From humble beginnings in a London living room, Coram Voice has grown significantly over four decades to become a national charity providing services to vulnerable children and young people across the country.
Our founder & the early years
In 1975, former social worker Gwen James formed a pressure group with like-minded individuals which, in Gwen’s own words, aimed to;
‘bring before people the facts about children in care and then explore ways of making things better’
This pressure group became the charity ‘Voice for the Child in Care’, often known as VCC, and campaigned for the rights of young people in care to have someone independent to support them, for them to be listened to and to and have a say in their lives.
VCC wanted to address the power imbalance they saw in the social care system, giving young people more power over their lives. Initially the concept of advocacy - that children should be supported to ensure their wishes & feelings were at the centre of the decision making process - was very unpopular. Many viewed advocacy as challenging and criticising the social work profession. Thankfully, due to the hard work of Gwen and her colleagues, progress was made and views began to change, advocacy gained support and is now a statutory right for all children in the care system.
That was just the start of the journey.
Some key highlights
It’s impossible to mention all of our key milestones and achievements over the years, so here are just a few.
- 1977 saw us take on our first advocacy case – that of a 7 year old girl called Carol. It was to be the first of many thousands!
- The International Year of the Child (1979) provided an opportunity to really grow the momentum behind our work - we launched the ‘A Voice in Their Lives’ campaign promoting the need for young people to have an independent voice in their lives - standing up for them. Coinciding with this, a telephone helpline was set up in Gwen’s own home and was inundated with calls
- Our first visiting advocacy service to secure children’s homes began in 1987. The success of this model meant that in 1998 we were asked to set up the first visiting advocacy service to Medway Secure Training Centre, and in 2003 the Home Office approached us to develop the model for advocacy provision in all Young Offender Institutions and Secure Training Centres
- Gwen had always championed the need for a complaints process enshrined in legislation, and the concept of an Independent Person working alongside the Investigating Officer during the investigation of complaints. This was incorporated in the Children Act (1989), and in 1991 we set up the first service providing Independent People for Children Act complaints. This service is still going strong today
- Our first community advocacy service was launched in London Borough of Greenwich in 1990. In 1995 this was followed by the launch of our London-wide advocacy service which incorporated a freephone helpline and a team of advocates to support children and young people from across the capital. This helpline is still running today
- In 2000 alongside NYAS we founded & co-chaired the National Children’s Advocacy Consortium, bringing together the main advocacy providers to campaign for advocacy as a legal right. In 2002, following intense lobbying we took a huge step forward - advocacy was enshrined in law giving young people the right to an advocate when making a complaint. A huge achievement and a big leap forward for children’s rights
- 2002 also saw the introduction of the National Advocacy Standards. We were heavily involved in their development and the standards contained a foreword by a young VCC service user called Helen
- In 2005 the Alliance for Child Centred Care was launched by our then CEO, John Kemmis, with the goal of improving outcomes and bringing about a truly child-centred care system. We are still a member of this group
- We’ve used our experience to develop a number of ground-breaking publications over the years – including Locked Up, Looked After designed specifically for young people in secure settings providing them with clear information about their rights and entitlements, Sorted & Supported which demystifies the Leaving Care Act, and It’s My Review which helps young people to understand and participate in their LAC reviews
- In October 2013, Voice (as VCC had been known since 2005) joined the Coram group of charities and became Coram Voice. Working with Coram and the other members of the group, we are able to combine our strengths, reach and abilities, allowing us to make the biggest possible difference to the greatest number of children and young people
Despite the passage of years, we remain true to Gwen’s original ethos – enabling children and young people to have their voices heard and to have a say in the decisions that affect their lives.
Share your memories
If you have any stories or memories of your own about the organisation we'd love to hear them. Please get in touch via firstname.lastname@example.org, Twitter (@VoiceYP) or Facebook (Coram Voice).