Listening to children is powerful. It is their right, it is the right thing to do, and it makes things better.
At Become we've worked with children in care and care leavers for 25 years, and we have fought constantly for each child growing up in care to be heard. That's how we know that policy making is often inaccessible to children and young people, and it's why we run projects like Passport to Parliament and campaigns like Hopes and Dreams - to help children who often feel disenfranchised or alienated from decision-makers to have a say about what they want to change.
Earlier this month, the Members of Parliament on the Committee scrutinising the Children and Social Work Bill voted to include the amended exemption clauses into the Children and Social Work Bill. At Become, we do not believe that these clauses are necessarily what children and young people want.
While the new clauses require local authorities applying for an exemption to undertake consultation before they make their application to the Secretary of State, local authorities must only consider consulting any children or young people who might be affected by the regulations.
This means that consultation with children and young people will not be a statutory requirement. It risks their views not being heard at all - local authorities could think about, but ultimately decide not to, consult with children. Or if they are consulted, it will be about something that they should have been consulted on much earlier. This lack of consultation must surely be an oversight, given that the Government has had two long-serving children's ministers who are passionate about listening to children in care.
When Become proposes policy changes or ideas, we use our knowledge of what children and young people have told us to develop our own thoughts and ideas. For example, children and young people have been telling us for years that it doesn't make sense for care experienced young people not to have access to a Personal Advisor after they turn 21 if they are not in employment, education, or training. We called on the Government for years to rectify this, and we were delighted to support the introduction of a clause in the Children and Social Work Bill last year that will mean that all care leavers will be able to access the support of a Personal Adviser until they are 25.
However, the speed at which this Bill has passed through both the House of Lords and the House of Commons means that there is little time for organisations that work with children and young people to consult with them and gather their views. The exemption clauses are complicated for experienced policy experts to understand - translating them in an accessible way to children and young people is not an easy job.
With no obvious consultation by the Department for Education with children in care and care leavers, this means that the most important voices are being lost from this debate.
Children live in a different world to adults, and it is a different one to the world that we experienced as children.
What we as adults see as problems may not be seen as problems by children, and children may see systemic problems that we as adults don't recognise.
Children and young people offer insight into their own individual worlds, and the wider world of childhood and care through their own words and experiences. Without with children and young people consultation about this issue we are projecting our own views as adults onto issues that will directly - and often only - affect children and young people.
Young people tell us that when it comes to the support that children in care and care leavers get from their corporate parents, it should be fair and equitable. The 2013 Entitlements Inquiry by the APPG for Looked After Children and Care Leavers found that young people in London didn't think it was fair that there was a discrepancy across London boroughs in the amount that they gave to care leavers as leaving care grants. Young people also often highlight the fact that the ways that they can access long term housing will differ between local authorities. When children in care and care leavers attend sessions at Become, they come from different local authorities. They share stories, give each other advice, and compare situations - but it makes it difficult when faced with the already varied and unequal support that is offered across different local authorities.
We want to see all children in care and care leavers receive the very best care from their corporate parent.
We know that children in care and care leavers want to receive the very best care from their corporate parent.
We certainly don't want to stand in the way of innovation or improvements to a system that should provide children in care with the childhood that they deserve. But until children in care and care leavers' voices are heard in this debate, none of us can say that we are putting children at the centre of decision making, or making law that is definitely in their best interests.
We believe that the Government should pause the passing of the Children and Social Work Bill to allow for sufficient consultation with children and young people.