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Tue, 09 Jul 24 10:00

Making some wishes for Christmas…

As I write this it’s finally beginning to feel a bit like Christmas. My original idea for this blog was to compose something witty along the lines of the ‘Twelve days of Christmas’. I had a great line for the ‘five gold rings’ bit (‘five secretaries of state…’ – there, I didn’t want it to go to waste) but I couldn’t decide who or what was my partridge in a pear tree. Also, I wasn’t really feeling sufficiently jolly either, given the difficult year that we have had in many ways. Instead, my thoughts turned to what would be my Christmas wishes – and I am allowed two, as Christmas is also my birthday.

Firstly, my thoughts went back to a recent tweet that I had seen from Hampshire Libraries. This showed a picture of some of the 4,000 (yes four thousand) child refugees from the Basque country who had been brought to the UK in 1937, fleeing from the carnage of the Spanish Civil War. The four thousand children were accommodated in a hastily erected camp near Winchester. I doubt that the authorities at the time had to register the camp as a house of multiple occupation, seek planning permissions or have an inspection from the 1930s equivalent of Ofsted. It strikes me that we have much to be proud of in the way that children’s services departments across the country have helped to facilitate the hosting of refugees from Ukraine, not least because we recognised this as a national crisis and allowed flexibility and pace of response to be our watchwords rather than being rule bound. But what is it about the crisis of asylum seeking children arriving on the south coast now, fleeing wars and oppression that are very similar to those experienced in the Basque country or Ukraine, that means that we are not able to apply the same flexibilities and pace in our response? So, my first wish is that we treat the crisis on our coast as a crisis and create the conditions that allow us to offer children a safe place this Christmas and beyond.

And my second wish? Well, it’s quite simple really. It’s that we find a way to reset the public perception and professional standing of our brilliant social care staff. From our residential care workers who will be working flat out over Christmas to make sure that our children in care are able to experience a loving, safe environment; to our foster carers; our family support workers who have been working around the clock to support families; to our social workers, managers and yes, Directors of Children’s Services, who are carrying out some of the most unenviable tasks in public service, all the time risking public opprobrium but getting on with the job because they know just how vital their job is in ensuring that children are safe and cared for. To all of these colleagues I take my hat off to you at Christmas and indeed every day; and my wish is that in the next year we can help change the public discourse about this great profession of ours.

Merry Christmas.

P.S. If you’re interested, you can read more about the Basque refugee children here.

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