Comment: Evolution of Barnardo's is fine example

I have an enduring affection for the national children's charity Barnardo's. It's hardly surprising, because it brought me up.

John Knight
John Knight

I know many young people's experiences of the childcare system were not as good as mine, and I recognise this. I was 'admitted' to Dr Barnardo's, as it was then called, at the age of six months, effectively abandoned by birth parents who simply couldn't assume the responsibilities of parenting a severely disabled child. On reflection, we both did each other a favour.

Barnardo's used to provide a rigid model of childcare predominantly based on institutions. Staff wore uniforms and care was founded on a medical basis, rather than a pastoral one. But how things have changed. Barnardo's is an example of how a large national charity has responded to the changing expectations of its beneficiaries, social care thinking and government policy. It has also retained one of the most important lubricants of any charity's success - the affection and support of the public.

So what has changed? For a start, it abandoned the institutional model of care and became an integral part of local communities where needs existed. It dealt with the historical legacy of the odious child migration policy, which saw siblings cast across the Empire, by apologising unreservedly. It challenged the role of the state as a 'corporate parent' and used its voluntary income to meet the needs of young people who were asylum seekers, providing support that the state denied. And it worked with young people leaving care, often clearing up the mess left by inadequate state parenting.

Barnardo's never abandons the young people it works with - it retains links and provides support. I know. Recently I went to visit its After Care Service to find out more about why I was 'admitted' decades before. I read the pitiful letter written by my mother when she handed me over. Everything then made sense.

Dr Thomas Barnardo said before he died: "There is still much to do." Yes there is, and Barnardo's is doing it.

- John Knight is head of policy and campaigns at Leonard Cheshire Disability: jk.thirdsector@googlemail.com.

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