Sixty Second Interview with John Kemmis
By Sally Gillen
John Kemmis is chief executive of Voice, formerly Voice for the child in Care. The charity provides services, including advocacy, for children in a range of care settings.
Q Why did you take the decision to re-brand?
A We need to have a name that is broader to encourage young people to think we are for them. We are now helping looked-after children in different settings, as well as children in need. There are, for example, many more children in prison settings than there ever used to be. When we first started 30 years ago things were very, very different from the way they are now.
Q Why have you become so involved with children and young people in the juvenile estate?
A Working with children in custody has been part of Voice’s history. When the first secure training centre was opened, soon after Labour came in, which were designed to give a “short, sharp, shock” to 12-15 year olds, we thought we should go and visit them. At that time we only had four staff, now we are up to 62 and can get more involved in this work.
Q The charity has anecdotal evidence that social workers are still failing to fulfill their duties to young people in custody, despite the High Court ruling three years ago that the Children Act 1989 applies to them. Why is this?
A Local authorities have a culture of really not bothering with their responsibilities. A lot of children in the care system end up in young offender institutions and they are not getting basic care when they go in. Much more critically they are not directing what happens when they finish their sentence. Local authorities must realise they have a responsibility but part of the problem is they seem to get muddled about who is doing what. There should be a named person who has responsibility for ensuring what needs to be done is being done. I calculate there may be 3,000 young people who are not getting the care they should be.”
Q Why are the needs of this group of children and young people being ignored?
A It has been argued that the focus is on young children and child protection, while 15 and 16-year-olds are being ignored. They have to deal with them and unless they do, young people will have a dismal future. As an organisation we have traveled a long way in the last five years. But there is still a long way to go to improve things for children in care and begin treating those in custody in a more civilised way.