I only recently met Ben Ashcroft when he stepped in at very short notice to speak at the NAIRO conference in October. This during his first week off after his walk from Halifax to London to support the ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ campaign. He spoke with passion, energy, humility and confidence. It was brilliant to see Ben with NAIRO patron Sir Vince Cable who was wearing a newly acquired ECLCM badge!
It seemed to be a natural step for Ben to be invited to be a patron and it was a great pleasure to see him accept. I know I speak on behalf of all NAIRO trustees and members in being absolutely delighted to welcome him as NAIRO’s newest patron. The experience and knowledge he brings will be invaluable to us all. NAIRO is fortunate to have trustees from an impressive array of backgrounds and experience. But none can offer what Ben does. The national spotlight is increasingly shining on care leavers and we welcome this new partnership to ensure that we all keep doing our best for care leavers as individuals and collectively in terms of government policy.

Welcome Ben, it’s an absolute pleasure.

Paul Smart
Co-Chair NAIRO

“As a child in care, half my life-time ago, when I knew I was facing custody I could never have imagined  that 17 years later I would be invited to join as a Patron of NAIRO. In fact, I’m pretty certain that NAIRO didn’t exist then and if they did maybe I wouldn’t have been sitting in a police cell in the first place. It is an honour and privilege for anyone to be asked to join the NAIRO team and for me it’s perhaps another opportunity to think how far I have travelled on my personal journey – a journey facing many care leavers as they face the daunting prospect of being cut adrift from what little security they have within the care system.

It has not been easy but then neither are the lives of many who haven’t been in care. In some ways I have, at one time or another ticked the notorious boxes associated with our society’s shameful disregard for children in care and care leavers. Custody, tick. Homelessness, tick, NEET, tick and mental health problems, tick; but that story has been told and this is a very different one. It is related though, last year and into the start off this year I struggled desperately with my mental health, so much so that I ended up in crisis –  not for the first time in my life – and as an in-patient. How lucky am I? Despite the fact that, like countless numbers of children in care and care leavers, I had never received any therapeutic support I discovered that by coming as close as I ever hope to come to ending my own life, abandoning most of those who cared for me and isolating myself into an acute state of mental ill-health that I had discovered how to access psychological and therapeutic support. Am I ‘cured’? No but has it helped me to understand, catalogue and move on in my life? Yes. Such a shame that you must reach the point of death before you are offered the help you need. Particularly those, unlike me, who make the final decision of their lives and leave care and everything else behind them.

I’m no ‘Forest Gump’ but I can walk and over time I found that walking long distances helped me in my recovery to the point where I thought “If you’re going to keep walking Ben, why not walk somewhere?

The seed of an idea was discovered. My commitment to the Every Child Leaving Matters Campaign has never wavered, though sometimes for reasons associated with employment or ill-health I have of necessity taken a back seat. The campaign is close to my heart and to those of a small and occasionally changing group of individuals who, like me won’t accept the discrimination against residential care leavers that the legislation facilitating ‘Staying Put’ represents. Now we’ve said this on multiple occasions so once more won’t do any harm. Those who established ECLCM like those who still keep it alive absolutely welcomed and applauded the introduction of Staying Put. It was the inequality dealt to those children in residential care that incensed us. The campaign has been incredibly successful given our (lack of) resources. No, in fact it’s been incredibly successful with no qualification. However, I thought that perhaps if we could ‘make some noise’ in a different way we might further raise awareness and help to move the campaign forward. Walking to London seemed like a good idea! As a team and as ever with massive help from our supporters I began walking and occasionally publicly talking along the way. ECLCM was being noticed locally and Nationally with the media coverage now a matter of record.

Culminating in Parliament with a meeting of loyal, influential (and sometimes both) supporters together with a small but select number of very supportive MP’s the walk seemed to do what we had intended. I’m acutely aware that ‘this week’s news is next week’s chip paper’ and our task in ECLCM is to keep ourselves on track whilst gathering support not for ourselves but the cause for which we are fighting. The support of NAIRO, BASW, Barnados, NAFP, Children England, some of which had not previously been so publicly proclaimed is a real bonus.

But we haven’t succeeded yet. There is still a great deal to do and we need massive individual as well as organisational support so if you are reading this then please go to our website at eclcm.org to learn more and see how, if you wish, you can help (we’re not looking for money just hearts and minds). Follow us on Twitter (@rescareto21) or Facebook or just email us via the website.

This particular journey has been a slow one not because we haven’t worked hard – we have – it’s because an insufficient number of National Politicians will ‘come out’ to support us. Please consider asking your MP if (s)he supports the campaign. If they do then ask them to do so publicly – it simply takes them to Tweet “I support @rescareto21 – believe me we’ll do the rest. If they don’t support us please ask them why. Over the last (almost) four years we have debated in Council Chambers, Universities, Westminster and small groups. We have never had anyone disagree with us at the end of a discussion that ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ and to discriminate against one cohort of such children based exclusively on their placement. How could they?

I look forward to working with NAIRO and offering my experience and knowledge to them and working hard to be the best we can be for our children in care and leaving. ”

Ben Ashcroft