Read the article in the East Anglian Daily Times

Yup… here it is. Very importantly, it even mentions the tortoise and his role in my writing efforts

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How much proof does a Government need?

 

This week we saw the publication of a report by Her Majestys Inspectorate of Probation about the failings of our care system. Welcome though it is, it does make you wonder just how much more proof is needed before things do begin to change for these very vulnerable children and young people.

Several years ago, under the Labour Government, we saw an overhaul of the system via the ‘Care Matters’ Green Paper.  It was recognised then that children in care were significantly under-achieving in so many ways. They faced disruption in education, only 12% achieved 5 A-C grades in GCSE compared to 59% of all children. 45% were assessed as having a mental health disorder compared with 10% of the general population. The list went on.

Since then, the system has at times faced scrutiny. The tragic death of ‘Baby P’ led to a surge in care applications and a heightened and very public awareness of the need for a robust child protection system.  Then, we have had the investigations into abuse in the Welsh children’s homes, the sexual exploitation of girls in Rochford (most of whom were from a care background) and the silence of the  Saville victims (again, many of whom were vulnerable and/or were in care) unable to speak out about abuse. Now, we have yet another report talking of the failings of our care system.

In spring 2013, we should see the findings of ‘The Care Inquiry,’ an investigation by 8 charities into how to, amongst other things, find stability of placement and permanence for children in care. By using evidence from young people and their carers, their findings will then feed into debate around the children and families bill.

Finding adoptive placements earlier and more quickly, if that is achieved in next years legislation, could make a considerable difference to many children in care. But my guess is that the problems will be the teenagers who, due to a lifetime of complication, may not be ‘adoption material.’ These young people need the most support to prevent them from slipping down the slope into homelessness and the criminal justice system. Often at odds with their social workers, from what I’d seen in my work in representing such young people, services such as the independent advocate role is often crucial in providing a voice and support in a world which could often be changeable and unpredictable. But with spending cuts, these types of services are at risk.

Whilst Inquiries and reports about the difficulties faced by children and young people in care are, of course, very important, the problems and failings of the system have been known about for a long time. It is imperative that children and young people in the system are able to access independent advice and support services so that if things do go wrong, they are not left to suffer in silence.

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Thoughts on fiction as a tool to create awareness of rights

Law, young people and fiction

The Question : Is there a role for fiction in raising awareness of law and rights amongst young people and if so, is there a market for it ?

The Answer:  I’ll let you know in about six months time.

By then I should know whether my first book, a teen thriller with legal and human rights themes has bombed or has managed to generate a modicum of interest and even better, a few sales.

I’m a children’s rights lawyer. Well, I am at heart anyway. Although I’m writing just now and not practicing law, my head remains full of what’s going on in and around the law and young people. After spending years representing teenagers in care, the law, the effects of reform, the proposed cuts in legal aid all remain deeply important.

A few years ago, as a hobby, I wrote a book about a teenager in care. The book is now being published with launch on 10th December 2012 which is Human Rights Day. After the initial euphoria around the fact that my messy manuscript was actually going to evolve into a real, proper, book, another thought began to creep into my head. That is, in a world of vampires, werewolves and ‘dark romance,’ what are the chances of teenagers actually wanting to read my book anyway?

Twenty years ago, Turkish soldiers attacked  Ormanici, a small Kurdish village in South-East Turkey. At the time, there were many attacks on Kurds, some of whom were imprisoned and murdered. Due to his close links with the Human Rights Centre at Essex University and other human rights organisations, my husband, Tony Fisher, a lawyer at Quality Solicitors FJG ended up representing the villagers. Their story fascinated me. The way the families were pulled from their beds at gunpoint in the early hours of the morning and separated, the way the men were blindfolded and made to lay in the snow in the village square until hours later, they were forced to walk for hours through the mountains to imprisonment. A little girl died in the attack and several men lost their feet to frostbite. Livestock were killed and the village huts burned.  Many years later the villagers, all of whom were at or represented at the hearing (making it the biggest case of its kind at the time) won compensation at the European Court of Human Rights.

It was their story which inspired me to write and now, several years on, my book, which starts at the destruction of Ormanici, is about to be released. Although, in reality, the Turkish story is only a very small part of the book, to me, it remains the important bit. Problems are still on-going in Turkey and from recent enquiries of NGO’s in the area, it’s felt unlikely that many, if any, of the villagers who lost their homes and livelihoods that day, were able to return.

So is there a place for teen legal fiction? I really do hope so. Well I would say that wouldn’t I having written three books and a few plays for and about teenagers with legal themes. But the whole writing thing has got me thinking. Having spent much time and energy as a lawyer, as so many of us do, in attempting to promote rights and responsibilities, I am now wondering whether there is a place to do this with fiction. I’m not talking heavy miserable books with themes so depressing no one in their right mind would want to read them. All I’m thinking is this type of writing may just be another tool in the box to help generate interest and awareness about law and rights.

Time will tell no doubt. I shall have to see if teenagers like my book and my character Alice, a 15 year old in care, who on being placed in a strange foster home meets Agir, a Kurdish boy smuggled into the UK. I’ve loved writing my book and honestly hope people will enjoy reading it. Lots of the ‘Alice bits’ have been generated from some of the tricky things clients in care have had to deal with over the years. Breakdown in sibling contact, frequent placement changes, all those working with children in care will recognise some of these issues. Whatever the reaction to my book, I feel very lucky to have had such a wholly engaging career in the law and if my books can generate just the tiniest interest amongst young people of the law and legal issues, I’d be totally delighted.

 

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Video – The first of several

Well, here’s me talking about my book. click here It seemed like a good idea at the time…..

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Thoughts on the care system

My thoughts of the care system following the House of Commons Education Select Committee report

The Care Pendulum

So, according to the House of Commons Education Select Committee, it seems the care pendulum should be swinging back towards more children being placed in care. It’s interesting and maybe a little ironic, that this has hit the news at the same time as the renewed investigations into abuse in children’s homes in North Wales.

As a concept, it’s easy. Neglectful/abusive parents equal intervention equal removal at a time when a child has or is likely to suffer significant harm. The above Committee now seems to be saying that too often vulnerable children are left with parents who are given too many opportunities to change.

The care population is on the rise. Children who are in care are known to struggle to meet their potential and the reasons for this are obvious. Disrupted and often dysfunctional family lives, separation from family and often siblings once in care, messy education due to school changes, changes in key social care workers, the list goes on.

Having been a lawyer for many years representing children in care, for many, living in the care system is not an easy option.  Whilst I am not advocating that any young person should ever be left in a family situation where he/she will suffer harm, there does need to be balance in terms of what he/she will get from a life in care.

And this is the bit that’s important as far as I’m concerned. If more children are to be removed, they should be placed in a care system that is properly funded which has the resources to actually improve their lives. This is particularly so for teenagers moving into the system who may have more multi-faceted problems.

Over the last few years many services for vulnerable young people (including my own legal freephone advice line for 13-19 year olds) have discontinued due to funding problems. Whilst I am glad that, at last, there is recognition that there is insufficient support of older children and those leaving care, it is difficult to see how in principle anything will change against a backdrop of vital services, such as advocacy services, being forced to shut due to a lack of funding resulting from the public spending cuts. Unless there is some decent funding, the Committee’s report and proposals, whether they are right or wrong, are a nonsense.

 

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The press release and fireworks

Sent out on 5th November, Click here to see press release for ‘Losing Agir.’ Lets hope it does for me what the song ‘Firework’ did for Katy Perry.

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See the build up to the press release…

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Now available on Amazon….

Yup, Losing Agir is now up there on Amazon to pre-order. Click here to access the page. It’s great to see the book actually there. Another step towards launch day on the 10th December.

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‘Losing Agir’ news

Well, last night I returned home to a box full of books. Seeing the proof last week was one thing but stacking up a pile of them, on the dining room table, was really something else. So now the scary bit, it’s time to send a few off for review. Fingers crossed….

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The cost of youth services.

The charity, Youth Access, has recently published a report about the suggested move by Local Authorities to provide advice and information to young people ‘in-house’ (that is, not via the voluntary sector as has been in the past).  Independent information and advice services are crucial, in my view, for young people. See the report at http://youthaccess.org.uk/news/councils-wasting-resources-keeping-advice-services-in-house/.

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