by Chloë Cockett
The BBC published an article recently suggesting that care leavers are more likely to die in early adulthood than young people who aren’t care experienced.
The article highlighted something that must be addressed, but I wanted to put some context around the issues raised so that the information within the piece can help us to create better futures for care experienced young people.
Behind the headlines, I believe that young people in care, and young care leavers, face three major obstacles when it comes to a positive adulthood: a lack of support and the loneliness that goes with it; poor relationships with workers, carers, and their peers; and a lack of support overcoming pre-care trauma that they may have faced.
A history of poor relationships can be hugely damaging to young people who find themselves newly independent and without familial support to turn to. The Care Inquiry said in 2013 said that relationships were the golden thread that should run through care, and it was right. Relationships build us up, they create our support networks, and they ensure that we have someone to turn to as we celebrate our greatest achievements, and to commiserate over our deepest sorrows.
Many young people who leave care are lonely, and that is why organisations such as the Topé Project are invaluable in providing a community for them. However, projects like this are the exception and not the rule. Many care leavers don’t have someone to notice when things aren’t right, they have no one to pick up the phone to, and they lack that individual who will provide them the unconditional support and guidance that is needed to overcome the challenges that they may face.
Too often, by the time that a young person is due to leave care, we have forgotten the trauma and upheaval that brought them in to care in the first place. At best a child was removed from their family by the state and placed in a house, which hopefully became a home, with a family who met their needs. But for some they will live with carers they don’t get to know, and have a succession of workers they’ve never met before.
Either way, all of a sudden it’s ten years down the line and no one except the young person themselves can recall why they went into care, and you find them sitting alone in a flat wondering how best to build their life.
There is a presumption by many who don’t work within the care system that by the time you leave you should be fixed, better, able to go forward, and that everything from now on is on your head, it is your choice, and you’re an adult so you’ll have to deal with it.
When it comes to care leavers it is too often forgotten that there is no right or wrong time to face your problems and overcome them, and that this too can take time. That is why Become supported the introduction of Staying Put, and it is why we are pleased that the Government will be conducting Staying Close pilots – because we believe that some young care leavers need support within a family environment that doesn’t end when they get to 18.
The Care Leaver Covenant is also an opportunity to go some way towards addressing these issues. It is a chance for care leavers to know that wider society is there for them, and that it understands its responsibilities.
We need to not only inspire care leavers, but we need to gain back the trust of care leavers who, time and again, hear that they’re more likely to end up dead or in prison than they are to end up in Downing Street.
Everything in this piece points back to making sure the mental health support provided to children and young people in care, and care leavers, meets their individual needs. A light touch approach may paper over the cracks until a young person has gone beyond the age where they are the responsibility of a local authority – but would that be good enough for your own child? Is it good enough for any child?
As the rate of children coming into care increases year on year, so does the number of young people leaving the care system. The right support currently isn’t in place for care leavers as standard, and I worry that over the coming years we will continue to condemn more and more care leavers to a life less than they deserve – unless the support improves, increases, and is delivered consistently with the care leaver at its heart.
Policy and Research Manager at Become