This month our new Chair of St Christopher’s Fellowship Anne Stoneham and Chair of St Christopher’s Isle of Man Roger Phillips have jointly taken over the CEO blog. Find out more about their backgrounds, motivations in supporting the charity, first impressions of our work and what key themes in social care for children and young people are drawing their respective interests.
I took up my role as overall Chair of Trustees in September 2022. Over 30 years’ experience in the youth sector has given me a genuine understanding of the issues that young people face. Through this work I met many brilliant, inspiring and brave young people whose lives were transformed by being provided with the support, skills and opportunities to make a difference. Knowing the impact of such support, makes me passionately committed to learn and meet this new personal challenge to help lead St Christopher’s, together with Roger who has taken up the role of Chair in the Isle of Man, governing the extraordinary work they do with children and young people in their care.
In these first few months I have been impressed by the steadfast dedication and enthusiasm of the staff team to provide the best possible service they can, putting the needs and wants of the child and young person at the centre of what they do. In all the conversations I have had, it is notable how committed everyone is to living and working in accordance with the values of St Christopher’s. I have learnt so much already. I was introduced at the Stevenage Fostering Office to those who help support with the foster care of young mothers and babies together. It is a wonderful way to help new parents in that position. I also did not know what to expect but it was a revelation to meet the staff at Cronk Sollysh our secure home on the Isle of Man. The whole focus was on building meaningful and trusted relationships, meeting the mental health needs of the young people and ensuring time was being spent on keeping them busy, engaged and maintaining their education to equip them to re-integrate with the community outside. Visiting Knowland House, one of our supported accommodation homes in London, was equally informative. The overwhelming impression I had was that it was like visiting student accommodation, life was peaceful, and the young people were busy in college or at work. Options were available for them to join the staff for supper and enjoyable trips were being planned. It was testament to the successful building of genuine relationships and respect for each other behind the scenes.
The number of young people and children coming into care is growing. One of the main issues that looked after children experience are mental health related. Recent studies indicate that 25% of young adolescent girls now experience mental health problems but research suggests that with looked after children, because of their experiences, 45% have a recognisable disorder and up to 70-80% express a mental health concern. One of the distinguishing features of the care and support provided by St Christopher’s and that has such an impact on the life chances for those young people in its care, is the model of care and the wraparound therapeutic services provided. As we develop our strategy for the next few years one of my main hopes going forward is that we can grow and extend these services, explore opportunities for other similar services, as well as secure funding for all the other wraparound services on offer such as Staying Close.
Like Anne, I formally took up my role in September 2022. We are actively recruiting more trustees to serve on the council to broaden the range of skills represented to enable the council to function at its best and support the fantastic work on the island.
Establishing a full Council for the Isle of Man is an urgent requirement and this will engage the attention of the trustees and senior officers of the charity for much of the early part of this year. Once we have a full board, my task will be to lead the Council towards becoming a team that delivers.
Meanwhile, the service continues to develop. As we all know, the abrupt step out of the care environment means extra challenges for the young people we look after. I have been very impressed with the work carried out by the staff in Hope St in relation to maintaining links with former beneficiaries of our support, often several years after they have formally left care. The sharp change in the status of the young people we look after is something I consider to be one of the principal structural defects of the care system as we know it. I am therefore very pleased to be able to mention that two new properties have been purchased on the Isle of Man to serve as aftercare flats. They will be ready for occupancy come February this year. This decision was taken by the senior leadership team in response to feedback from the aftercare team and other colleagues about the real need for more suitable accommodation for young people leaving residential care. This is a reflection of the commitment by St Christopher’s to invest in the needs on the Island and of the charity’s continuing search for ways to improve its range of services.
Anne mentioned that she had been impressed by the steadfast dedication and enthusiasm of the staff team members; I also am struck by these qualities among those whom I have encountered. I very much look forward to continuing to work with all of the staff members as well as trustees in developing the charity’s service to the public. I am very proud to be associated with St Christopher’s and the wonderful work which it carries out in the United Kingdom and the Isle of Man.
If you want to find out more about St Christopher’s work across both the UK and Isle of Man, please explore our new Impact Report for 2023. This showcases the successes and innovation we have recently achieved for the children and young people in our care, and is testament to not only their determination but also the unwavering dedication of our foster carers, staff and supporters.
News & Jobs
News stories and job vacancies from our member agencies, the fostering sector and the world of child protection and safeguarding as a whole.