Thursday 30 October 2014

Ben reflects on the government's refusal to implement the 16 plus care options from the Education Select Committee

Today I awoke feeling very indifferent and in a slight mood over failure of the government to accept the “16 plus care options” recommendations of the Education Select Committee.

I reflected on my own experience over the last 10 months, and particularly my efforts as part of ECLCM to gain equal rights for ALL young people leaving care to have equal after care support, the same as their peers and siblings are offered in foster care.

It seems to me as though this government don't really have an appetite or don't really care about every child leaving care.  I find this shameful and disappointing, that in 2014 we at ECLCM have to campaign for something that should be standard in our society -"Equality". How can we offer support to one group of young people and not the other? I have had young people ask me personally what makes them different. They are understandably angry and shocked at the different options available to fostered young people. Can we blame them? No!

It feels to me like young people leaving a residential children’s home are not being treated fairly at all. All young people need support regardless of where they live.

I thought we lived in a society where we were all equal, all people. Discrimination is not accepted in any other form and rightly so. But it seems that if we are talking about children and young people who are leaving residential care, it is OK. That is blatant discrimination - but no public outcry.
As we know and as has been stated before, children and young people who are ‘looked after’ or care leavers aren't vote winners. I understand that. But even still this government should be doing what is morally right.

I have noticed since I started campaigning I have lost some support from charities, organisations and some individual people. That makes me sad because I only ever set out to make a difference. Nobody was speaking out for children leaving children’s homes until ECLCM was formed. Amazingly, we even took abuse from people who have since quietly signed the ECLCM petition.  

If ‘Staying Put’ had not introduced discrimination towards children leaving children’s homes, ECLCM would never have been formed – there would have not been any need. I remember the day that the implementation of ‘Staying Put’ for children leaving foster care was announced. I was in London on a panel with a group of young people. We were questioning some European experts about a European project I was involved in at London University. All the young people with me all happened to live in residential children’s homes and were visibly upset and angry about the new policy. I told them I would do what I could, and as a result we formed ECLCM. ECLCM has been through the wars, but has survived to be an excellent and committed team. We have no sponsors, no funding, no political affiliations, not ties – other than a firm commitment to get justice for all care leavers. We pay our costs out of our own pockets. We do this out of passion, not for money.
It was ECLCM that initiated the conversation about injustice to young people leaving care and the discriminatory nature of ‘Staying Put’ as it was to be implemented.  Amazing as it seemed to us then and now, others appeared to be happy to do nothing. We have been involved in lots of discussions, meetings and ‘round table’ events. Even so, we never seem to get a mention. As a colleague said ‘ECLCM is invisible’.

As far as we are concerned, others can have the credit and funding for pilots and research that we believe doesn't need doing.  We worry that ‘research’ and ‘pilots’ are simply means of kicking the issue of equal aftercare rights for all young people leaving care  into the long grass so it does not get addressed, and the government does not have to pay for it.  Cynical? Perhaps, but the last 10 months have made me that way. All ECLCM want is equality of support - not funding or credit. Acknowledging our efforts and contribution would be nice for the team and the consistent and resilient work they do with little appreciation, but we can live without it.
One wonderful reward we have already had for our efforts is the right to look ALL care in the eye, knowing that we did our best for them – and knowing that they know it too. A priceless reward which not everyone can claim.

I may have made mistakes and my passion has sometimes run away with me on this journey, but at least I'm trying, as are my friends in the ECLCM team and our supporters.
After nearly a year in to my first ever campaign I'm a year older, wiser and much more aware of the things that actually go on behind the scenes.

These are just my personal thoughts at a very disappointing time for care leavers following the rejection by the government of the Select Committee recommendations in the lead up to NCLW2014. How brilliant it would have been to announce some real change and offer hope to thousands of young people in time for NCLW2014!

After one of the best pieces of work the Select Committee have done I find it simply ridiculous that this government want more research. To me it just shows this government don't care about every child leaving care. Not like us and thousands of others who believe and know ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’.

Ben Ashcroft

Wednesday 22 October 2014

My thoughts and feelings - How I perceive the general public attitude towards ‘looked after children’.

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.

Ben Ashcroft

Sunday 19 October 2014

Is it a Cold Society?

It was 14 years ago when I left care. It saddens me greatly that the same things that were happening to kids in care then are still happening now. How can this be?

How much research needs to be done before we finally have some ACTION and perhaps new legislation to make everything equal for ALL care leavers. How long until we offer them the support they deserve and need?

When I graduated from an uncaring care system into custody, I had no real support other than a one hour weekly meeting with my Youth offending officer. I had no care leaver services involved with me, not even a single appointment with anyone to see how I was, never mind £2000 and a flat. It was a lottery if kids leaving care got enough help I suspect. Some of my care brothers and sisters were given a flat and a grant of £2000. Even so, they would often be put in a flat in a unsafe place where they were at risk of drugs, crime and exploitation, or else their flats would be overrun with young people, often other  unsupported care leavers, which leads to anti-social behaviour, inevitably followed by eviction and homelessness because they simply were not prepared for independence. They had never been taught the coping skills, were emotionally unready and massively under supported. Looking back, failure for many was probably inevitable under those circumstances.

The rest of us would have to make our own way in life and independence. Some of us failed and were homeless. Some couldn't handle the pain and trauma they had been through and took their own lives. Some died from drug overdoses. I chose to be lonely and isolated, to keep out off drugs and out of crime. I paid a heavy price with my mental health ending up in psychiatric ward and hostel. All of the above probably could have been avoided with the right support and guidance.

I want to dedicate my life to social care, no matter how many hoops I have to jump through to get there. I'm inspired by other care leavers who are achieving and being successful at whatever career they have chosen. I just want to be respected as someone who has given something back and helped ‘Looked After’ children and young care leavers. I just can't sit back and watch ALL this talent and potential being wasted. These young people are often damaged and have had so many traumas in their short lives.

Why do each government in turn think it's OK for these young care leavers to be left to fail?

There has not been any fundamental improvement for all children leaving care since 1948, in spite of the ambition of the Children Acts of 1948 and 1989 and the Children (Leaving Care) Act 2000
I think as a Society it's not the case that all the general public don't care about kids in care. I think it's probably more likely that they don't know much about Looked After Children and care leavers.

Is it a cold Society?

How can people in positions to make change for the better of Society’s most vulnerable children sleep at night in their big comfy beds knowing how many care leavers are on the streets outside in this bleak rainy weather; isolated, lonely, scared and probably in need of a hug and some support and guidance.

It's an awful feeling I get: "Am I doing enough?"

Statistics reveal that 62% of looked after children have been abused or neglected. These young people are already suffering a great deal of pain, upset and instability. But still they are being asked to leave care at 16-18 years old. Out of 9,900 young people to leave care 16% were 16 years old; 15% were 17 years old. That's thousands of young people aged less than 18 year of age. Is it any wonder that up to 40% of 18-21 year olds in custody have spent time in care?  69.9% re-offend within a year of release. Expensive and ineffective at best!

It has to be cheaper for the government purse to offer the option of support to ALL care leavers until they are 21 at least, no matter where their address is. It would reduce so many negative statistics and reduce the number of care leavers and possibly in future even reduce the number of children coming into care.  There are so many potential positives, not least amongst them that it would save lives. If we give young people a better chance of making it in the world of independence, the outcomes can only be positive.

Not sure how people can be upset with me for being part of a campaign to make things equal for ALL young people!

Ben Ashcroft

Thursday 16 October 2014

It's Not Rocket Science

Hello! My name is Rosie Canning. I help with the social media side of Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign.

Until I got involved with ECLCM, I very rarely mentioned that the first 16 years of my life were spent in care. I suppose it was the same old reason: shame; embarrassment; carrying society’s sins on my shoulders. Sometimes though, I feel okay talking about my experiences, usually with other people who’ve been in care. We are linked by our traumatic pasts, cause let’s be honest here, life in care is rarely a bed of roses.

On Tuesday I had a good ‘post care’ experience. I attended the 'Therapeutic Child Care Conference - Hopefulness in a Changing Landscape’, as the guest of Amanda Knowles from the Consortium for Therapeutic Communities.

The conference was fascinating especially as it was all about the right sort of care. One of the speakers, John Diamond from the Mulberry Bush School, spoke about the 'frozen child' which goes right back to Barbara Dockar-Drysdale (1958). The Mulberry Bush School is a residential school for children who have been traumatised. They provide high quality therapeutic care and work with children until they are ready for a foster placement or find them a school that suits them. They help them re-learn stuff like being a child, how to eat a meal properly, boundaries, fun, play etc which is all part of the therapeutic child care model.

The ethics of this therapeutic setting is how it could be for children coming into care...i.e. assessed and kept in a safe haven until they are ready for a foster home or other placement and not the other way around. Hence the reason why so many placements fail; and children end up being failed by the corporate parent.

In my opinion, this government's emphasis on foster care, is wrong. The residential setting is just as valuable and important but as people in the know say, it is used as a last resort. What a waste.

Mark Kerr, PhD student and Assistant Lecturer in Social Policy at the University of Kent, gave a very interesting talk at the conference: ‘Reviewing the Needs of Looked After Children: A Challenge to the Rhetoric?’ As part of his PhD, Mark is looking into the outcomes for care leavers who experienced residential care. His main point, and he proved it with oodles of statistics, was that nothing has changed for children in the care system. There is hardly any improvement. It is an absolute bloody shambles. The care system is failing our most vulnerable young people.

Sir Tony Hawkhead, chief executive of Action for Children, said: “Young people who have had traumatic early lives, who struggle with learning disabilities or mental health issues are the ones who need the most care, but the state is turning its back on them.

“It’s ludicrous that teenagers who are still dealing with the legacy of abuse and neglect have to cope with adult responsibilities, like building a stable home, at an age when most of their peers are supported by parents.

“If we don’t rethink care so it acts less like a system and more like a parent then these problems won’t go away.”

Lisa Cherry wasn’t at the conference but she did write a response to Tuesday’s report Too Much Too Young by Action for Children, that states: The emotional needs of children who have been in care are not being well looked after...

Lisa responded by saying: “There comes a point and I guess I have reached it, where we have to say, we have enough research. It is robust. We pretty much know the answers already to what you are going to research. Please can we do something now?”

And of course she is so right, but this is not to take away the importance of the AfC report. We know all the stuff now, about trauma, about what works, about what these vulnerable, traumatised children need to get over their trauma and it's not being moved 65 times. Impossible? No, seriously, this happened and is still happening. And those moves took place over a period of five years. How was that even possible? At least 65 but probably more like 140 people if not more, were involved in rejecting and rejecting this young person.

The right sort of care is so simple, it's cost effective in the LONG term. When a child comes into care they need to be assessed, placed in a safe place, a safe haven. Or a therapeutic setting though unfortunately there are not enough of them. They then need specialist help to overcome the trauma. The trauma of leaving their families, the trauma of being moved; not all children are relieved to be taken away from their parents. The trauma of a new place. Once they have learned to play again, or just sit at a table and eat in a family setting without playing Greek restaurants; then and only then should they go into a foster family setting or be adopted. Everyone in child care knows this. Every child that has left care knows this. Yet it ain’t happening.

I remember being moved from a safe place to an unsafe place. I remember being in a constant state of fear. I was four and half years old, I knew very little about the world. Suddenly I was exposed to violence. I never knew when I would be attacked. I tried all the little girl moves that I knew. Nothing worked. At the end of this two year placement I was severely damaged and sent to another place where the abuse was worse. Does this gives you an idea of what a young child sometimes has to endure? Even without the physical, emotional and psychological abuse; let’s say the placement is considerate and caring. The child doesn’t know that, he/she is still in constant fear mode. Can they sleep safely? Will they still be there in the morning? Will something awful happen in the night? What about the other children there? Will they be violent to the child? This really is the tip of the iceberg. And so it takes weeks, months or even years to be able to calm down, to be able to sleep properly, to feel safe.

I still find it hard to sleep; I don’t feel safe even now fifty years later

For goodness sake it is not Rocket Science. Well the neuroscience bit is but we, and this includes the government, have access to the layman’s version.

Think about the child that was moved 65 times in five years. What is that poor child’s brain like?

So how on earth can a child be expected to concentrate on its studies. The brain is in meltdown, it is jumping ship, it is on red alert.

And where is all this leading? The Every Child Leaving Care Matters campaign of course. For goodness sake; if a traumatised young person is in a stable placement in children’s home at 16 or 17; why move them into what is often an unsafe environment, like a B&B or miles away from their school and friends. Let them stay; let them stay until they are 21. Give them a bit of peace in their lives and then see what they can achieve. Give peace a chance!

Saturday 4 October 2014

What should we be asking politicians?

Over the next few months as we move inexorably towards a general election the ECLCM campaign and it’s supporters have an opportunity to speak to politicians who, by and large have been deafeningly silent on the subject of children in care and specifically those leaving care. Children in Care becomes political news only when something goes badly wrong – the discovery of (yet another) disgraceful story of sexual abuse of children by carers; social workers apparently failing to take children into care with catastrophic consequences; social workers taking children into care unnecessarily – all well trodden media paths that are, in fact almost nothing to do with the children they are just news stories with more than a little impetus being given by the perennial tendency to attack the social work profession. Of course some of these stories are true and poor practice must always be exposed and answered for. But what about poor political practice when it comes to children in care? Such has been the failure of central and local government since at least the 1970’s to address the failings of the care system that surely an exposé will appear soon? Well it hasn’t so far and don’t hold your breath.  There has been virtually no improvement in outcomes for UK children in care in those forty something years.

Why should now be any different? Well, in part that depends on you. If you choose to take the opportunity to engage with prospective MP’s and Local Councillors as they canvass your support then you really may be able to make a difference for children in and leaving care.
If you can go to a meeting great or perhaps if someone comes knocking at your door you could ask them some questions which might include the following suggestions:

Do you know how many children in care there are in your constituency/ward?

Do you know how many children there are in care in the UK as a whole?

What will you do for these children?

How will you seek to improve outcomes for children leaving care so that they improve for the first time in 40 years?

Do you believe in equality?

Can you explain why children leaving residential care are not afforded an equal opportunity to stay put (remain in their placements) when children in foster care are?

Have you signed the ECLCM campaign to gain equal rights for children leaving residential care? If not please do so.

We appreciate that the key issues in the forthcoming election will be things like:
The economy – how much better it would be if we didn’t have to pay for so many care leavers to be in prison rather than contributing to the economy?

The NHS – how much money and what resources could be saved if so many care leavers weren’t in adult mental health wards?

Education – How much better would it be if children in care had the same opportunities to go into further education?

This list if not endless could go on for quite some time.

Only politicians can make a difference and you will vote them in or not so it’s you who can make the difference.  Please ensure that they are aware of ECLCM and indeed other vehicles for improving the lives of children in care.

We have relatively few politicians following and fewer still supporting our campaign but if they read this blog then they will have plenty of time to get their answers ready for you!

Alternatively you can write to your MP either by t is easy to find your local MP/local councillors contact details. You can use: which is easy to use and lists local MPs/councillors. All you have to do is enter your poscode. Or if you would prefer to post a letter, you can use our template letter which can be downloaded here.