Most young people look forward to their birthdays most of the time. Many get excited at the prospect of a celebration, perhaps being a bit over-indulged. Some birthdays, are of course more momentous than others we guess 13 is a pretty good one- a teenager, 16 seems to be one that most teenagers look forward to and then there is 18, the coming of age, an adult, able to vote and all those other grown up things but often mainly an excuse for a big bash.
Most of us on ECLM are too old to be sure if 18 is actually the New 21; ‘key of the door’ and all that. What’s this got to do with children in care? Well, the fact of the matter is that at 18 most children in care don’t get the key of the door they get shown the door.
Children in care are, understandably, a rather amorphous body of people to most of the population of this country. They are neither ‘loved nor despised ‘as a group – perhaps and again understandably not even ‘thought of’ or within the consciousness of the enormous majority of adults and young people who may never have (knowingly)met, or known or come across a looked after child. Actually they probably have.
If they have ever seen someone selling ‘The Big Issue’ in the street, perhaps begging, perhaps bedraggled and off their heads on booze or drugs then statistically they are likely to have been either looked after or they were. But what’s this got to do with birthdays? Because looked after children are all different, because they have no identifiable features, because they often try to hide the fact that they are or were looked after it’s all too easy not to think about them.
Let’s get personal. What follows happened today, Friday 31st January 2014. It happened to a real looked after child in a real children’s home. Let’s consider the child to be a girl for this piece. She’s not 18 today and we don’t know if she ever will be. She’s had a difficult life – none of it her responsibility.
For a whole range of reasons she’s considered to have mental health problems; in fact she really does have mental health problems but perhaps in another life, with another family, she would not have had them. But she does and this has meant that she has spent all too much of her adolescence locked up for her own safety in a secure hospital. She has a chance though more than a year ago she moved to a children’s home; it’s not been easy for her or anyone else. She has made fantastic progress and has started to enjoy some of the more ‘normal’ things that we take for granted -friends, college, an (albeit limited) social life; by and large no serious attempts to kill herself and manageable (by and for her) degrees of self harm - until last week. Two suicide attempts, two hospital admissions.
Why now? Why after such a long time (if a year is a long time). Today we found out. These are not her exact words we have changed them, but not their content. She is seventeen next week; she said that she knows she will have less than a year in what has become her home, her safe place, her trusted staff team. She knows it’s not long enough and she said she might as well die now as in a year. What do we say? Do you want to move to a foster home because then we might have long enough?
She’s right another year is not long enough to help her put right all that went wrong in the previous fifteen. EVERY CHILD MATTERS not just those for whom fostering is available and the right choice.