Somebody who is desperate to keep their Home Start Charity up. Same problems we are facing as well, lack of funding, but bloody hell, I am going to try my level best to ensure that this charity keeps on going.
As the staff team and I await, for the second time this year, our warning of redundancy letters, I have been desperately trying to compose a begging letter to any "secret millionaires" with a desire to help a small local Home-Start charity in dire straits.
When I worked in social care 18 years ago, one of my colleagues asked the question, "Why do we not have a Home-Start in Bromley?" Little did I know that six years later I would be setting one up and managing it. This marvellous project has been supporting local parents and children for 12 years. Funding has been a constant issue but somehow we managed to survive. But this time around the climate is very different.
Back in February I wrote a piece highlighting our initial funding plight, but I was too nervous to identify the project, fearful of jeopardising opportunities for future funding. At the eleventh hour, our local authority provided us with a six-month extended contract which ends in September. This gave us "wiggle room" to search for alternative funding streams. While continuing to run a vital support service to families with young children we have been diligently writing bids to trust funds all of which are now under pressure to make their funds go further. The most exhausting of these bids was for the Big Lottery, which could have saved us, but alas, we failed to hit the mark with its panel.
When speaking to various bods about our plight I have been confronted with pensive faces advising me to "think creatively" or "in these times you have to think outside the box". Give me strength – this is just another way of saying let's change something purely for the sake of changing it. In my world if something isn't broken, leave well alone. There is no need to jiggle it, tweak it or reshape it to suit some blue-sky thinking or to fit in with the latest trend that is deemed to be "of the moment". What we do has been shown to work successfully – my office is filled with thank you notes and cards from families who have benefited from the commitment of our dedicated volunteers.
It works perfectly well, so why are we having so much difficulty in finding the funding to do what we are good at and that we do better than anybody else? I don't want this project and team to turn into jack of all trades and master of none.
Anyway, needs must so the nearest I have come to thinking outside the box is by purchasing extra lottery tickets in anticipation of giving my winnings to charity, including Home-Start of course.
So what have I got to lose with a secret-millionaire-style letter? If this doesn't work then it appears the scheme will most likely close. Who will bridge the gap when a family needs help but does not meet the criteria for social care support? Where will families and children go once they have lost this vital early intervention service? Who has considered the potential savings on local authority budgets that will be lost as families difficulties escalate or put children at risk?
So I am discarding my previous anonymity and predict that unless someone comes to our aid very soon, Home-Start Bromley will be closed for good. I also have no doubt that in five or six years' time yet another over-worked health visitor or social worker will be repeating the question that I first heard 18 years before – "Why do we not have a Home-Start in this area?" – a question that will resonate from deep within the chasm unless a secret millionaire or some other miracle comes to our aid.
Read the comments, its frightening the level of animosity people have towards charities. Another news item came up in a similar vein:
In Hull, the eleventh most deprived region in the country, Caroline Watson says the Home Start charity she runs is "hanging on by its fingertips" after the council withdrew its £107,000 grant in March.
Her nine-person team was immediately shrunk by two and, after 25 years, the service will disappear entirely if no new cash arrives next March.
"We have kept some services running by applying to the Department of Health, and got some money for a project supporting children who have a parent in prison from Lloyds TSB's Foundation. But if by Christmas we don't get new money I will have to think about giving everybody redundancy [cheques]".
If that happens, 167 families with 406 children will be left without a service which, Watson said, many parents struggling to bring up children had come to rely on for school runs, doctor's trips and, in some cases, a shoulder to lean on.
Some in government argue that the "creative destruction" of public spending cuts will be good for charities by ensuring only the fittest and leanest survive. By winnowing out charities that became dependent on state funding and promoting others that have the scale and the flexibility to thrive in a new funding environment, so the thinking goes, the voluntary sector will emerge ready to take over public services. Watson says such thinking misses the point. Her service is already cost-effective, providing crucial support beyond the reach of the state at just £21 a week for each family. "We need money to run the police checks, manage volunteers, pay for an office and even put an ad in the local paper. Nothing comes for free. I cannot see how you could do it cheaper," says Watson.
A report published by trade union-backed False Economy on Tuesday, which shows the impact of local authority spending cuts, has laid bare some of the contradictions of government policy. Although ministers have spent months promoting the idea of volunteering, community groups and charities running public services, the message has been undermined by the extent of cuts to their funding.
Home Start has 330 local divisions, and says 40 of these are under threat because of the cuts. Almost 6,000 children will be affected. Branches in Bromley, south-east London, and Hampshire face closure this week. "It is the depth and the speed of the cuts which have made it so difficult to cope," said Vivien Waterfield, director of fundraising at Home Start.
There is renewed concern in the sector that the pruning of public spending will shrink the sector. Earlier this year the Charity Commission revealed that more than 8,000 charities have been removed from the official register since May 2010 – and only 6,400 new charities have been founded in their place. False Economy has identified cuts of more than £110m across charities in England as local authorities withdraw funding.
There has been a rush for charities to huddle together to weather the economic storm. The commission reported a 150% increase in the number of mergers it had to deal with.
Experts say many innovative schemes may be lost in the rush to make savings. Your Sanctuary, formerly Surrey Women's Aid, hit the headlines earlier this year for offering confidential helpline advice and one-to-one meetings to men who have been abused. One in six men suffer from domestic violence, according to the latest British Crime Survey figures.
Yet the charity's chief executive, Beverley Pass, said that it still ended up losing £38,000 last year, even though it picked up new funding. "My worry is that local councils are making these decisions on the basis of how they go down with local people. Some services are not politically popular and they are being cut."
Jack Dromey, Labour's shadow communities and local government minister, says the government has hit councils with "huge, front-loaded cuts … and the voluntary sector and community groups up and down the country are paying the price".
Yet some charities have managed to cling on. Hilary Pannick started her award-winning Straight Talking charity 13 years ago in her loft. Its innovative model aims to get single mothers and fathers back into work by paying them to educate their peers in school on the pleasures and perils of early parenting. She admits being "very angry last year" when councils cut £60,000 from her charity's budget – and she had to close services in the south-west.
"It seemed so short-sighted. For the first five years a teenage mother costs the taxpayer £100,000 and we were helping to cut that [bill]. We had to work twice as hard and made redundancies and got some money from the Department of Health. Basically we clung on by the skin of our teeth."
Pannick says that her concern is that the coalition is reshaping too much of government too quickly.
"We don't know where anything is or how to apply for grants. It's really very hard to navigate. The private sector can do it much more easily - and I worry we will lose out to them in the end."
But somebody asked, what kind of families do you look after? This is an example of a family that we look after. From here.
Dawn is a 6-year-old girl who lives in a condemned high-rise block on Mandela Avenue. Mandela Avenue is on The Swamp Estate on the edge of Ruraltown. Dawn has no friends because she wets herself when the children sit on the floor for reading time at the local primary school. As a large warm pool of urine slowly grows larger around Dawn, the other children move quickly away.
Her garish coloured chiffon dress is covered in ribbons and lucky charms. Faded by her mother’s constant hand-washing after Dawn’s accidents, the dress is slowly losing it’s appeal. A teacher always rushes over to Dawn, scoops her up and carries her away to the bathroom. If a male of any age touches Dawn, she screams uncontrollably for up to five minutes and cannot be stopped, even by her favourite female Teaching Assistant.
I was speaking to one of our courageous midwives this week. She is monitoring Dawn’s sixth and newest sibling; an emaciated and filthy four-month-old baby named Bobby-Ray Jr. She had asked Dawn’s mother why Dawn wets herself and screams when a man touches her. It is because her father ‘interferes with her’ when he bothers to turn up drunk to steal the child benefit money. Dawn’s grandmother, a woman in her early 40′s with seven children of her own has something to say about this. From a cloud of cigarette smoke over in the corner she asks what does the midwife expect? Dawn’s mother is not a good wife to him, ‘if you get my meaning like’.
She justifies the rape of her own granddaughter by her son-in-law by blaming her daughter for not having more sex with him. Even for Ruraltown this is a new low. This is Jeremy Kyle right here on the street.
I check with the Child Protection DS. She tells me that Dawn and every single one of her siblings have been designated as a ‘Child In Need’. Apparently this attracts some level of what she calls ‘intervention’ by social services and our own team. I ask if Dawn’s mother’s ‘partner’ has been nicked for sexual assault. Which one? she asks. ‘Which partner?’. She has more than one? ‘Yes, she has three’. Do they all rape Dawn? ‘No. Only two of them rape Dawn’. Are they banged up? ‘No. CPS dropped both cases’.
The Child Protection DS tells me that these two men are brothers. They enjoy some kind on ‘entitlement’ to Dawn’s mother and to Dawn and her sisters because of some ‘deal’ their father did with Dawn’s grandfather a few years ago over some land. This deal was broken by Dawn’s grandfather and to avoid a feud, Dawn’s mother was ‘promised’ to the brothers. Dawn’s mother then injected a level of confusion and damaged pride into the equation by producing two mixed-race children. This was some kind of insult to the family who own her, and she had to be re-housed at public expense on two occasions. No charges were ever brought against any person.
The DS looks tired and a little too thin for a woman of her age. She kind of ‘stares through me’ like so many of her colleagues who work the Swamp tend to do. At twenty six she looks like a woman twice her age. I ask her about Dawn’s future. She has no idea. She and her team are losing two-thirds of the officers on the unit under the budget cuts. Dawn and her family will be ‘managed’ by local uniformed police after August.
The DS applied for her own job under the new system but was ‘unsuccessful on this occasion’ and is going to be a custody sergeant at Ruraltown Central. She doesn’t mind, she has clearly had enough. I ask her how many Dawns there are on the Swamp, she tells me there are more than fifty families ‘engaged’ with social services under child protection measures for neglect or abuse on that estate alone.
We stand in silence for a few minutes. I want to give them both a bit of a squeeze but that would be unprofessional. Besides, the midwife is going out with Debbie for a few drinks next week, she would be bound to grass me up and I don’t want Debbie to think I’ve gone soft or anything.
I promise to look into the father’s criminal conviction history but I already know what I will find. Meanwhile Dawn is still wetting herself and screaming if any male of any age touches her. The suburban kids with biblical names in her class like to test this reaction every day or so.
This is my world as a policeman in Ruraltown. Not Champneys, phone hacking or senior officers and their ‘milestones’.
Gadget Note: Dawn’s father, and I use that term loosely, has nine convictions for burglary in the last four years and has never served a single day in adult detention. All cases of violence and abuse against family members have been dropped due to a lack of support by victims and witnesses. We don’t ‘police by consent’ on this estate. In 2004 he broke a Met policewoman’s jaw and received a suspended sentence.
Sometimes I feel like wishing capital punishment was back. Some people are beyond the pale. Some go rogue and need to be hunted down and eradicated. Paedophiles are top of the list.