As the music starts for tonight’s documentary – Kicked Out Kids – my heart begins to beat ten to the dozen. Please care system, make them proud, look after these young people, make them feel loved, cared for, special.
Within seconds, my heart feels broken. As soon as 17-year-olds Connor and Demornia are introduced, I realised I would need to watch this documentary in 15-minute bursts.
It’s resonating with my story of being ejected and abandoned from the very system that eventually served to save me. I’ve already learnt too much about the systemic failure so far for these young people. And we’re 10 minutes in.
My next 15-minute watch takes us through the triumphs of a teacher, Rob, who supported Demornia to find his place of belonging in the boxing ring. It gave the teenager a sense of worth and the chance to find an attachment to a strong male role model.
His twin is tragically in prison. He found his place in gangs. It’s not hard to see the importance of Rob in Demornia’s life. Why haven’t all young people got a Rob in their lives?
‘Appalling and inhumane’
Onto Connor, who has been living in a children’s home for the last six years. Six years! Settled, happy. I feel distraught that to hear him say, “when I leave here, I’m not allowed to come back’. This is inhumane. Appalling. I feel so sorry for him. But am I surprised? No. Would this happen in foster care too? Yes.
Staying Put is a vital policy, allowing kids in foster care to stay until 21, but in reality, foster carers can rarely afford to take the cut in allowance. It wouldn’t have helped Connor had the policy been in place for residential care too. How many private companies provide residential child care for the love of it? Not many.
I rewind to hear Edward Timpson MP, the children’s minister, again repeat his mantra before the Commons – children in care deserve the very best. Tears fall. My 15 minutes are up. I can switch off for a bit. Lucky me.
Jemma appears, a beautiful vivacious young person. ‘I’m moving in with my auntie who I’ve known for 3 weeks. Its family innit.’ Out come the black sacks. You know, the black bin liners that kids in care aren’t meant to have any more? Yeah right.
Why would Jemma move in with an aunt not having known her before? It’s what we are taught to accept in care. Move, move move. Don’t attach. Don’t trust. We are not your parents. We are your social workers. A cuddle? Ok then, don’t tell my manager. Then you become an adult, and are expected to know how to build a stable life, full of wonderful attachments to life’s objects and places.
It took me 20 years to ‘love’ my home. I have walked away from houses lock stock and barrel without a care for the bricks and mortar, nor the contents. It’s what care teaches us.
The unsung heroes
Jemma waits for someone, anyone, to help her move. It’s her final day in care. No one comes. There is no celebration, no huge food shop, no dashing to the shops for last minute bits, not even her leaving care worker. Another worker turns up, looking tired and defeated. It’s just another day in the office.
“I’ve had a few people who have loved me more than the job,” Jemma tells us. These people are the unsung heroes, our residential workers, our staff. On loan.
Demornia receives a call from his social worker – she won’t be supporting him to move out tomorrow, she has another young person to see. Oh, that’s all right then. No matter. It’s not important is it?
Jemma has walked out of her aunt’s place after a row – I hear everyone shouting ‘I told you so’. She is homeless within weeks of leaving care. Then she moves twice. And so her journey from care begins.
Then Demornia too leaves the care system. His loving supported lodgings lady sheds a tear. “I guess that’s it then,” he says. I find myself shouting at the screen, ‘come on Demornia, you can do this’. Then he’s in the boxing ring again – it’s the fight that can prove that he’s a success. I scream in happiness as he wins his match. But has he won the battle or the fight?
The credits roll, along with an update. Jemma has recently been evicted from her flat. Seconds before, she tells us of loving the thought of starting college. Who has failed Jemma? Who will feel shame and guilt? Not the local authority. Shame on them.
Three lovable, charming, captivating young people, all with broken hearts. Tell me, where has the ‘care’ in the care system gone?