Sixty Second Interview with Felicity Collier

Sixty Second Interview with Felicity CollierFelicity Collier

By Amy Taylor

What do you think has been your biggest achievement in your role at BAAF?

Actually I want to highlight three areas where I believe I have made a real difference. The first was leading our adoption statistics project in the late 90s which demonstrated how badly we were failing children needing adoption. No-one had looked before at the very young age children later adopted come into care, the length of time they waited and the number of moves they had. This initiative, which I convinced the Department of Health to fund, influenced a raft of developments including national standards, new legislation aimed at reducing the delay and the adoption register.

If you will let me mention two more, one would be getting privately fostered children firmly on the government’s agenda and the second would be challenging attacks on social workers, either accusing them of being  “politically correct”, blighting children’s chances of adoption or, alternatively, of being child stealers, snatching children to meet adoption targets.

Why have you chosen to retire now and what do you hope to do next?

If I am honest, I am feeling quite exhausted – I am a natural workaholic but I really do want put the “life” back into the  “work-life balance” – I have five children and nine grandchildren and I want more time with my family. I also need to pay more attention to my health  – but I know I will miss the adrenaline surges which go with the job and I will have to do something with my urge to influence social justice most especially for children.

Looking back is there anything that you would have done differently?

I know I have a tendency to act first and think later. I think I have been able to moderate this with the help of my very able staff, but I now know that influence on the government’s agenda is not always best achieved by speaking in mega phones. A combination of networking, discussions behind closed doors and speaking out in the media and to MPs seems to be the most effective!  I wish I’d realised this earlier in my career at BAAF – I may have been a bit like a bull in a china shop when I first arrived!

What type of person do you anticipate taking over your role?

I am not sure this is for me to say – everyone’s style is unique and I would expect my successor will do things differently. What matters is that they have a lot of energy, because it is undoubtedly a busy job, a passion for getting children a better deal and an ability to explain what an important and difficult job social workers and front line professionals working with children have to do!

If you could swap places with a frontline worker now which role would it be?

This is a difficult one – I would like to do something I have not done before, perhaps supporting unaccompanied children or providing support to asylum seeking families. There are some truly desperate situations – we have to do better for these children and their families. I know too I have a lot still to learn. 

What do you think are the main areas in adoption and fostering that requires improvement and which your successor will need to campaign on?

We need to convince government that adoption is not a cheap option and, although the long-term benefits are huge, much greater investment is needed in adoption support and education and health. Education and health must have clear responsibilities to prioritise the needs of adopted children who only yesterday were our most fragile children – and there is much more to be done to get foster carers the recognition, fee structure and support they so desperately need. Most of all I hope my successor will continue the work to get the message home that you cannot move babies from carer to carer without having a massive impact on their future potential. And private fostering – in 3 years, the government will have to make a decision whether to enact the sunset clause in the Children Act 2004 and introduce registration. We have to collect evidence, monitor the situation and ensure the right decision is made.  Finally, but not last, Scotland and Northern Ireland are still waiting for new adoption legislation  – we need to ensure that this takes into account the lessons we will learn from our experience of the Adoption & Children Act 2002.

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