As a young person, I grew up in the care of the local authority. During my six years in care, I had a total of 37 moves to different placements including foster homes and residential children’s homes. As a result, I lived next to many neighbours and people. In that time – enough to gain an impression about what they think of kids who live in care.
I may of course be wrong. These are purely my own thoughts and feelings on this matter. I suspect my view will be shared by many other care experienced people though.
Some of the neighbours and members of the general public were unkind too us, or just ignored or avoided us young people because they presumed we were all naughty kids. After all, that's why we were in care or lived in a certain place that the public knew to be children’s homes – wasn’t it? After, we all know that children’s homes and foster homes are places where bad kids are placed. They must be all have been naughty.
I know there wrong, but how wrong are they? I can’t claim to know the statistics related to children and young people being in taken into care for being ‘naughty’ when I was in care, or perhaps I should refer to it as ‘socially unacceptable behaviour’.
More recent research suggests that only 2% of looked after children are taken into care because of socially unacceptable behaviour. I suspect that these statistics haven't changed much over the last decades. The statistics actually show that 62% of children and young people taken into care have been abused or neglected.
Some of our neighbours were empathetic and caring. They welcomed us in to the community and took the time to say ‘hello’ and to have a little chat in passing. It was nice to meet people like that, people who that didn't mind us living amongst them, and who didn’t judge us. These decent people never had any trouble from us kids that I witnessed in my time living next to them.
Other neighbours presented as more the ‘Not the not in my back yard’ lot. They didn’t mind children being in care – as long as they lived somewhere else.
Some neighbours weren't very nice to us, or in fact were outright abusive. Some called us names - Scum! Trouble! The bad kids!
Sometimes we took abuse from local youths, many of whom were out later at night than we were as we had fixed bed times according to our age. Some of these youths were far more feral than we were. They would sing 'Where’s your momma gone?' Far far away!’ intended to offend and insult us - It wasn't nice.
People didn't seem to understand or care about the damage ad trauma some of us ‘care kids’ had been through. As if we didn’t have enough to contend with, to get that kind of abuse from sections of the communities added to our woes. They made it clear that they didn’t want us living next door or in the community.
That is bound to have an effect on young people. I will admit that sometimes we young people would react and do something silly. To these unpleasant neighbours, that simply justified their low opinion of us and their abuse continued. When there was trouble in the neighbourhood, they decided that we were the perpetrators. To them, we were all villains, and all looked after kids were assumed to have convictions. It seemed that other kids who were not from care didn’t get into trouble or get convictions – only us.
That brings me back to now and the conversations I have had in recent years with many people from all walks of life and professions.
Most of the people I spoke with knew very little to nothing about looked after children and care leavers. Most were happy to listen and learn – but not all. A few people just didn't want to know, or they paid lip service even though they didn’t really accept what I was telling them. To some, it was too threatening to their prejudices and they just chose not to accept what they were being told. It seems to me that there are still some people who seem to live in a bubble and don’t really care about others as long as they are alright.
The people who engaged and listened to me were shocked at some of my stories, experiences and statistics. Many had tears in their eyes. Some cried, both men and women.
I have seen and met so many caring people, and I know that there are millions more in the UK. They just don't know anything or very little other than when a tragic news story appears.
How can we help the public understand more about looked after children and care leavers in their community and nationally?
I'd say the majority of the public are caring but just don't know enough about the realities of the care system.
Let’s give them a crash course. Looked after children are like any other children. They have dreams and aspirations. They want to be accepted and have a great future.
We need to help the general public understand that these kids are often damaged, traumatised, scared and include some of the most vulnerable kids in Society. They are children, not monsters or aliens. They are all people and all equal. They need love and support, not hatred and suspicion.