As a former soldier I hear about the military covenant all the time, amongst my friends and colleagues. Its powerful, it tells those who served their country, we care about you. For those who do not know what it is, I will enlighten you.
"The Armed Forces covenant sets out the relationship between the Nation, the Government and the Armed Forces. It recognises that the whole Nation, has a moral obligation to members of the Armed Forces and their families, and it establishes how they should expect to be treated"
A covenant or a promise, is a measure of how we can assess ourselves as a country, how we protect and look after those who are either infirm, disabled, or those whom we owe a debt of gratitude. The Military Covenant is often broken, but the people of this country stand behind it and thats the important part. No such covenant exits for children in the Care of the State, sure, some councils have 'promises to looked after children' you can google them, they are pretty corporate and dull, written by a civil servant straight out of Uni. They do not reach out to the children and inspire them, make them feel safe, wanted and loved or cared for. Not like the Military Covenant does.
Vulnerable children and young adults, those who are entrusted into the Care of the State are hugely exposed to outside attack, in care and especially when they leave, with limited safety nets built into the system. Since the welfare state became a recognised social institution in this country we have repeatably failed those children, we have repeatedly allowed those who are most vulnerable to be preyed upon by predatory paedophiles and perverts. The Saville enquiry, Yewtree, were the start of what is now a crescendo of investigations culminating in the Independent Enquiry into Child Sexual Abuse. Which has the most wide and independent reach of any investigation of its kind. Institutional and ubiquitous, prolific abuse. How can we purport to be one of the most advance societies on the planet when we cannot even protect our most vulnerable children and young people.
I spent time in care in the late 80's and early 90's, I was abused sexually and physically as a young boy by people who lived close to my children's home. The abuse came in various guises and not always where you would expect it to come from. The care workers never touched me, but herein lies the issue. Care workers were and sometimes still are by their very trade poorly paid, overworked and under trained. This means they lack the inquisitive and deeply emotional intelligence traits of 'predator hunting', suffice is to say they are blind to the devious and complex attacks of perverts on children, often amongst themselves. They are incapable of seeing the signs! Even today care workers start on £7 an hour, looking after our most vulnerable. Most of the cash (and it is expensive keeping kids in care) goes on private children homes, landlords owning houses and renting them out with kids in to councils whilst paying their staff £7 an hour. Nice business.
A Care workers fundamental and first obligation is to the safety of the child in their care, but if you pay poorly, recruit badly and don't care much for how the system manages itself you leave yourself hugely exposed. In my time in care, our carers were oblivious to pretty much anything beyond the newspaper and TV. However, at the same time as I was in Social Services care, during the day and weekly during the evenings I stayed at an NHS Adolescent Psychiatric unit, where the nurses, doctors and carers were amazing. They were highly trained and brilliantly astute to our complex and challenging needs. This meant we were safe and given strong mentoring one to one sessions and emotional support. We all had an allocated mentor dedicated to us.
Mentoring is what we lack in our looked after children's lives, and those growing up in deprived single parent families. Often these young people come from broken homes, no dads, even no mums, no role models, no positive guiding influences that can offer a caring shoulder and robust direction. Care workers should be mentors, but often they cannot be because of under resourcing and lack on connection between them and the young person. Don't get me wrong, care workers do their best, but we need to do more to mentor and protect vulnerable young people by supporting care workers, institutions and broken homes.
When I left care, I joined the army at 16, here I met mentors in the form of disciplinarian Sergeants who firmly but fairly guided me through manhood, teaching me right from wrong, being robust in education but kind and supportive when I fell down, or needed some love. This mentoring is what saved my life. For me it was Sgt Chris Allsopp who opened the door to how adults should behave. So, with this in mind we launched a new charity called GUIDING FORCES.
SIMPLY PUT - We place military veterans with young people who do not have positive adult role models, to create a friendship and relationship built on trust.
Young people who are vulnerable need direction, they need focus and security - and they need love. There is no greater investment we can make towards helping our nation's young people, than by helping them go on to live fulfilling lives with their own families that stay complete, and with careers that provide a living wage without the need for reliance on benefits. Young people need role models, real living and present role models, people with a story and a life led, adults that young people can relate to. Men and women who have served their country, and now their community. Who aspire to succeed and become a positive force for good within our society. The military ethos taught to all service men and women engenders and fosters loyalty, integrity and hard work. This is paramount to any young person's character development, to their aspirations and achievements. The remarkable contribution our service men and women have made to this nation is based on a love of community and country, selflessness and moral courage. This is precisely what young people in care, and those in our communities who are hardest to reach need.
A GUIDING FORCES mentor will spend 2 hours a week with their mentee, over a minimum of 12 months, performing simple and fun activities outside of the young persons normal hang outs. Bowling, swimming, outdoor sports, museums, theatres, galleries attending the cinema and other positive activities, create the right environment necessary for building an enduring, mutually respectful relationship. The Mentor will listen, advise and direct, but not counsel or judge. The key to this is regular contact, and reliability. The mentor will attend without fail weekly and be there even when times are tough, listening and providing the mentee with a solid foundation of trust.
Mentors can help stop child abuse, they can detect the signs.
We need Mentors in Kent and the South East, if you or anyone you know fulfils the criteria above, please get in touch. Please help us fix this, lets protect and mentor those who need our help most.