During the past week my schedule has been quite focused on children and young people, an area in which I am passionately interested and where, despite my role as a Government Whip, I am still able to speak and campaign. Whips by tradition as Government ministers do not comment on areas of policy but, due to a special dispensation from the Chief Whip, I can do so – selectively.
I spoke at the Wiltshire conference for Family Justice Practitioners last Thursday on the progress being made online and urged the delegates, including judges, barristers, social workers and teachers, to keep up their vigilance in the frontline of child protection as they often see first the harmful impact of the exposure of children to violence and adult content on the internet.
On Friday I started the day with a BBC Wiltshire interview on the rise in the number of young carers in Wiltshire and Swindon, apparently due to lots of local work signposting the help and support available to this group of amazing young people. There is advice, support and new funding from central government, Wiltshire Council and excellent voluntary organisations to help families in this situation.
This year the Government passed new legislation to join up all the support around families with young carers – adults needing this care must be properly supported to ensure that any caring roles are not too onerous. Also on Friday I went to one of the regular governors’ meetings at the Wellington Academy in Tidworth where the school’s focus on developing academic results and providing new models for boarding and sixth form provision are to be admired.
On Saturday I took daughter number two with me to Westbury to help celebrate the re-branding of the Youth Adventure Trust, a local charity that provides long- term help, support and amazing outdoor activities for vulnerable young people from Wiltshire and Swindon. I was so impressed with the programme, the results and the commitment of the trustees and volunteers and the confidence and bravery of the programme’s ‘graduates’ as they canoed with gusto, shimmied up tall trees and talked to all the guests.
It was a reminder that for all the good initiatives from Government it is often the energy and commitment of the voluntary sector that can deliver spectacular results.
We don’t talk much about the Big Society these days, but it is still alive and kicking in Wiltshire.