Darren Coyne – Care Leavers Association Project Manager, 2010 – 2021
On Tuesday 25th of May 2021, The Care Leavers Association lost one of its most dynamic and creative forces. Darren Coyne, our Project Manager, was one of a kind and has left an indelible imprint on what we have been, and become, over this past decade. He died after a short illness and will be greatly missed by CLA staff, Trustees and members.
Darren joined The Care Leavers Association (CLA) in 2010. He was appointed at the same time as our National Director, David Graham, and the two worked closely together throughout Darren’s time with us. He was part of a team of four staff members and Darren’s initial role was to focus on establishing network groups of care leavers around the country. He dutifully travelled up and down England and Wales meeting care leavers of all ages. He was ideally suited to helping groups of strangers connect with each other and for 2 years he facilitated groups that not only supported each other but developed activism to change local policy and practice. And he was always prepared to go the extra mile. Setting up groups in the South West was always going to be difficult given the distance and geography. So Darren bought a tent and went camping across Devon and Cornwall, sometimes having meetings around the camp fire.
At that time, the CLA was already known for its campaigning work on access to care files for care leavers of all ages. Darren quickly took on this area of work and injected it with his usual zest. From developing more systematic advice for individual care leavers, to engaging with influential politicians, academics and officials, Darren always sought to improve the experience of care leavers accessing their care records
Hence Darren spent much of the past eleven years helping to promote wider understanding of the importance of care files and policies to help care leavers access them. Through his ability to engage with people from a diverse range of backgrounds and perspectives, he was able to develop a coalition that shared the CLA’s objectives in this area. That coalition, the Access to Records Campaign Group, was launched in 2013 and was instrumental in gaining statutory guidance for local authorities on how to respond to care leavers seeking to access their files. This style of working, of using his charisma, credibility and energy to develop coalitions working for progress, was typical of Darren’s approach.
Alongside such high-profile activities, Darren spent a lot of time on the quiet and routine – but no less important – work of advising individual care leavers on how to go about accessing their care files. Over the years, countless individuals have benefitted from his encouragement and support in his area. Many of them have come forward, with his passing, to remind us of this more personal aspect of his work.
Alongside his work on access to records, Darren increasingly expanded the CLA’s activities into a new and important area for us, that of the problems facing looked after children and care leavers who become involved with the criminal justice system. Having once resided ‘at her majesty’s pleasure’, Darren knew, from first-hand experience, what care leavers faced when they encountered the criminal justice system.
Again, his ability to engage with a wide range of individuals, from young prisoners to prison Governors to senior civil servants, helped him lead the secure estate towards recognising the difficulties encountered by children and young people from the care system when they become incarcerated. He also led challenges to the criminalising effects of the care system’s treatment of some young people in care. Through developing such CLA initiatives as the ‘Clear Approach’, he was able to push forward understanding and policy hugely during his time with us.
He was passionately committed to ensuring that the user-voice and user experience were at the heart of all policy decisions. He was prepared to tell his own story and provide a platform for other care leavers to get their voices heard. He didn’t sugar-coat the situation but told it as it is – regardless of his audience.
It’s not an exaggeration to say that he was one of the leading national figures, over the past decade, in changing the approach of the criminal justice system towards care leavers.
To those of us who knew him in the CLA he was, simply, Darren. He was an irrepressible colleague, well-liked by those members that he met on many occasions. We learned to facilitate his distinctive style of working, maximising the freedom he needed to work with others in a range of ways. We provided him with a platform and a working home and let him pursue the CLA’s goals in his own way. He rewarded us, and those he worked with, through his major positive impact during his time with us. Darren is now, permanently, a central part of our history and our enduring values.
Early in his CLA career, Darren would often say, “Let’s not call it a care system until it does what it says on the tin”. He lived his life to make this happen. We can all honour his memory by continuing that work.