Mark Riddell MBE
“I’m Mark Riddell, care leaver and I am passionate about what I do!”
The 48 year old, of Summerseat, has lived in Bury for 27 years, but spent much of his childhood in the Scottish care system. He now works for Trafford Council which has been rated as providing an “outstanding” service for care leavers, and he has also acted as an adviser to the Department for Education (DfE) and The Children’s Minister’s leaving care strategy.
His campaigning for children in care and care leavers started in 1983 when he was 15 years old and in a residential children’s home.
It wasn’t a straight journey to where he is today. During the 80s he succumbed to peer pressure and fell into the glue-sniffing craze. He pushed the staff caring for him to the edge and after a particularly bad weekend in which he caused a lot of damage to the care home he was nearly locked up. Having packed his belongings up into black plastic bags ready to go, he waited outside the office door, waiting for the manager to arrive - ready for the next move to another home. Mark tells us "He sat me down and said ‘oh well what next’. I told him I had packed my stuff. He looked at me and said surprisingly ‘Why, where are you going? this is your home and you are staying, we will just have to replace the windows and doors’. That was it. I stopped glue sniffing, talked to all the other kids and got them to stop. It was the start." Following this Mark attended a ScotPIC annual meeting to discuss children in care. This would be the start of his career in care.
Mark has often been asked if he thinks it has been hard to stay working in Children's Care for this long, and what make him keep doing it. “Patience and passion” is his answer. He tells the care workers who work with him that listening to what children are saying and hearing what they want are two very different things. Mark says "Child care is not simply putting a roof above a child’s head and food in their belly, it’s also providing a future for them. To do this you have let the child open up to you, make them understand that they are valued no less than any other child and make them believe they can achieve as much as others and more. There isn’t just ONE method for child care, every child is different. Try one thing and if doesn’t work try something else, still not working, try again and again, never give up." From his experience of the care system he understands the importance of been given a second chance, to be a part of something and most importantly not being given up on.
Mark’s passion has not just ended with children in care; he has fought very hard for the rights of children leaving care. When he was in the care system in the 80s there wasn’t a leaving care service. When a child came to the age of 16 they simply had to leave the care home, without any support. Mark tells us "Even for a normal 16 year old, to face the world on their own at such an age is hard and terrifying and it is much worse for care leaver children. The feeling of abandonment, low self-esteem and trust issues make them more likely to take the wrong path leading to self-destruction." Out of eight kids in one of the care homes Mark stayed at only four are still alive. This is why he felt the system had to change.
Whilst managing Trafford Council's leaving care service in 2015 the Council was the first in the country to be awarded an Ofsted ‘Outstanding’ rating for care leavers, with Ofsted commenting that Trafford's leaving care service had achieved the 'Gold standard'. Alongside this Mark became North West Lead for a number of authorities in the New Belonging Project which was funded by the DfE and Children’s Minister Edward Timpson.
By the end of 2015 Mark was invited to meet the Children’s Minister, the children’s commissioner and some high ranking civil servants to share his approach in receiving the ‘Outstanding’ status. Following these meetings Mark was asked to be a critical friend advisor within the DfE and made significant contributions to both the Care Leavers Strategy and the Life Chances Bill which he hopes will make huge changes for care leavers nationally.
Mark has penned a book about his childhood: 'The Cornflake Kid'. The book follows his struggles during his early years, both with his family and in the care system, and his path of self-discovery - which even led him to becoming an extra in Rambo III!
In the run up to 2016 Mark was informed that he had been put forward for a MBE in the New Year’s Honours list. Mark Stated it was real ‘Wow’ moment, and that for the first time he was speechless - but delighted to be receiving this prestigious award.
Mark’s passion for his job comes from his unique way of understanding achievement and success: no case is too small for him, no achievement from the children is too little. Due to his encouragement children learn the value of themselves; and hooked on the feeling of making changes they take the next steps to achieve something even bigger.