Tuesday 30 September 2014

What was I running too?

What does independent mean?
Am sure to find out soon
Now that I’ve turned eighteen.
Am somewhat quite excited
Am defo ready to have my voice
A chance to make decisions
But there’s no one to direct my choice?
Am not even really aware you know,
Of any choices I can actually make
What’s gonna happen to me
On this independent road I take

I played my music all night long
I watched the sun come up
I sit and contemplate the day again
Drinking cider from my cup
It’s not what it’s supposed to be
Not what I imagined at all
My independent arrogance wans
Am feeling very, very small
Month by month passes by
Longer spent in drunken bliss
It’s just so god dam lonely
Even the shit staff I miss
More loneliness more alcohol
The next few years are quite a mess
I was a massive drain at A & E
This I must confess
I couldn’t bear the loneliness
Started overdosing on the med
Just enough so they would keep me in
On a ward not my lonely bed.
I found solace in many razors
At one point near lost a leg
“I just don’t know where I’m going no more”
My emotions began to beg
Time and time again I repeated this
My mental health completely shot
Carted off to mental wards
Each time I lost the plot
Back into something familiar
Where people were paid to care
Though this system is debatable!
But there was definitely people there
I yo yo’d back n forth this way,
Hospitals, dry clinics and psychs
I swapped my tipple for new highs
Growing more “resourceful” for my likes
Looking back am somewhat shocked
At the places I have been
Situations…I’d left myself wide open
All that shocked, I have seen
My party pal, my mate Jackie
She gained independence just like me
But her escapes turned to heroin
And she eventually paid the fee.

It’s a funny situation care
We’re a similar kinda lot
I moved around so many times
Long-term friends I haven’t got
I never learned to retain them
I just moved out and made them anew
It’s a pattern that has followed me
Of real friends, I have very few.
Social skills had developed
Within a community so unique
Skills that didn’t fit society
Leaving relationships of mine quite bleak.
Not the healthy happy types
Some erratic, hostile and bad
Most I found we used each other
To obliterate all that sad.
I adopted social expectations
Of the linear line of life
I had two kids, they were MINE
Playing house and am the “wife”
I saw to ensure my chain broke
I would wholly do my best
Motherhood was far from natural
A heavy burden on my chest
They saved me in so many ways
In ways I can’t explain
I found the drive to better myself
They took away the pain.
My two little saviours
With all that innocence, they just give
They lifted my heart and filled it
They gave me tickets to finally live.

I didn’t get an education
In that system I didn’t fare
A very familiar tale for most
Who found themselves in care.
I did get lots of other quals
Life skills that where quite unique
Skills that have saw me survive
In a life that was quite bleak
Resilience and downright resourcefulness
Determined and quite strong
Every so called weak state I lived
Has got me where I belong
Here now, on my new journey
One I have waited for too long
Face the fear and I jumped in
am now where I belong.
I always shouted to the staff
You’re shit and I really do know best
I’ve always said I’ll do their job
Now am putting it to the test.

So Eighteen years later am sitting at a desk
Sitting in a classroom trying my very best
Eighteen years later from the other side I look
Learning the practices, of the roads my life has took.

18 years later,
The systems have not changed
Many young people still leave care
No support and nothing arranged
Struggling unidirectional down pathways
Leading to trouble and negative stats
Losing hope, some opt out
Sitting lonely in their flats.
This cannot be a circle or chain
That continues on and on,
We can change things for future generations
And learn from who’s been and gone.

I as a parent will definitely not
Be choosing between my kids,
Who I will love and support each day
And the other nothing give.

Each of my children are equal
I love them both the same
I will cherish and support them equally
Throughout life’s little game

Each of my children are equal
I want the government shouting out with pride
No matter where they reside.

Danielle McLaughlin

Sunday 28 September 2014

When Care Left Me and I Left Custody

The day of my release was an amazing day and thinking back the feeling was better than any drug but not one I wanted to take or feel again. 

When I left Custody I had very limited options: my mom's or homelessness. I was a seventeen and a half year old vulnerable heading towards re-offending and failure. 

Social services withdrew from seeing me or looking after me. A feeling of abandonment prevailed as I wasn't ready to take the world of independence on. It was a lonely feeling and a genuine fear for my future. I didn't have options or opportunities when I first came out of the young offenders institution. 

I had to be resilient and determined not to re-offend and stay away from my old crowd of mates that were still offending and taking drugs. I didn't want to be part of the revolving door going in and out. I didn't want a life of crime, drugs and prison.

It was difficult to be living back with my mom where previously it had failed every time. As did this after two weeks. My thoughts and voice weren't listened too when I had said I didn't want to go back there exactly because of this reason.

Then to a hostel after a few days sleeping rough. My mental health was slipping. Dirty, no money or food. And no support! The loneliness got the better of me. I had had enough and wanted to end my life. Isolated and not seeing anyone. I missed my youth offending appointment. Thought I was going back to jail. Some of the darkest days.

I know how it feels to be lonely and isolated, when you feel the world is against you and there is no light. I'd stopped hanging round with my old crowd of friends because I didn't want to re-offend. I chose loneliness instead. I knew I could be with people but that was only going to make it worse. I felt trapped with no-one to turn too.

I took an overdose and was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital and medicated up to the eye-balls to the point I couldn't talk and felt all fight in me was gone. Hard for me to explain.

After two weeks I ran as I hated being on the medication. I had one visit from my youth worker. No family or friends visited. Did I give up? Or fight?

Then I went to Project Challenge which helped me more than words can say. I can't articulate what they did for me. And what I did for myself. The best experience of my life with some of the best views I've ever seen walking across the Alta Via 1.

I then met my son's mom where I stayed six years. On the day my son was born, one of my closest friends was left to die after being released from custody and taking heroin. That was possibly the hardest day of my life. Proud and happy my son was born then hours later to find out my friend/brother had died in tragic circumstances.

I always struggled in the relationship with my son's mom. I was distant. Not very close. I was always thinking and struggling with leaving all my friends behind and starting again. The loss of so many to drugs and suicide. So much of which could have been avoided with the right support, opportunity and funding. So many wasted lives.

I then left the relationship for the sake of my son. I could be a good dad still. It hurt so much to leave him because he was mine! I loved every bone of him. He was my world. I'm not going to lie I struggled being a parent when he was younger because I hadn't resolved my own problems and it affected me. His mom has a great family who all support each other. 

I then spent seven more weeks in a psychiatric ward as I had a breakdown. The most awful seven weeks. But again it was give up or fight?

I fought and started running and got back in to football. That helped me clear my head and make progress and start to give something back.

From there I have made great progress and give something back and help make a small difference to some young peoples' and professionals' lives. Using my negative experience to make theirs a better one.

If I had not found people to help and support me, I would still be struggling. We all need support from time to time and a lot of care leavers don't have these options.

If we support young care leavers now and give them options, opportunity and support we can save lives and cost to the future government purse.

It shouldn't be about money but the reality is that it is. Money first and children and young people second.

Wars seem to be more important to fund than our own young people who will become the future of our country.

Every Child Leaving Care Matters

Please support it!

Ben Ashcroft

Tuesday 16 September 2014

Our Day Out

Ed Nixon, Acting Chair of ECLCM, writes:

Over 25 years ago Willy Russell wrote a great play (in my view) called ‘Our Day Out’. It had a resonance for me as I sat on the 0847 from Lime Street to London with three colleagues as we made our way to Euston to join the rest of us (non-scouser) members of the campaign. The play was about ‘deprived children’ from Liverpool who had a day out in Conway. Our day on 11th September was on behalf of ‘deprived’ care leavers – those deprived of the opportunity to stay put in their placements, should they so wish, until they are 21 years of age.

Thanks to Mr Craig Whittaker, MP ECLCM had been afforded the chance to have a high profile meeting in Portcullis House, Westminster. This turned out to be a diverse group of individuals and organisations who, it transpired, have a great deal of sympathy with our campaign’s single issue – that children leaving residential care should have the same option as their ‘peers’ in foster care – to remain cared for and supported until they are twenty-one years of age, an age when young men and women not ‘looked after’ frequently continue to look forward to several more years of being supported, supplemented and subsidised by their parents. 

Mr Whittaker reminded us that in political terms this is absolutely not a ‘vote winner’ but that it is ‘the right thing to do’. The main obstacle to including children leaving residential care into existing legislation is money – though just how much money is debatable when one considers the long term costs associated with a failed care system.

As may have been expected as the debate was opened, a whole range of issues surrounding the failures and short-comings of ‘the care system’ were voiced. Laudable though the suggestions were to challenge how, as a society, we care for our ‘looked after children’ no better now that forty years ago; as a campaign group, we had to focus on our single issue. It was great to hear Kathy Evans from Children England remind the meeting that though our petition may have only(!) have a little under 8000 signatories, through the motion carried by her organisation supporting this cause, we can reasonably claim a more realistic figure of 108,000.

We determined in the meeting to establish an ‘e-group’ to enhance and broaden our ability to share the message and garner support for the cause. We agreed that as the forthcoming general election draws near and candidates seek our votes we should ask those perhaps less socially aware (we would say) than Mr Whittaker and the likes of his colleague Mr Bill Esterson MP, where they stand on or even what they know about children in care. We asked all of those present and this seemed to be well received that they ‘proselytise’ the ECLCM message and promote the cause in order that we can go eventually away with the job done.

The sad message of ‘Our Day Out’ , in my view, is that those who were taken on a brief trip away from their deprived reality are reminded at the end of the day of their depressing situation and even bleaker future leading to the stark realisation that a day out is about as much as they can expect. We expect so very much more than those in Russell’s play. We expect and will not disappear until every child leaving care is given an equal opportunity to remain ‘staying put’ until they are twenty-one. Not in fact until Every Child Leaving Care Matters.

The notes of our day and our presentation will be circulated to members imminently. If you would like a copy just join us – it’s free!

Thursday 4 September 2014

ECLCM and the three stooges - a trip from nowhere to the Palace of Westminster.

The ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ campaign group past, present and possibly future, are coming to Westminster on 11th September. We look forward to meeting with friends and supporters from all over the UK for the first time to share ideas aspirations and opinions. We are extremely grateful to Craig Whittaker, MP for making this possible and for agreeing to play a part on the day, and very excited about this opportunity to get together.

If we pause and reflect for a moment, it  may seem odd that we are so excited about this opportunity to further promote our cause, but how much more odd is it that we should even have to exist, let alone have approaching 8000 signatories encouraging us to persevere with our cause?

In many senses a group such as ours should not be required in the United Kingdom in 2014, given our raison d'ĂȘtre. Given this odd situation, it is perhaps appropriate once more before the meeting takes place to reiterate our position and the context in which we came about and remain intact and as passionate as ever some nine months later.
There are many admirable and dedicated individuals and organisations who exist to support care leavers and happily many will be represented at the Harold Wilson room next week. Given the vital work these good people do, and indeed the contributions of thousands of social workers, their  managers, residential staff, affiliated professionals, councillors, members of Parliament and corporate parents around the country who work to support children in and beyond a life in residential care, one may ask  what possible need there could be for a small, passionate (if occasionally frustrated and even rather angry) group of strangers to come together over the course of a few days in the lead up to Christmas? What vital aspect of life for children in residential care could have been missed, overlooked or simply ignored to cause such an unusual event to happen? Of course, that event was the way the government proposed to implement its commendable ‘Staying Put’ initiative. 

Given Society’s expressed commitment to equality and justice, we as a small group found it hard to believe that in this day and age a British government could introduce a policy that on the face of it openly discriminates against one group of vulnerable children leaving care based solely on where they are placed during their final year in care.  This policy appeared to us to differentiate between blameless children shamelessly. We waited for the public display of outrage, and for the social work and national press to crawl all over the issue. Nothing.  We waited for those people concerned with social work with children and families and the care of children to speak out and to tell the government that they must have made a dreadful mistake? There was virtual silence, and as a result, ECLCM was born.

Following the initial ECLCM campaign and the welcome support of some caring MPs, the issue of support for young people leaving care was reviewed by the Education Select Committee.  To their credit, the Education Select Committee, after careful deliberation and review of the evidence, agreed with ECLCM that all children leaving care should be supported equally to at least 21 years of age. We now await the government response to their recommendations. What will happen to their recommendations, whether they will be introduced into a programme in advance of the next election? Who knows.

Let’s remind ourselves about the issues. Let’s consider our ‘three stooges’.  Imagine three 17 year olds with similar needs, challenges and aspirations.  One lives at home with a caring family. He or she will receive the support of the family as they grow older. There are no ‘cut off’ points based on age. They know the family will be there for them practically and emotionally into adulthood, and indeed, for the rest of their lives. 
Let’s assume the other two 17 year olds are in care, but to all intents and purposes have identical backgrounds, needs, fears and hopes to the young person growing up amongst family. One of these is placed with foster parents and the other in a children’s home. Will they be treated differently? Well, it seems that under the current implementation of the ‘Staying Put’ initiative that is exactly what will happen.  The fostered 17 year old may now expect to stay in care to be looked after and supported as any seventeen year old might expect in their home until they are 21. The other 17 year old living in a children’s home must leave and fend for themselves.

We at ECLCM see this as unjust and discriminatory. We believe that ALL care leavers must be given options according to their needs, not based on their accommodation. To us, it is pure and simple - discrimination is wrong. That’s why we are coming to London because EVERY Child Leaving Care Matters.