“People do come out of care and do survive and do well and it’s important not to have a completely negative image of care leavers,” says Care Leavers’ Association national co-ordinator Victoria Hull (pictured).
And Hull should know. She was taken into foster care at 13 with her two younger siblings following the illness and later death of her parents. She remained in care until leaving for university at 18, but continued to live with her foster parents during holidays and afterwards, until she moved into her own house.
Hull took up her post in 2004 and believes her experience of care gives her a “balanced view” of the system and a desire to make people understand that care leavers are not a “homogenous mass”, but are people who can be successful.
The association has set up the Care Leavers Reunited website, which allows care leavers to make contact with friends from the system. It has almost 2,000 members who share their experiences of care with each other and it also allows social workers and foster carers to get back in touch with children they looked after.
In June, the association will launch a campaign to help care leavers access their care records, which Hull says are often their equivalent of family photo albums.
But the association also has a role in using the experience of its members to improve the situation for young people currently in the care system.
Hull says the association was impressed overall with Care Matters, the government’s children in care green paper published last October, but feels it could have gone further. The paper suggests giving young people a veto over leaving care before 18, but Hull says councils should not be able to discharge people before 18, forcing authorities to build better relationships with looked-after children.
The green paper suggests young people should be allowed to remain in foster care until 21, but Hull says this should be upped to 24, the average age at which most people leave home, with young people given the chance to return if they leave earlier than that.
“It didn’t really address post-18 and older,” says Hull.
The green paper talked about the professionalisation of foster carers and last week the Fostering Network launched a campaign to ensure all carers were paid a wage.
Hull is sympathetic but also sounds a note of caution. “I do think foster carers should be reimbursed. But I don’t think it should be the primary motive. A lot of independent foster agencies promote the financial aspect as the main draw and it’s a horrible thing to see because you’re bound to attract the wrong type of person.”
But young people’s experience of care is not just down to government policies. Hull believes social workers have a responsibility to focus on the needs of each child, building a relationship with them and having the same kind of aspirations for them as they would for their own child.
She says this can have a positive impact and recounts the story of a care leaver who was delighted that her former social worker had remembered her birthday. “Having one stable person can really make a difference to someone’s life.”
● Favourite band: “Razorlight. Also Johnny Cash.”
● Favourite film: “A Streetcar Named Desire – I’m a big Marlon Brando fan.”
● Desert island item: “Some kind of hair product!”
This article appeared in the 15 March issue under the headline “How leavers survive and thrive”