The magic of empathy

The benefits of the support offered by befrienders to children in care are obvious to James Scott

Leaving care at 18 was one of the biggest events of my life after spending 12 years in the care system. I started in residential care, then moved into a long and unhappy foster placement. I was all too aware of the effect leaving care could have on me despite initially feeling excited about having freedom and independence when I made my transition to independent living. There was also a sense of uncertainty concerning my future and my place in society.

I am 32 and it has been a long and sometimes painful journey to reach the point I am at now. Years of depression, anger at the system, isolation and self-esteem issues all played a part in me trying to find myself and discover just who I am. One of the positive turning points in my life happened two years ago when I joined the befriending service based in Newham Council’s social services.

The aim of the service is to provide support to children in care by encouraging them to develop a hobby or interest and to help them build wider social and leisure networks. I wanted to be a part of the service because the main criterion in the job specification was that you had to have been a care leaver. It seemed an ideal opportunity for me to do something positive after my negative experiences within the care system.

All the befrienders work under the supervision of the scheme co-ordinator Hema Patel. We have undergone training in child protection, diversity and anti-discriminatory practice, managing challenging behaviour, developing relationships and children’s rights.

I’m glad I made the decision to become a befriending volunteer and for me it came at the right time in my life. What makes the service so great is the fact we can empathise with the young people we work with. When I think back to my own experiences in care I often feel I could have benefited from having a befriender. I remember things became tough when I was preparing to leave care and move to independent living. I had no idea how to cope with things such as budgeting, cooking and paying bills. If a young person in care has nobody to help them it is easy to slip off the rails and be faced with serious social issues such as depression, substance abuse, homelessness or even imprisonment.

Despite not having happy memories about my own time in care, I count myself as one of the lucky care leavers because I didn’t become a casualty of the care system. I know from my own experiences that many of the problems care leavers face can be avoided if young people are properly prepared, given the correct advice and someone monitors the situation until they are confident enough to go it alone.

Thankfully, the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000 has shaken up the way social services support care leavers. Befriending for me is a good chapter in my life and I aim to continue my work in a supporting role to young people.

James Scott is a volunteer for Newham Council’s befriender service for looked-after children

More from Community Care

Comments are closed.