Opinion: Third Voice - The honour is a tribute to Coram's extended family

Gillian Pugh, the former chief executive of Coram Family

The letter from No 10 was sitting on the hall table when I got home late one night after chairing the Parenting Forum AGM in Manchester: "The Prime Minister has it in mind ... to submit your name to The Queen with a recommendation that ... you be appointed Dame Commander of the British Empire."

I read this several times before I took in what it meant, and even then I didn't really believe it. I was awarded an OBE seven years ago, but they don't give out many honours at this level in the voluntary sector (as Peter Cardy pointed out last week) and especially not to women (as a fellow Dame wrote in a letter of congratulation). I was so sure it was a mistake that only when my husband went out and bought all the papers on New Year's Eve did it begin to sink in.

We told the rest of my extended family at Christmas, where our annual post-dinner pantomime was modelled on South Pacific with its inevitable climax of "there's nothing like a dame" (if anyone else sings that down the phone to me, I shall scream). It took some time for everyone to realise its significance, but given that 18 of the family squeeze into our house for three or four days over Christmas, they soon realised an honour for "services to children and families" was entirely appropriate.

The very best part of getting the award is how it reflects on Coram Family and the superb staff who work with me. For the past 40 years, I have been pushing for joined-up services that are better focused on the needs of children and families, and for policy to respond to research and to influence practice. My particular interests have been the developmental needs of very small children (as is now reflected in the Sure Start programmes), the importance of early intervention and of promoting "resilience" in children and young people, and the need to support parents.

Coram Family has been at the forefront of development in all of these areas and more. Adoption, specialist fostering, child contact, children's centres and family support, working with young people who are at risk of exclusion - all of our work has informed the "Change for Children" agenda and the recent Children Act.

It has also been wonderful to receive such warm congratulations from so many colleagues and friends from different parts of my life.

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