Telford & Wrekin Council is the first West Midlands council to make “care experience” a “protected characteristic” status.
At a full council meeting last Thursday, Councillor Shirley Reynolds (Lab), Cabinet Member for Children, Young People and Families put forward a motion to make “care experience” as an additional “protected characteristic” in Telford and Wrekin for children and adults who have been in care.
The motion, which was approved, has led the council to become the first in the West Midlands and the first “Outstanding” Ofsted-rated council for Children’s Services in the country to declare care experienced people as a group who face discrimination and to give them protected status.
This means that in Telford and Wrekin “care experienced” will be added as an additional characteristic and given the same protection as other protected characteristics under the Equality Act (2010), such as age, disability, race, religion and others.
Telford & Wrekin Council is a ‘corporate parent’, with councillors and all staff members having a collective responsibility to provide the best possible care for all children and young people looked after by the authority, the same as any parent would do for their child.
Councillor Reynolds spoke about addressing discrimination, stigma and prejudice in care leavers’ life.
She told the full council meeting: “During my many years of teaching, I have witnessed first-hand care experienced young people who have faced significant barriers that might have impacted them throughout their lives.
“Despite their resilience, society doesn’t always take their needs into account. They may face discrimination and stigma across housing, health, education, relationships employment and in the criminal justice system.
“Well, not in Telford and Wrekin – here we can make a difference.”
The move will make protecting and supporting care experienced residents as strong in the council’s decision-making process as all other protected characteristics under the Equality Act (2010).
Councillor Reynolds said that it strengthens even further the strong benefits offer the council already has in place for care leavers, such as exemption from Council Tax up to the age of 25, priority status for social housing, free leisure access to council’s centres and many others from the Local Offer to Care Leavers.
She added: “This motion emboldens our commitment to ensure that all parts of the Council not just children’s services must reflect upon the impact they have on the futures of our children in care and care leavers.
“Tonight we have the opportunity to do even more for those children who were recognised in our Outstanding Ofsted judgment as ‘Our children who are ‘cared for and cared about.’
“They are our children, we are a family, it isn’t just a corporate parenting responsibility, but treating them like our own children. Protecting, caring and investing in every child in the borough is our responsibility now and in the future.”
Following the approval of the motion, the council has also made a commitment to engage with other organisations in the borough to encourage them to do more to support care experienced people, including by adopting a “corporate parenting principle”.
Care Leaver Champion and campaigner, Terry Galloway welcomed the approval of the motion by Telford & Wrekin Council.
Terry said: “I’m super proud of Telford and Wrekin council and councillors who voted unanimously for care experienced people to be treated as a protected characteristic.
“Being at Telford and Wrekin Council watching the debate fills me with hope and enthusiasm for the future. I’m genuinely looking forward to working with them on the practical elements of this measure so that we can get the change we need.
“Today speaks volumes and is a practical step to bring about equality for care experienced people of all ages and is also a call for all other bodies to adopt the Corporate Parenting Principles.”
A cabinet paper detailing the implications of “care experience” as “protected characteristic” in Telford and Wrekin will also be on the agenda of Telford & Wrekin Council’s Cabinet at its next meeting on Thursday, 16 March.