So it turns out that Billy, the loser in EastEnders, is a
care leaver. About the time that revelation came out, I also
watched a US film in which a psychopathic killer had been in care.
The next night came Touch of Frost, with another
psychopathic killer who had been in care. In Hollyoaks, a
student troublemaker was in care; in The Bill, a violent
adult had grown up in care. You might also remember the
award-winning TV drama Care, in which the three main
characters, all care leavers, all committed suicide – one after
beating up his wife on several occasions.
Some people, even care leavers, tell me I am the first care leaver
they have met. I tell them that is very unlikely. The horrible
truth is that most care leavers are afraid to mention the fact
because they fear a stigma – of having led a criminalised childhood
and being “damaged goods”. One care leaver told me that when she
told her boss she had been in care, he said: “Well, haven’t you
done well” – the implication being that she should be a no-hoper.
It’s a bit like the old racist comment: “You’re not like all the
rest.” I am sure many readers have made similar comments. You don’t
know the damage it causes. But did you know that Tony Pidgley,
managing director of the Berkeley Group, was in the care of
Barnardo’s and is now paid £4.6m a year? I have come across
lecturers, senior social workers, doctors, astrophysicists and
businessmen and women who have spent time in care. But you won’t
see successful care leavers portrayed in drama because that story
takes more than a hack writer to compose. Nor will you see
portrayals of care leavers as successful parents.
Children in care are pushed from home to home and from school to
school. They arrive at the next school and, when the other children
discover a care background, they ask: “Why were you in care? What
did you do wrong?” Is it any wonder? Many parents threaten their
children with care – as if it is a punishment for wrongdoing. The
fact that a child may have no parents or may have asked to be put
in care because of abusive parents is missed. Department of Health
statistics (The Children Act Report, 1995-1999, page 16)
show that only 5 per cent of children are in care through having
committed an offence and another 5 per cent due to their “own
However, it is so much part of the public perception that when I
attended a select committee on abuse in care, the chairman, a
former government minister, asked whether it was not the case that
those who were abused in care had been put into care because they
had misbehaved as children. That committee thanked members of false
allegation campaign group Fact who suggested that 90 per cent of
those jailed for abuse in care (including Frank Beck, who received
six life sentences) were innocent, imprisoned by care leavers
seeking financial benefit. The Holocaust never took place!
These prejudices build injustice. We care leavers are not ugly
ducklings. We are fine swans. We may not have had a nest but we
still learned to fly.
Phil Frampton is national chairperson of the Care Leavers
Association and was formerly in care.