By David Graham (National Director) of The Care Leavers Association

The recent death of Ian Dickson, a long-term campaigner for improvements in support for looked after children and care leavers, has prompted a plethora of memories from those who knew him. I decided to write this appreciation of Ian in order to reflect on, and record, our relationship with him over many years. I wanted to add to the record my perspective on some of the varied ways in which Ian’s positive impact affected people around him. Ever since Ian first joined the Care Leavers Association, many years ago, he has always remained supportive and encouraging of our work.

Such was Ian’s reach with a wide range of people that many other organisations and individuals have equally strong memories of their relationship with Ian. Some of them have already recorded them elsewhere. This will help his memory and legacy to live on. For example, many readers of this appreciation came to know Ian as the Chair of the Care Experienced Conference in 2019. Since then, particularly since the start of the pandemic in 2020, others will have come to know Ian from his passionate support for care experienced people through the medium of Twitter. However, these activities were only a small part of his work on behalf of looked after children and care leavers over several decades.

Having been brought up in care in Manchester, Ian was one of a growing number of effective care leaver activists that have emerged in recent decades. He had a long association with us in The Care Leavers Association (CLA), where was a valuable and active member of our Board of Trustees for a few years in the mid 2000’s. Since then, he has remained supportive of our work. Whenever we began new projects, I would always meet with Ian to get his perspective on how to address the issues we were dealing with. He was always open and honest with his views, but also kind and gentle in delivering them. He was one of the voices I could trust to give us thoughtful and constructive suggestions, as well as criticisms.

For many years, Ian had encouraged the CLA to facilitate a national conference for care experienced people of all ages. It was an idea that we naturally supported, but we lacked the resources to do it properly. It was therefore with great excitement that we were happy to join Ian as he set up a steering group to make such a conference happen. The Care Experienced Conference was 18 months in the making and was held at Liverpool Hope University in April 2019.

During the planning period, Ian brought together a diverse group of experts from the world of policy and practice related to looked after children and care leavers. Most of these people had been brought up in care, while others were professionals who supported the goals of the conference and were already familiar with the world of care leaver activism. This dynamic team of people had, between them, the required skills and knowledge to make the conference a success.

Ian chaired the conference steering group, but he never really “chaired” it in the strict sense of the word. He simply made it possible for each member of the group to contribute fully and ensured that we all worked together to make the event as good as it could be. In that planning process, whenever we needed a person with different skills, Ian would find and persuade someone new to get involved in the group. Persuasion was one of his many talents, as was self-deprecation. He never saw himself as the leader and always played down his role. Everyone who was at that conference will remember what a wonderful day it was and will appreciate the detailed planning that went into making it so. The publications that came out of that conference were also excellent and remain a template for the principles that should inform improvements to the care system.

I had many discussions with Ian over the years. We usually agreed about the problems, but we sometimes disagreed about the solutions.  These disagreements were always amicable. If we reached an impasse, he would continue to try to persuade me in a kind and considerate way. He was unerringly passionate about improving the lives of care experienced people, but always saw his voice as only one of many. Throughout my past twelve years with the CLA, Ian was unfailingly welcoming whenever we met. Indeed, I remain particularly grateful for his support and encouragement when I first started in my role with the CLA and was new to some of the issues and people involved.

The Covid pandemic and Ian’s recent ill-health meant that in recent years he was only able to engage with people remotely via phone or online. This was a shame, since Ian’s company was always best appreciated in person. However, Ian’s reach was wide and his knowledge deep. Whether it was through the medium of his working life – running children’s homes or acting as an Ofsted inspector, for example – or through his voluntary activism, Ian always sought to make a difference for looked after children and care leavers. He has thereby left a lasting positive legacy in many areas concerned with the wellbeing of children in care and care leavers.

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