Answers made us smile

Mark Smith, Sarah Coleman and Karen Bull on
how they found their voices in the care system.

In total the three of us have clocked up
eleven years in the care system. That may not seem like a lot, but
for us being in care was a make or break situation.

in care, with Bexley social services, south London, we felt that we
asked lots of questions that didn’t seem to get answered. But we
were not alone. It was so common to hear young people in care and
care leavers saying “my social worker never listens to me and when
they do they belittle me.”

Hearing these comments all too
often, Bexley decided to take steps to find out why this complaint
kept recurring. This time it was not the adults who did the
investigating, but us. We formed a small group and met every week
to conduct interviews with a social worker, a manager and an
educational liaison officer.

were trained in interview techniques by trainers at Children’s
Express. And with these skills we were able to get the long-awaited
answers to our questions.

asked a senior social worker why there were still no young people
on the foster care panel in Bexley when prospective foster carers
are chosen. We asked a leaving care manager how effective she
thought the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 was and what sort of
emotional help they give young people leaving care. Our final
question was about what sort of financial help was available to
young people thinking about going into higher education.

received our answers, and left each interview with the satisfaction
that we were finally getting our voices heard. We also left feeling
that we wanted to do more for young people in care and those who
have left care.

surprised us most of all, was that those concerned with the care of
young people at Bexley were a lot more in touch with people’s
doubts and fears than we first thought. Some of the information we
found out even brought a smile to our faces.

will publish the outcome of all the interviews in a special
document called Listen to Us, which will be circulated among social
workers and care workers.

don’t know if other local authorities have allowed young people to
question their care workers or social workers, but we believe it’s
a very good idea to give care leavers and those in care a platform
in which to voice their opinions.

At the
end of the day it is us who have to live in the care system, so we
should have the opportunity to say what’s on our minds. We feel a
lot still needs to be done to improve social services.

And if
services for young people are to improve, then doing projects that
involve us in face-to-face discussions and help restore our faith
in social services can only be a positive step forward.

Mark Smith, 18, Sarah Coleman,
19, and Karen Bull, 17 are care leavers. They are members of
Children’s Express, a programme of learning through journalism for
young people. Information at

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