Newsmaker: We are family

Carol Homden, chief executive of Coram Family, is investing in the futures of vulnerable children.

Carol Homden (credit: Newscast)
Carol Homden (credit: Newscast)

Coram Family is a charity with an illustrious past. Although Carol Homden, its new chief executive, is proud of its heritage, she is prouder still of its spirit of innovation.

Long before Prime Minister Tony Blair unveiled his headline-grabbing plan last year for 'supernannies' to teach people how to be better parents, the charity was offering parenting classes as part of the range of services it provides to families.

"Support for parents is important if children are to have the best opportunities," says Homden. "What we must not do is demonise parents - over-strident statements are often made about the families who most need our help.

"In the past, communities and society were structured differently, extended families were more of a reality and village communities might have provided a network of support."

Homden's empathy with struggling parents is clearly genuine. Her eldest son is autistic and she admits that trying to help him make the best of his potential has been a challenge.

"Having a child with special needs places your parenting skills under profound scrutiny, so I know what it feels like to be placed under that pressure," she says. "The parents we work with might have lacked positive role models themselves."

Another Coram Family project that confirms its status as a leader, not a follower, is its new partnership with the London Borough of Harrow. The north-west London local authority recently took the unprecedented step of commissioning the charity to deliver its adoption services.

"We have a placement failure rate of less than 5 per cent," says Homden. "Despite all their best efforts, many local authorities might experience a failure rate of 20 per cent."

Coram Family dates back to 1739, when Captain Thomas Coram established the Foundling Hospital to provide care for homeless children in London. It had the support of some esteemed philanthropists of the day, including painter William Hogarth and composer George Frideric Handel. The former donated a number of his works, which are still owned by the charity and were recently loaned to Tate Britain for an exhibition of his work. It is also believed that the author Charles Dickens based the character of Oliver Twist on children who attended the Foundling Hospital.

Coram Family might be steeped in history, but Homden is determined that the charity must keep looking forwards. She replaces Honor Rhodes, who resigned after a "divergence of opinion" with the charity's trustees last August.

One of the initiatives Homden seems most proud of is its concurrent planning project, which has just been extended to Harrow and was pioneered in the UK by Coram Family.

"Very vulnerable children who might be at risk can be identified early on," says Homden. "But a child might still have to wait two years after entering the system to be placed with a family, and they could be moved around while they are waiting.

"It is crucial for a child's wellbeing and development that attachments are formed as soon as possible."

Concurrent planning identifies prospective adoptive parents before a child is born. This means parents are ready to start forming attachments with babies when they are just a few days old. "Concurrent planning can have dramatic results for the emotional and brain development of the baby," Homden says.

"We hope to be able to demonstrate the results now that the supported babies from the pilot schemes are moving through school. We see it as a positive investment in the futures of vulnerable children."

Homden CV
2007 - Chief executive, Coram Family
2003 - Commercial director, the Prince's Trust
1999 - Director of marketing and public affairs, British Museum
1997 - Director of marketing and development, University of Westminster

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