by Marilyn Taylor, Co-founder and first CEO
“What are you going to call it?”
“We thought we would hold a competition for children and their families, and give a prize to the winner”. Inclusion, always uppermost in our minds.
“You need to have a name right now in order to go ahead with the application to Companies House”.
A pause follows as Marilyn Taylor and Phil Taverner consider this dilemma. They are seated in the office of Community Action Hampshire (CAT), being led through the process of founding a new registered charity. It is 1999. It is very exciting, like giving birth.
Eventually Marilyn suggests “Daybreak”, the translation of the Maori words “Puao Te Ata Tu”. This is the title of the seminal report (1986) in New Zealand, which led to the establishment of family group conferences (FGCs) as the principal way of addressing serious child abuse issues and youth offending across the country.
“We need to ask permission from the Maori community first”. That sought and graciously given, Daybreak Family Group Conferences is born, becoming first accepted by Companies House, and then as a registered charity with the Charity Commission.
January 1st 2000 seems an auspicious date on which to begin activities. We have been given a 12-month contract by Hampshire Children’s Services to provide an FGC programme across the county. Marilyn’s half time salary as Director is being paid for one year by a private charity which likes what we’re trying to do. Phil is to be the first chair of the Board of Trustees. The Board is comprised mainly of family members (inclusion again), plus a representative from CAT, who continues to hold our collective hand as we begin this new venture, and guide our path through the maze of legal niceties.
The staff team comprise Marilyn on a half-time salary, and one administrator on 10 hours a week, plus a group of self-employed coordinators to facilitate the meetings. All run from Marilyn’s home. Home start, it is called. Small beginnings. But by the end of the 12 months, the magic formula of FGCs has proved its success again by empowering extended families to make good decisions for their own children, within the context of high-quality information, private family time, and enabling the voice of the child to be heard. The plans made by the families have led to a significant reduction in admission rates of children into care. A win-win for all. The contract is to be extended, with the county agreeing to pay Marilyn’s salary from the start of the new financial year in April 2001. With the celebration comes another dilemma. There is a gap of 3 months from December to April. This is plugged by a very generous personal donation from one of the trustees of the original funding charity. She cannot envisage Daybreak failing because of this interim shortfall. One more enormous gesture of goodwill and belief in our organisation that epitomises our beginnings.
The early years continued with a succession of new contracts and the subsequent rapid growth of Daybreak. In 2001, we won the contract for the first programme in the country providing FGCs to address domestic abuse and violence. This we called the Dove Project, and it was funded by a consortium of local authorities and Hampshire Constabulary. We ensured that the survivor was central to the process, and that when children were in the family, this was always recognised as a child abuse issue that had to be addressed in the plan. Our project provided a template for others to follow. With Marilyn now working full time, and the organisation starting to take over most of the ground floor of her home, her children felt they needed to creep upstairs on returning from school to avoid disturbing the meetings of adults happening downstairs. It was time to move to new premises. Family life restored.
Within 10 years we were providing FGC programmes across much of southern England and into some of the London Boroughs, as well as developing training programmes for coordinators, managers and volunteers across much of the country. We nurtured contacts in Europe and the USA, with participation in conferences and by providing FGC training.
One of our early successes was in Brighton, where a local taxi driver hired for the day advised Marilyn of the social needs of various council estates around the city. His information was crucial to our application. Another person believing in Daybreak.
In 2006 Daybreak pioneered the use of FGCs to address elder abuse, gaining funding from Comic Relief. We used a broad definition of elder abuse, encompassing financial, sexual and emotional abuse as well as the more familiar physical abuse. It was very successful in enabling safe plans to be made in some situations that had remained impervious to more traditional ways of tackling the issue. Older people with mental capacity have the right to refuse to engage with social workers trying to help. They often want to maintain their valued, if potentially dangerous, relationship with a family member who may be abusing them. But our FGCs had such a measurable success in promoting safety that when this funding period expired we were funded by Hampshire Adult Services.
Our FGC coordinator training gained official external accreditation in 2010 with the Open College Network, and we gained Investors in People status in the same year. This last reflected our belief in our people, enabling staff, coordinators, trustees and volunteers to grow and develop as we try to apply the same principles of empowerment and participation throughout our organisation.
In 2011 we succeeded in gaining central Government funding from the Transition Fund, which we used to enhance our infrastructure and increase our organisational efficiency. This placed us in a good position to go forward. We were delighted when in 2013 we started a long-term association with the University of Potsdam, including providing training on FGCs, and welcoming students from the University to join us for a while as part of their social work degree. International friendships were formed and nurtured.
In 2014, we took a group of young people to London to meet Edward Timpson, the Minister for Children and Families. He was so impressed with the personal stories related by the children about their FGC experience that he encouraged us to apply to the new Innovation Fund for resources to develop FGCs in a new context. Our application was successful and in 2015 we began pioneering the use of FGCs with children on the brink of care. In the same year we opened a London office near the Thames in Southwark, enabling us to be much closer to our developing programmes in the capital and to our coordinators in the city.
An independent evaluation of our Innovation-funded programme showed very promising results and in 2019 Daybreak was commissioned to support expansion of the initiative to more than 20 local authority areas.
Daybreak has always been a pioneer of FGCs in this country, enjoying a mixed economy of funding from local authorities and various charities and foundations. We believe in appointing the best people and supporting them in their growth of skills and experience. An early appointment was of an impressive FGC coordinator, Richard Chalmers, who joined Daybreak as a programme manager. However, when Marilyn retired in 2017 after leading the charity for 18 years, he took over the role of CEO.
Daybreak continues to hold firmly to its founding principles of empowering the families of children and vulnerable adults to make safe plans by ensuring they have high quality information, good support, and a strong voice for the child in decisions made for their care and welfare. All this underpinned by high quality training and support for our coordinators. We have stuck firmly to these values, not only because we believe it is ethical so to do, but because we believe from experience that plans are most successful when they are owned and implemented by those to whom they refer, and not imposed from above by others. We believe that this is the way to continue to be relevant and successful.