Wednesday, 19 March 2014

Personal reflections of a care leaver...

I have been thinking a lot recently about my childhood in care, and about the life I could be leading now if things had been different. I had 37 different placements during my care career. That included 51 moves by the time I was 17 years old. I also had 33 convictions.

I could have taken the other direction when I was released from custody. I could have carried on committing crime, and taking drugs with my mates. Many of my mates were young people I had grown up with in care who were also "looked after" before they became care leavers at 16 or 17 years old.

Many of the lads and girls who were in care with me were provided with flats and £2000 to set them up for a 'life of independence' with some support from leaving care services.  Some of my other friends from care had little or no support, and had not acquired the life skills to cope in the big bad world of independence.

For many of these young people leaving care was an isolating and lonely experience, and a struggle at the best of times that sometimes led to drug or alcohol abuse. Drug and alcohol costs more than young care leavers can afford, and often led to crime to pay for the drink and drugs. This ultimately led to many of my care leaver brothers and sisters getting custodial sentences or being in and out of mental health units.

Some of my friends were given flats when they were 16 or 17, and granted money to furnish and decorate them. It seemed a great idea to them at the time to have a flat and no-one telling them what to do.

After a few months went by they were lonely and isolated. Many had got into debt because they couldn't budget their money. Others had caused problems for neighbours because of anti-social behaviour. Many of these young care leavers would have their friends round and party. This often got out of hand as they couldn't control their friends’ behaviour, which led them to being evicted and homeless. Some committed suicide.

Many young care leavers have died from drug overdoses and will never get to see the good things life has to offer other than the pain and trauma they experienced as children.

Most young people in care have been abused or neglected and have had a very poor start in life. Under existing arrangements, many of those now placed in children's homes will be expected to leave care at 16-18 years old. At that age, £2000 and a flat will be very appealing to a lot of these young people. Some will successfully make the transition to adulthood through their own resilience and through being lucky enough to get sufficient support from caring people. Many will not.

Many will want to come back in to care after they experience time in independence and the loneliness this can bring for many young care leavers. They realise then how much they would benefit from extended support and a chance to gain in maturity and life experience.

Given the chance to remain in care until they are 21, to develop more life skills and to become better prepared for independence, more care leavers will cope. Instead, they are being set up to fail on a regular basis. This is unacceptable.

I am convinced this opportunity would reduce the number of care leavers so frequently represented in the cold disadvantage statistics published routinely by government.

This is why the 'Every Child Leaving Care Matters' campaign is so important to keep this injustice in the public eye and demand equality of support for ALL care leavers to be supported to 21.

How many more care leavers do the government need to see fail? How many more care leavers have to commit suicide because Fate decreed they would be a lonely young isolated care leaver with no support?

It costs less to support some of the most vulnerable young people/adults in society than let them fail, costing the tax payer so much more in benefits, mental health support, housing, crime and custody. With 71% of offenders released from custody re-offending within a year of release, custody is very expensive and ineffective. It does not meet the needs of the young people incarcerated or the public at large.

It is time this government had some vision and started consulting with more young people in care and who have just left care. The more young people are engaged and consulted about decisions in their lives the more successful it will be. Young people from care can say what needs to change and help with change. This is more likely to succeed than only listening to experts who think they know what is best for young people but don't have the experience or insight, and are too detached to know what young people really want.

Care leavers can and are successful with the right support, practical help, guidance, and with a positive role model whom they trust and will help them through the good times and the bad.

We all need support from time to time. We can't help everybody, but everybody can help somebody

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