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!

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.

MJN launches it’s first Fearless Storytelling Competition

MJN launches it’s first Fearless Storytelling Competition

 

To celebrate National Storytelling week on 29th January, the Martin James Network launched its very first children’s ‘Fearless Voices’ creative writing competition. In a time when home-schooling is the new normal, we want to create a platform for children to be brave with their imaginations and creativity. Fearless Stories will amplify the voices of children, in a year when they have had little opportunity to be heard. 

What would you do if you weren’t afraid?

From Friday 29th January children between 5-15 years will have the opportunity to submit a fictional story of 500 words (or less!) about being courageous. The only limits are imagination and creativity!

There will be a bronze, silver and gold winner in each age category: 5 – 7 yrs, 8 – 11 yrs, 12 – 15 yrs.

Prizes:

Gold: One double page spread of your story illustrated by children’s book illustrator

Silver: £50 Waterstone book tokens

Bronze: Creative writing book, notepads, pens and colours (worth £25)

Entries must be made by a parent, guardian or teacher who can submit the story by emailing
Please include the child’s name and age when submitting.

Competition closes on 26th February. 

 

 

 

 

 

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.”

2020 Round Up with Jim and Ayyab Cockburn

2020 Round Up with Jim and Ayyab Cockburn

If you think back to January 2020 would you have predicted that we would be on lockdown for most of the year? No, neither did we!

This year has thrown curveballs but thanks to all of our amazing colleagues who adapted, listened and helped us to navigate through this time, we have been able to continue growing and innovating. We have drawn so much inspiration from them all, as well as the communities we have served and the partners we have worked with. It has been one of the toughest years ever, but also one which taught us so much about the power of the human spirit to endure and to overcome.

We very quickly adapted to new ways of working, finding creative ways to get our services and products to our communities digitally. We innovated – reflect for a second on Antser’s ground-breaking VR solution, bringing children back into the classroom virtually. Another example is our vision for a ‘TalkOut’ platform providing access to engagement, mental health and VR services from one portal, one which we have already started to realise.  These are just two of the many new models we are pioneering and building on.

We reprioritised and refocused, for instance diverting Martin James Foundation resources to more front-line projects; helping vulnerable families in Madagascar, supporting care-leavers in Birmingham with grants and resources, also renewing our partnership with Food-cycle to deliver food to families in greatest need locally. Let us not forget the amazing Epic Youth Project, which we are proud to say has reached over 120 young people, 15 of whom we are working with more intensively to realise their business goals. There has never been a more important time to give young people hope and opportunity, which we are just so pleased to be contributing to.

We also used the time to reflect on who we are as a collective network and what we want to continue doing and investing in. We have captured this very simply in our new strapline “Fearless Futures”. In these few words we are clear about our ongoing commitment to strengthening families and communities through ‘humanising’ social care, health and education structures, practice, and technologies. Everyone deserves the opportunity to live a fearless future and we exist to disrupt existing patterns of inequity and promote better social and health outcomes – it’s as simple as that!

Fearless Futures also applies internally and as part of this we have continued to develop our culture of ongoing learning and enterprise, most notably through our CoLab initiative. Many staff and Epic Youth members have participated in workshops ranging from photography to poetry and Mindfulness. Through such initiatives we are growing ever more comfortable about challenging ourselves and others on a daily basis to open up our minds, get curious and not be afraid to push ourselves.

In 2020 we also saw new businesses join the Network. UK Fire Training, a very valuable addition to our ‘fearless health’ portfolio, will be launching new training products in 2021, utilising the very best technologies.  Our ambition to do more to support causes close to our heart also led to us welcoming AboutFace – providers of anti-racism training into the Network. Events this year have clearly shown us that writing diversity charters and attending standard training are not enough, we need to get disruptive – something Cliff is on a mission to do!  Our new partnership with ‘Roots to Life’ Saturday School, due to be launched in January, also signifies our commitment to promoting inclusion and strengthening community – watch this space for more on this. We are also incredibly excited about the launch of CaseFlowHR solution in January 2021 – watch out Spreadsheet Britain, Greg and Jill are coming for you!

We must also recognise the areas that have grown from strength to strength, continuing to deliver the highest quality of service, despite the increase levels of demand; Key Assets Europe, Antser Assessment services and Intellect to name but a few.

Whilst we have achieved a lot it has not been an easy time for many people across the group, and we have both also certainly felt the pressure at times. Holy Moly has had to remain shut for a large part of the year which has had a significant impact on staff morale. The good news is we remain fully committed to re-opening when circumstances allow us to in 2021. We have also had to make tough business decisions around other areas of the network to ensure the realisation of future goals and priorities. Saying goodbye to people is never easy but we congratulate Agility and Tribera, two very successful businesses that are now forging their own way in the world.

There is so much to be proud of this year, the perseverance, the creativity, the collaboration, the learning, the resilience and the impact achieved. We really could go on. Empowering ‘Fearless Futures’ doesn’t mean that we haven’t felt the fear, this year has been full of it. But time and time again, we have demonstrated that we will never let fear own us, or hold us back. We truly appreciate all the hard work and support every single person has contributed to the Network over the last 12 months, and we look forward to building on our successes into 2021.

– Jim Cockburn and Ayyab Cockburn