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”.