As I sit here, surrounded by my pets and sipping Baileys on New Years Eve 2014, with my unofficial ‘foster daughter’ curled up asleep on the settee fast asleep, I felt I just needed to write down my feelings on why ALL care leavers need the unconditional support of just SOMEONE!
I’ve worked with teenagers for over 13 years now. I’ve run units for students classed at ‘at risk of exclusion’ and because of my experiences I later became a foster mum and this lead to becoming a ‘Staying put’ mum for those who want to stay in their placements (homes) after the age of 18.
Don’t get me wrong, I’m no fairy godmother, no matter how old you are I still expect to be treated with the respect I deserve and I still expect all to respect my boundaries and expectations if you’re sharing my home. What you do get in return though is that my home is your home, I care for you as though you were my own and every day is a new day and a fresh start. I have always felt that ALL young people, deserve the basic right to have a place they can always call home and someone to always call on no matter what happens or how old you are!
Why should it be fair for a care leaver to be expected to fend for themselves once they reach 18 just because they’ve been placed in a residential unit or a foster placement that’s not continued? The average age for young people leaving their parents home now is around 27!? and then the support still continues after that. My parents still support me and I was a nightmare of a teenager. I wouldn’t have my own house and my work ethos if it wasn’t for my parents and family’s unconditional love and support. What about the times we’ve physically fought, the times we’ve not done things our parents are proud of? Do they just cast us out forever and say ‘Get on with it now’? Put it this way, I know I’d have not been where I am now without the support I had.
So WHY? is a young person, that through no fault of their own, who have been placed into the care of the local authority, expected to be able to cope? and on their own!
There’s also a lot of stigma and assumptions made care leavers and yp in care! Well they may take drugs or drink too much, they may steal from me, they may have mental health issues, they may not be ‘saveable’ so what’s the point? They will be happier on their own, doing what they want to do!
REALLY? Just imagine some of the most horrific things happening to you that could possibly happen in your life… not just one or 2 things every few years but everything, all at once and ALL the time. Some of these young people never have a magical childhood as they have to look after themselves and live in an adult world right from the beginning. They may only have have ever experienced abuse, crime, neglect, violence, constant rejection and the list could go on. Just imagine how YOU would deal with this and from a very young age.. what kind of coping mechanism would you develope without the guidance and support of someone that makes you feel safe and loved?
You may end up in a foster home but what if that foster home is not a good match as there’s not enough suitable carers in the area and you have to be moved a few times? What if you feel insecure and do something they don’t consider normal?? and want you away from their own children to keep them safe from you and you have to move again? What if this becomes the norm and you start getting older and the only place you end up feeling safe is with some gang or drug users or criminals because they accept you for who you are and then you end up in a children’s home and the circle of destruction becomes endless? Who’s at fault? Is it their choice do you think? I leave the decision to you.
All I know is; who’s to say that your own flesh and blood don’t end up struggling with the same issues and for far less traumatic events happening in their lives and do you give up on THEM? I know my family don’t! perhaps I’m just lucky!
All I know is, the experiences I’ve had as a staying put mum and foster mum have been both very rewarding and sometimes very challenging at the same time but is that any different from being a natural parent?
I have learnt a lot from the young people I work with and at school I’ve often stood up for them if they’ve rebelled against the system or just been themselves. What’s the difference between someone in care doing it and rebelling rather than the Simon Cowells and Richard Bransons of this world that did the same? I’ll tell you, they’ve not had the consistency, guidance and support of a family who help them channel that fire and single mindedness into something more constructive. They’ve not had the same people to fall back on if things don’t work and it’s not just all about money either.
Well it’s nearly midnight and I’m going up to my late, foster son’s room to light a candle in his honor so I bid farewell for now.
Please don’t forget our care leavers – They deserve our unconditional support and care and the odd kick up the bum (like our own kids)