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!

The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

The future of workplace culture by Chief People Director Mark Shrimpton

A fearless future is a world where people are treated equally. Where everyone’s view is as important as each other. Regardless of their age, gender, race and ethnicity, faith, class or sexuality or any other personal characteristic.

Part of this fearless future is recognising that nobody is ever just one thing.

Every person is a collection of characteristics and no single issue should be prioritised over another. As an example, most organisations have a gender diversity programme looking to improve the number of women in leadership. However, the outcome of the initiative is often positive only for women who tend to be “white, middle class, heterosexual and able-bodied”.

By only focusing on one element, we’re telling some people they need to wait their turn and, as a result, such policies can be divisive. Both for those that they are looking to support and to those who are excluded. Instead, we need to focus on creating an inclusive culture where people can show up as their whole selves every day.

For true change to happen, there needs to be a level of discomfort around this and a challenge to ourselves to expand our horizons. It needs to be uncomfortable for us to be able to move through it as these periods of discomfort can be the most rewarding learning experiences.

We are going to make mistakes when talking to others and when acknowledging our own privileges and mistakes in the past. That’s why we need to have courageous conversations that listen to other people’s experiences, backgrounds and cultures, and work towards a commitment to do better. We can truly start to understand who people really are and how to achieve the best from when we talk to them, rather than forming stereotypical assumptions.

Our own diversity charter draws on this by asking all of our colleagues to be culturally competent. To take the time to learn about different cultures, races, religions and backgrounds represented in (and outside) of our Network. We have many resources to facilitate this, including our office library, our company wellbeing app TalkOut and encouraging brave, open and honest conversations. If employees make a mistake when talking to their colleagues, we ask them to apologise and ask for help.

We also ask our colleagues to treat people in the way they wish to be treated rather than the way you would wish to be treated. Most importantly, we should be respectful always to others.

So today, I invite you to challenge yourself to move out of your own comfort zone. Have a courageous conversation or learn something new about a different culture. That way you’ll be making progress towards a fearless future.