I was thinking about the campaign for Every Child Leaving Care Matters and was reminded of how my life looked as a care leaver between 20 and 25 years of age. First though, I thought “Well, obviously every child leaving care matters and how could anyone possibly think otherwise?” It’s a bit like saying that every child should have access to the National Health Service isn’t it?
For me leaving care was in some ways terrifying, and only with the benefit of hindsight can I recognise that I had to pull myself up by my bootstraps. Where did the resilience and determination which enabled me to make the journey from being homeless, unemployed and largely uneducated to achieving a PhD, being accepted into the Fellowship of the British Psychological Society and being invited to offer my opinion to Government come from? It certainly did not come from the Leaving Care or After Care support that I received from my Corporate Parents. Am I in some way more remarkable than thousands of other young people who passed through the Care System at the same time or subsequent to me? Different certainly; we all are different to each other. But better, brighter, more socially adept? Not necessarily so. Although my life achievements may be judged to be successful by many, how many other young people leaving care could have emulated me had they received a reasonable level of support?
In my case, those 5 years from the ages of 20 to 25 marked the transition from living on the streets to having graduated from Cambridge University, having my own apartment and starting to teach. I cannot say it was an easy ride and in so many ways I would have benefitted from the way families would now support a son or daughter today doing the same sort of things.
For example, I would guess that my family (natural or foster) would have been around to possibly safeguard me from being homeless. Unfortunately for me this never happened. In supporting this campaign I would also wish to see young people being supported and nurtured as they make the transition from care in avoiding homelessness, imprisonment, joblessness and being without education; in many ways all the things that the nurturing resilience of a family would give to a young person. If the child’s ‘family’ happen to be those caring for them in their (residential) home then what difference does that make?
In looking at the campaign one has to ask whether it’s objective of wanting the plain ordinary and everyday items that would occur and be part of a young person's life is too much to ask for care leavers. I do not believe they are. Any good responsible adult, parent or professional would want the very best for their child or young person. It's not hard to see that our youth is society's future. In planning for the best care for our youth, I am sure we are also planning for the best future for our society. Why exclude children in care from being part of and making their valuable contribution to our society?