Life after leaving care: ‘There’s always something to fight for’

As National Care Leavers' Week draws to a close, Kyle Simmons speaks about his "mediocre" time in care and how he wants to help improve the service for others

Photo: REX/Cultura (posed by models)

Kyle Simmons laughs as he speaks about how, after finishing university, he was told he would no longer receive the support he had been getting since he entered care at the age of four.

“The social services sent me this letter saying: ‘Congratulations on your degree. However you’re no longer eligible for this service, goodbye’,” an action the 24-year-old describes as “callous”.

Whilst Kyle’s degree has allowed him to go straight into an acting career, he remains passionate about changing the care system for children and young people after his own “mediocre” experience.

“In the beginning I had very unpassionate, not very good social workers who didn’t fully invest their time and efforts into dealing with the problems that I had,” he says.

His experiences didn’t pick up until he got a good personal adviser “who actually fought a lot for me”, and helped Kyle get the services that took him into higher education and the career he now enjoys.

However it wasn’t easy. He describes his transition into university as “horrible” and unnecessary. “There’s always something to fight for,” Kyle says, explaining how hard he found this when he started university.

“You’re studying, you’re settling in to a new area, you’re making new friends. All these other issues you’ve got to deal with and then also having to fight against your own local authority for something you should have anyway,” he says. “It’s not needed at all, it just adds more anguish and anger to the whole situation.”

One worker can make the difference

Kyle compares his time in care with those he shared it with. He says while their personal advisers delivered very little, he received a lot: “It just shows that it can take one person who is passionate enough and willing to fight for you on your behalf.”

He feels the care system sets young people up to fail. “It’s a lottery of which care you are going to have, a lottery of where you are born, what local authority you are going to be with,” Kyle says. “If it was fair across the entire board, then everybody would have the opportunity to excel.

“It’s so sad when I look back and think on these people and how their lives have been destroyed, if they had someone like I had – a specific carer or specific PA – then perhaps their lives could have turned out better.”

Kyle still works with people in the care system. He mentors a young boy in care and works with the Care Leavers Foundation on New Belongings, a way of working with local authorities to drive change for care leavers.

He wants local authorities to end the status quo of young people leaving care at 18, being shoved on benefits and left alone. “It should be a different focus. It should actually be making sure you give them the ability and the skills to reach whatever it is they want to do in their life and that involves and requires passion from social workers.”

Kyle believes that the way to improve the lot of looked-after children and care leavers is for those who have been in the system to work in the system, highlighting what is necessary and acting on it.

For example Kyle wants to work with and train social workers, “and show them actually that all it takes is one person and you can set that young person on a journey that is going to be a spectacular one”.

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9 Responses to Life after leaving care: ‘There’s always something to fight for’

  1. Angus Skinner October 30, 2014 at 12:47 pm #

    Well said Kyle.

  2. Assistant SW October 30, 2014 at 1:40 pm #

    Nothing has change, I left care in the early 70’s I was at college at the time I turn 18 and recieved a one paragraph letter from social services stating I was no longer anything to do with them and please not to contact them in the future.

  3. Charlotte Peters Rock October 30, 2014 at 3:40 pm #

    Having educated himself, and showing a marked degree of humanity to others following on after, Kyle is precisely the person to help to haul the rotten ‘in Care’ system into the 21st century and out of the attitude of the workhouse area.

    When will authorities realise that our children are our future, and no matter what the legalities, if their needs are undervalued, neglected and overlooked, this damages their self esteem and their future prospects. Thank goodness that Kyle is fighting back.

    Go Kyle!

    • ex residential worker November 5, 2014 at 4:02 pm #

      I used to work as a support worker in a children’s home and it would be good if Kyle could go into these sorts of places to and train staff about the role as some haven’t got a clue and some just don’t realise what a pivotal role it is in a child’s life. Sometimes the support workers do not communicate to social workers or make any attempt to advocate and a child s often too confused or vulnerable to even begin to try and get social workers to listen.

  4. Joyce Spiller October 30, 2014 at 7:36 pm #

    Lets remember Kyle’s view it requires passion from social workers

  5. Lynne Brosnan October 30, 2014 at 8:07 pm #

    Well done Kyle. Charlotte you say it all really. Time we had more care leavers becoming social workers as well.

  6. moment ngara October 31, 2014 at 7:03 am #

    We should equip our care leavers to self help reminding them that the future is a challenge that requires them to be skilled. We shouldn’t always give them fish but the tools to be able to get the fish. Services therefore need to be structured and aimed at development of networks for self help towards economical independence.

  7. Leonie Sheedy November 1, 2014 at 8:42 pm #

    Congratulations Kyle on your achievements You must be so proud of yourself

    Care Leavers need the same level of support that all children get during the lifetime from their parents

    governments in UK & Australia should be charged with neglect of children in care as they were our legal parents
    good functioning families dont abandoned their children once they reach 18
    Most aussie care leavers got a suitcase of daggy govt clothes if they were lucky and sent out into the world to fend for themselves
    Lots of us got letters from Depts just before we turned 18 wishing us all the best and told dont forget to make a will ! I wonder what assests an 18 yo care leaver would have to will anyone!

    In Australia not much has changed since i left the child welfare system & I was told as i was left in a strangers house at 16
    Ring the welfare if you get into trouble as she disappeared out of sight
    More care leavers must find their voices we can’t remain silent the system needs changing and all children in care are deserving of the same level of respect & entiltements as every child who lives in a family home
    Leonie Sheedy
    Care Leavers Australia Network

  8. Fiona wood November 4, 2014 at 2:17 pm #

    I left care in 1981 although academically able I received no support from social services to go on to university and age 18 was forced to work over 12 hours a day to pay my foster carers for housing me as social services money had stopped due to me being to old for care. I am now neat 50 and on my last year of my ba hons in education working on my dissertation LAC in education quite literally little has changed I look at the support I provide to my daughter in her first year of her degree in social work and realise the children in care are still less than second class in our country which is disgraceful Good luck to the gentleman in this story and we will continue to fight to support our most vulnerable young people until equality of opportunity is reached.