Our impressions of the 2015 Mega Meet Conference "Care Kids at 18+ - what happens next?"
THE VENUE - WHY BIRMINGHAM?
Initially there were five proposals for the venue for the 2015 Mega Meet but two of these (London and Glasgow) were ruled out on financial grounds (London) or due to the lack of local contacts to do the ground work (Glasgow).
That left three possible venues for the meeting: Newcastle, Blackpool and Birmingham. It is no secret that Ella and I had some reservations about the suitability of Newcastle but our financial support for the event was never going to depend on where the meeting was held. I hope we made this quite clear to the Newcastle Organising Committee.
We didn't have any strong preference between Blackpool and Birmingham until the event was moved from May to August - in other words from school term time to school holiday time. Once that happened we felt that Birmingham was always going to be the cheapest and easiest option.
THE VENUE - THE CORRECT CHOICE?
I think the first key question is how many people who would have attended a meeting in Newcastle didn't attend the meeting in Birmingham? I can only think of two - Kristine and Alex although I know that some people are saying that several Scottish members would have made the effort to get to Newcastle. Perhaps they would? What I do know is that at least 4 attendees from the Worcestershire group and nearly as many from the Powys/Shropshire group would not have gone to Newcastle.
The second question is how many people would have gone to Blackpool who didn't make it to Birmingham. Reckless Eric is the only one I can think of. But the four North Londoners actually said during the plenary session that they wouldn't have driven as far as Blackpool but that Birmingham had been "simple" to get to.
THE VENUE - THE 2016 MEGA MEET?
I still think that organising the meeting is far too big a job for one person. I think two is the minimum and three would be better still. At least one of the Organising Committee members needs to have convenient access to the proposed location. I would like to rule out Birmingham (on the grounds of fairness) and Worcester (on the grounds on geography) but as always the final decision is made by you all - not by Ella and I.
THE MEETING FORMAT
The feedback forms prove that Friday evening to Sunday tea-time seemed to work well although a few people were not able to arrive until Saturday morning or had to leave before the plenary session on the Sunday afternoon. Attendees had the financial responsibility to get themselves to the venue but everything else was free and this was widely appreciated by everybody. The balance between the social side and the more formal meeting side was seen to be correct (thank goodness!) and the guest speaker received an unbroken series of 5/5 from everyone who attended.
SUMMARY OF THE DISCUSSION
There was an almost unanimous agreement that the "disconnect" between Care Providers (foster parents, social workers and Children's Home employees) and the post-18 clients is wholly undesirable.
- Attempts to create closer links between national groups and the "former Care Kids" community have been largely unsuccessful.
- Comments posted to relevant Facebook groups or blogs by members of the community are almost always ignored.
- National organisations appear to feel that the community has nothing to offer them and so letters or review copies of books sent to them seldom if ever receive a response.
- There are some public self-help groups for former "Care Kids" but it is assumed that many other such groups - if they exist - operate "under the radar".
- Many former Care Kids are extremely wary of social media. A large proportion have highly sanitised user profiles or are mega cautious about what they post. Many have resorted to using false names.
It was lovely to meet people face-to-face that previously were only voices on the phone or names on the computer screen and it was equally nice to renew contact with people we don't see very often. Ella and I travelled up to Birmingham with Didi and Magda by car, picking up AaBbCc from his narrow-boat for the last few miles. Our journey was painless, unlike Miss Peanut's who had a complete nightmare of a trip from Hull. Also attending from fairly near us were Commune1, her half-sister Yalelock and Airhead in one car plus Abigail, Birdwatcher, Wendy C and Zulu in another.
It was disappointing not to see Reckless Eric (yet again, we seem fated never to meet) and of course we missed both Kristine and Alex. After much looking through diaries Ella decided that it almost exactly four years since we last saw them "in the flesh".