Well, actually France isn’t one of the countries I’ll be visiting. But it’s interesting how many people have asked the question: why not the States?
It’s true there are many good programmes in the US, and if I had two or three Churchill Fellowships I’d happily visit any number of them to see what we can learn and share.
But several things pull me towards countries in Europe.
First – and being completely practical – I can’t be away from home for a long period at a stretch. That’s the reality of life as a carer. I can only take up the Fellowship at all because my husband’s using his entire annual leave allocation this year to stand in for me, and he can’t easily take more than 2 weeks at a time. So to get the most from my visits, they need to be fairly close at hand.
Second, it can be easy to overlook European initiatives. Maybe it’s the language barrier, maybe it’s partly to do with a general lack of awareness of European issues and policies (except the negative ones). But while we remain in the European Union, we have the same access as other member states to funding and support that could help us change how we do things. Seeing how some of our next door neighbours have used the money available to them, and finding out if it’s made a difference or not, could be crucial in helping us develop new services – or avoid obvious mistakes.
Third, it’s personal. I’ve always been interested in Europe – historically and culturally. The chance to look in a bit more depth at three different systems by talking to people who actually set up, run, or depend on them, couldn’t be passed up.
Italy, Norway and the Czech Republic have very different approaches to funding, developing and delivering services. What is the attitude to learning difficulties in these countries? How do they get the best value from the programmes they’re running? How well do organisations work together? How do they train people to support young people and families better? What do they consider to be a “positive destination”?
I’m going to find out.