creator had the vision for her success. EPIC supported her with grants for start-up capital and access to the Martin James Network‘s vast array of business, marketing, and finance experts. We also provided her with pastoral support, ensuring that her holistic development was completely supported throughout what can be a difficult process.

“Seeing B-London Collections progress from an idea to a real-life business has been amazing, she has shown the drive and resilience an entrepreneur needs.” Lindsey Hyde – Programme Manager

Luke Mulekezi, Special Projects Manager at the Martin James Network and Lead Business Mentor for EPIC Youth, supported B-London Collections from the initial idea to when the first set of eyelashes were sold. We asked him what it takes to build a new business.

“You need to be flexible, creative, and willing to roll with the punches. At EPIC, we support young people to do everything from registering their business with Companies House to mentoring them through difficulties and challenges like any entrepreneur would face. Our programme doesn’t just teach young people business skills, it teaches them how to cope with challenges, how to think creatively when faced with barriers, and be confident decision-makers. B-London Collections was born through a global pandemic, making it a resilient company with a bright future. I can’t wait to see what she does next!” Luke Mulekezi

Since EPIC launched, we’ve supported two social enterprise start-ups, helping them grow their reach and are working with a third small business. We’ve also given £7000 in grants to care leavers helping support them during the pandemic, and EPIC is supporting nine more young people to become entrepreneurs. In 2021, EPIC plans to support 20 more young people in starting their businesses and continuing to build our programme.

This is an EPIC Journey, come and join us.

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Profiling Martin James Foundation’s Jim Cockburn on World Social Work Day

Ubuntu: I am Because We are – Strengthening Social Solidarity and Global Connectedness

On World Social Work Day 2021, we recognise the work of our Chairperson Jim Cockburn, who has fearlessly championed the rights of children across the world.

Jim Cockburn has made a significant contribution to the fostering landscape that the world knows today, and in doing so helped to provide foster care for 45,000 children around the world.

Before he disrupted the rules, foster carers were often supporting children and young people with complex needs and receiving little in the way of support and training. Jim created an agency that aimed to take young people with complex needs out of institutional care and place them in families. Jim’s aim was to ensure his carers were properly supported, trained and paid a reasonable allowance for their commitment and care. Another key aim of Jim’s approach to fostering was to ensure the placements created feelings of belonging and inclusion for the children, many of whom had experienced abuse and neglect and whose life chances would have otherwise been limited.

Jim is proud to be a registered social worker, he first practised in children and families teams in Bristol, Sheffield and London, before moving to Dudley. He moved to Sandwell as a social services middle manager during the mid-1980s and worked in Smethwick, Oldbury and Cape Hill. These were areas of multiple deprivation, and Jim was involved in numerous care proceedings where children were removed from their family homes.

“The challenges many families faced meant we could have made a case to take any number of kids away, I felt burned out.” He didn’t fit into the local authority ethos, disruptors never do, so he moved to a night duty team before getting onto a course at UAE, in East Anglia, so that he could improve his knowledge and skills. He was told by a lecturer that he would never succeed with local authorities. “I was told my career would always be a disaster, that I’d always be in trouble.” He was too outspoken, too independent.

He got a job in Bromsgrove where he tried to change the direction of his career by applying to work in fostering. Ironically, for a man who went on to oversee 45,000 foster placements, he was turned down and told by raising fostering standards and support he’d make the process too elitist.

This provided Jim with the motivation to develop his own services that had quality care for children at their core. “There was a girl there, who started it all off. She was six, been multiply abused, and was severely traumatised. The local authority took her into care and she ended up in this institution with teenagers, which was just wrong she was so vulnerable. So I spoke to a foster carer who I knew and asked her to look after her, rather than allow this to happen.”

The carer agreed on the proviso that she had long term support, therapy for the young girl, respite care and a financial allowance to cover her costs. For the local authority, they realised that properly supported foster care placements were not only better for the children, keeping them in a family setting instead of an institution, they were often more cost effective than expensive residential units. By accident, Jim came across adverts for independent foster caring. At that time there were limited regulations and rules. He learned fast and decided to give it a go himself, setting up an agency. “There was no registration or inspection, which we later lobbied for. It was deregulated. There were 15 groups at the time, all in Kent with one in Sussex.

In 2006, the organisation had grown to become a world leader. “Our reputation grew as an organisation that was able to provide really high-quality care and we were able to grow our services and reach more children and families. We went to New Zealand, Finland, Australia, Norway, Ireland, Japan. As well as finding families for displaced children, we also took children out of inappropriate settings such as hotels and motels and got them resettled in homes with families. These children blossomed. To this day when I hear about the individual stories of the children’s progress where carers and colleagues have made such an impact, I am so proud of what we are all achieving.”

“Ultimately what we have done for the past thirty years is that we have recruited and supported foster carers, and we have done this well. Simply, we placed hard-to-place kids with families and provided therapy and educational support. We learned it was no good building schools, you need to get these kids back into mainstream schools. I believe really strongly, that kids are better with families, and communities not in institutions where they are often cut off from society and schooled on site.”

This journey has led Jim and his wife Ayyab Cockburn to establish the Martin James Foundation, which continues to improve standards for childcare around the world. It includes services that deliver the highest quality care and support services in; Key Assets Canada, Key Assets Australia, Key Assets Japan, Key Assets New Zealand, FosterTalk UK, and EPIC Youth. “We want to improve standards globally. People think you’re nuts when you say that. We’re about deinstitutionalisation, getting young people out of institutions. We’re practice based. We’ve got 300 social workers who know what fostering mean. The Martin James Foundation plays a key role in connecting them and allows them to share best practice amongst themselves, and also with organisations and governments who are looking to reform their care systems.”

The Martin James Foundation is currently looking after close to 1000 children and young people in foster care placements, and FosterTalk (an organisation which solely supports foster carers) supports 30,000 foster carers a year. MJF takes the knowledge, skills and experience from this direct delivery of services, to empower and influence others who share the vision that children belong in families. “We are also pleased to be working in collaboration with our partners to make a difference in countries far and wide including Jordan, Indonesia, India, Thailand and Madagascar to name but a few.”

“It is our mission to continue to change child-care, one child at a time in order to ensure that all children are brought up in families. We believe all institutional care is by definition harmful to children and life chances.”

On World Social Work Day, the Martin James Network recognises all social workers across the world who join us in strengthening social solidarity. Jim Cockburn and the Martin James Foundation will continue to empower global partners to strengthen family-based care systems, in order that every young person grows up in loving family.

Key Assets’ role in LGBTQ+ history – Steve Jacques

Key Assets’ role in LGBTQ+ history – Steve Jacques

Happy #LGBTHistoryMonth! This February, the Martin James Network is excited to celebrate the lives, legacies and histories of LGBT people in the UK and abroad. Throughout the month we will be posting information pieces, stories from colleagues across the network, useful links and much more. First up is Key Assets. Steve Jacques, Group Chief Executive Officer at Key Assets, part of the Martin James Foundation, gives us an insight into how they are contributing to the history of LGBT+.

It’s so good to shine a light on this and also to highlight our own role in making history. For example, did you know that Key Assets companies in Australia and Ireland, with board endorsement, were either the only one or one of very few children’s services organisations, to publicly support a ‘yes’ vote in the respective referendum/plebiscite on marriage equality? We have also been instrumental in campaigning for supporting the right for LGBT+ people to foster and adopt in Ireland, the UK, Finland and Japan. In Japan and Finland we partnered with the work of Rainbow Foster Care JPN and Rainbow Families FIN to promote the contribution that LGBT+ families can bring to foster care provision in these countries. In 2017 the Osaka Prefecture approved the first gay couple, as foster carers, in Japan!

We were the first independent children’s services company to be included in the Stonewall Workplace Equality Index and the Australian Workplace Equality Index for our commitment to LGBT+ inclusion. In fact Key Assets Australia have not only made it on the AWEI, every year since 2015, but were also recipients of the prestigious LGBT ‘Employer of the Year’ Award on three occasions. In Ireland we are the only independent fostering agency to ever be nominated for a GALAS LGBT+ Outstanding Company Award since the award’s inception in 2009. Senior managers across our network have also been recognised by being shortlisted at LGBT and Diversity Award events around the world.

We were one of the first to introduce equal benefits to LGBT+ employees, before the introduction of equality legislation. We also put in place, long before others, a framework for how we would support our Trans colleagues through their transition journey.
Our first Group CEO, Estella Abraham, was identified by Stonewall UK as an LGBT Role Model in 2016 and Steve Jacques, the current Group CEO of our network of companies across Europe has been recognised 3 years running within the Top 100 LGBT+ Executives Role Models lists published by Google, Deloitte, Financial Times & Yahoo Finance.

Did you know that 23% of the senior leaders within Key Assets branded companies identify as Lesbian or gay? Each one of them, along with LGBT+ allies, have actively engaged in campaigning for the civil rights of LGBT+ people. Our people have protested, lobbied, campaigned over issues of legalisation, age of consent, education, equal treatment, marriage equality, conversion therapy, the right to foster and adopt, equality legislation, Trans rights and workplace equality, to name a few.
During LGBT History month we reflect on the progress made, in many places, but we recognise there is still so much to do to ensure a brighter future for our LGBT+ colleagues, friends, family members, foster carers, clients and most of all our children and young people! Companies across the Network have been and will continue to be instrumental in achieving this and continuing to make history!

This is the first of many pieces to come from the Martin James Network as we celebrate and remember LGBT History month. Follow our social media pages to find out more.

EPIC Youth and Beatfreeks form exciting new partnership

EPIC Youth and Beatfreeks form exciting new partnership

An exciting new partnership has formed between two Birmingham organisations that offer young people opportunities to change their own futures.

EPIC Youth, part of the Martin James Foundation, recently donated a sum of money to Beatfreeks project Fuel. The partnership has a natural synergy with both organisations currently supporting young people through grants, mentoring and support.

Beatfreeks, an engagement and insight agency, connects young people to brands, funding and government. Fuel is a pot of money for those aged 18-30 in the Beatfreeks Community to use to react to important social issues. Eligible young people can apply for up to £500 by sending a WhatsApp voice note answering a number of questions. A panel of young people who are paid to sit on the panel for one year, decide whether or not the applicants are successful. Decisions are made within 48 hours and the money will land in their account to kickstart their idea within 2 weeks.

Amy Clamp, General Manager at Beatfreeks says:

“We are super excited to be working with EPIC Youth to give Fuel funding a further life after 2 years of great success and obvious need. Firstly, because our organisations have such similar aims and values. But also because we feel that by working together, we can grow the impact of our work for young people by offering more opportunities to access micro campaign funding.”

Fuel aims to break down the barriers young people often face when applying for funding for social action work. Both organisations are excited about the prospect of young people who are funded by Fuel, turning their ideas into companies with EPIC Youth.

EPIC Youth provides those aged 14-25 with a business idea, with grants, mentoring and business coaching. The funding to Fuel will allow young people to trial ideas with lower stakes, and the partnership provides a natural pathway for development.

Lindsey Hyde UK Programme Manager for EPIC Youth says:

“EPIC Youth is delighted to be partnering with Beatfreeks. We have such similar visions and we look forward to developing our relationship. Together we’ll be able to help one another reach more young people, whether it’s through Fuel funding or through business development with EPIC Youth. We’re two very passionate organizations and we are excited to see what the future holds for us.”

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

Supporting Foster Carers in times of Covid-19

FosterTalk was established in 2004 to give foster parents access to a greater degree of independent support. 

The foster care journey is challenging and unique for every child, young person and carer. FosterTalk supports families on this journey with services that are welcoming, trusted, reliable, knowledgeable and innovative.

2020 has been especially difficult for foster families. Due to the restrictions placed upon them, foster carers have expressed concerns about what support is still available to them, what their legal rights are, how to keep themselves and the children safe, and much more. 

But throughout lockdown, FosterTalk has been there to support its members in a variety of ways. We hear from three foster families that have benefited from our expertise this year:

We listened to our carers’ health and financial worries

One particular foster carer contacted FosterTalk as they had concerns regarding their health and financial circumstances. They also had worries around whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, and if birth family contact for children was permitted. 

The foster carer felt there wasn’t much clarity from their fostering service regarding contact arrangements. Our FosterTalk advisor researched this with the foster carer over the phone. They found that there was a policy on the fostering service website, stating that carers must promote safe birth family contact through virtual means only. The foster carer was able to share this clear guidance to the young person in their care, easing their confusion and worry. 

In regards to whether foster carers were defined as ‘key workers’, our advisor referred the carer to the guidance published on the FosterTalk website, which clearly states that foster carers are not defined as key workers. Using the FosterTalk website, the foster carer was also signposted to finance and medical helplines for advice on their respective circumstances. 

At the start of the conversation, the carer was understandably confused and anxious about covid-19 and how it would affect their fostering responsibilities. They were ‘really worried about what’s going on’ but the call appeared to help the carer express their concerns. Before the end of the call, the carer was also signposted to the 24/7 counselling helpline for all members. With assurances, clarity on key issues, and relevant signposting from FosterTalk, the carer was supported as best as possible and fully utilised their membership benefits. 

 We encouraged open and honest discussions around difficult situations

A foster carer recently contacted FosterTalk to discuss their concerns regarding a funeral that a young person in foster care had been invited to. This was an extended family member of the young person, though still of great significance to them and they understandably wanted to attend the funeral. The carer wanted to honour the young person’s wishes, but was concerned around the rules of self-isolating and staying safe in the current climate. 

FosterTalk referred the carer to the guidelines on funeral arrangements via the Age UK website, which provide clarity on what steps the young person would need to take if they were to attend the funeral. Furthermore, FosterTalk informed the carer that it may be best practice for a risk assessment to be completed by the local authority social worker, in conjunction with the fostering service and the young person. 

Promoting an open and honest discussion with the young person was FosterTalk’s message, and this appeared to help the foster carer feel more at ease. They expressed to the carer that FosterTalk could not provide a ‘yes or no’ to whether a young person in foster care could attend a funeral, as this lies with the person with parental responsibility. 

However, by providing clear guidance on funeral arrangements, reiterating the importance of a risk assessment, along with referring the carer to the medical helpline, the carer received clarity on a complex matter and their mind was put at ease.

 

 

We clarified complex protocol, finding solutions using technology

Another complex matter for foster carers during the pandemic has been the protocol around statutory visits from children’s social workers, and visits from supervising social workers. 

FosterTalk have spoken to a number of foster carers regarding this matter and have advised them to clarify the policy of their fostering services and local authorities. They have also suggested that foster carers could work with professionals to ensure visits are completed through alternative video means. 

FosterTalk reiterated to the carers that it is more important than ever that all professionals supporting children in care work in partnership to ensure visits are completed, but not at the detriment of the children’s or foster carers’ health. This support and guidance appears to have been received positively by our members.

FosterTalk have, and will, continue to provide consistent advice to all foster carers who need us over the coming months. For more information on FosterTalk please visit their website: https://www.fostertalk.org/