Raissa Page died on July 28 2011, aged 78. She was an important figure in the world of looked after children and their carers, whose influence was a very particular one. I was fortunate enough to work with her on the Who Cares? project in the late 1970s and early 80s at the National Children’s Bureau in London. Although I was not involved directly in the planning for the original Who Cares? day in 1976, I was present at it and vividly remember the excitement and optimism generated by it.One hundred young people took part in it, sent by local authorities in England and Wales. It spawned a book, a newsletter, follow-on young peoples’ groups set up by at least half a dozen local authorities, teaching days for residential staff and for other professionals, a parallel project in Scotland, a film, the birth of NAYPIC (the National Association of Young People in Care, an organisation run by children in care themselves), reports to social work and teaching professionals and to government, and the founding of the Who Cares? Trust.
Raissa was the person appointed by the National Children’s Bureau, under Mia Kellmer Pringle, to lead the project. It could not have been a better appointment. She was imaginative, brave, and passionate about the rights and needs of children and young people in care. At the same time she was meticulous in her planning of every aspect of the project. She knew that it was crucial to involve and respect the contribution of child care staff if the project were to survive and to continue.
She knew that the young people themselves had to be made welcome and to feel valued if they were to give of their best. She had the excellent idea of using people who had been in care themselves, and who were mostly in their 20s and 30s, as facilitators and catalysts in each group. A small army of support staff, secretaries, typists, social workers, photographers, film makers and editors worked willingly for her, becoming as passionate and interested in the needs of children in care as she was.
Her partnership with George Clark, photographer, typographer and editor, and the Bureau’s publications officer, was outstandingly productive, and the book Who Cares? Young People In Care Speak Out was published under their joint names. When I became involved more fully in the project she was as supportive and enthusiastic about the young people whose voices she wanted heard as she had been in its earlier stages, while allowing me free rein with the groups I ran and the teaching materials we devised.
Raissa was aware that she was not the only person to feel that the needs of young people in care and their right to express them merited all the support adults could give. She was quick to credit the work of other people and was modest about herself and her achievements. Nevertheless, her fiery drive and clear thinking gave great impetus to the growing movement at the time to have the needs and feelings of children in care recognised and acted upon.
Raissa went on to develop another career as a documentary photographer of talent and force. In later life illness and serious arthritic disease meant that she retired from public life to the beautiful house in Wales which she shared with her partner. There, despite her ill-health, she was able to feel a degree of peace and a sense of the worthwhile, nurtured and cared for as she was by Adrianne. The part of her life that she devoted to children in care, however, deserves recognition, and while she would never have wanted that recognition to have any fuss or flattery about it, what would please her most would be the knowledge that some at least of what she fought for on their behalf took root and was still being acted on today.