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Children's social care

CEO Chris Wright attends 30th Euromet Symposium

Young adults pose in a treehouse in Europe.

Euromet is a European youth care alliance and network of institutions covering both eastern and western Europe, providing educational, social, and vocational programmes, working with disadvantaged young people, between the ages of 4 and 25.

Catch22 is an active member of what is now a disparate collection of organisations; a collection that has one thing in common: a commitment to supporting young people and assisting them in improving their life chances.

I am writing this as I leave Mettray where I have been attending the annual symposium of Euromet and celebrating its 30th birthday.

In 1849, The Philanthropic Society, the forerunner to Catch22 established a farm school in Redhill, Surrey. The establishment of the farm school was instigated by supporters of the philanthropic society who visited an “agricultural colony” that had been established in Mettray, in the Loire Valley, France in 1830.

In 1999, the then Director of RPS Rainer (also a forerunner to Catch22) was involved in the establishment of a network of European organisations who delivered social work support for young people. The network brought together a number of organisations who had been inspired to support troubled young people through the provision of residential care linked to trades, industry or agriculture.

This year, Euromet was held at the Ville de Jeune on the original site of France’s first Farm School. Today it is an “Institute therapeutique, educative et pedagogique” (ITEP). Much has changed in the intervening 187 years, but the Euromet network established 30 years ago remains strong and includes 21 organisations from 12 European countries.

Personally, I have been involved for 13 years, attending my first symposium in Algered in North Sweden, which was centred on a fascinating model of residential childcare – the kollektivet. As I travel home today, I have received the very positive news that the Lighthouse, an organisation Catch22 is incubating driven by the idea of re-designing children’s homes has procured its first house. Its delivery model has, in part been inspired by imaginative approaches developed in Scandinavia.

And, that is the reason we remain involved. Attending the annual gathering ensures that we remain open to new ideas, experiences and thoughts. In the UK there is a rich tradition of excellent practice and policy – and despite the noise, which often implies the opposite, a policy framework that is genuinely at the forefront of children’s social care. This was brought home strongly over the last couple of days. The focus of the symposium has been about inclusivity – an important concept of course but the discussion exposed me to a dated language (not just because things got lost in translation). The use of the term handicapped – which is baked into French policy, practice and law. It is used as a generalist term to describe vulnerability in all its forms. The damaging effect of the application of this terminology was brought home when listening to a number of former residents at the ITEP who gave an account of their experience of the establishment. Although broadly positive, they bridled at the idea that they were sent to the institution because they were in some way or other handicapped.

This year’s event also involved a jamboree, which takes place every other year and creates the opportunity for young people from the respective organisations to gather to participate in an event explicitly designed to bring people together. Five young people from Catch22 services have been here with me enjoying the festivities.

So, this blog is in part a paean to Euromet. An organisation that survives because of its members’ commitment to its noble idea of shared learning and disseminating best practice but also a rallying cry as next year we will be responsible for bringing the symposium to London. The focus will be on the issue affecting us all – the rise of youth violence and gang involvement. It will be a European festival of thought and I’m proud to ensure our organisation continues to share experiences and promote best practice 187 years later.

– Chris Wright, CEO