Kicked Out Kids, a Channel 4 documentary shown on Tuesday, explored the issues facing young care leavers. It was shown at a stupidly late time but nonetheless, it still trended on Twitter. For those not familiar with Twitter that just means that a huge amount of people were discussing it. The nation was talking; the nation was seeing government policies for care leavers in real life, possibly for the first time.
Tuesday morning before the programme was aired, I listened to BBC Radio 4’s Woman’s Hour with Natasha Finlayson (CEO The Who Cares? Trust) and Jemma, one of the participants, discussing the programme. Natasha spoke about the changes in foster care back in April 2014 and how children in care could stay until they were 21. ‘All children in care will be able to stay with their foster families after they turn 18…’ When I read this back in December 2013, I was pretty livid. This new legal duty did not include all care leavers, only those in foster care, not those in residential children’s homes. I was so livid, I helped set up the Every Child Leaving Care Campaign and became the social media coordinator. Natasha also mentioned that the ‘Staying Put’, scheme had only been implemented after pilot studies and that pilot studies are now happening in residential care. The Who Cares? Trust, along with other charities have been involved in a recent survey, Support for young people leaving care from children’s homes, that explored various leaving care options.
However, there are many care leavers, professionals and researchers who believe we already have enough research and just need to get on with giving care leavers the support they need and damn well deserve. The government hints that once the pilot schemes are finished, those in residential care will, possibly, may be able, to stay until they are 21.
Demornia, Jemma and Connor are just three of the thousands of children who have to leave care every year, and who we met via Tuesday nights programme. The programme followed these three wonderful characters as they began the lonely journey of no care. As Lemn Sissay, poet, care leaver-extraordinaire says: I didn’t leave care, care left me. And that is what this programme was all about. How the three young people managed without care. We saw clothes slung in black bags, we saw social workers abandoning them, we saw children putting on a brave face, we saw children searching for families that had abused them in the first place just so they had someone and somewhere they could call home. Home, a sense of belonging, that Hiraeth we all yearn for. That place filled with love, warmth, and light and laughter where we can stay forever. All three care leavers showed such bravery, resilience, and understanding of their emotional life and needs.
They and thousands like them are out in the world right now, from the kid sitting on the pavement, the body in the mortuary, the single mum, the married mum, the successful lawyer, writer, artist, and many other permutations of care leaver. There are 16-18 year old children leaving care right now without the proper emotional, practical, or moral support. We all know that Social Services like the NHS is facing huge strains on their purse and manpower. This is not only affecting young people but is putting their lives in huge amounts of danger. Many will not survive, many will kill themselves, these are the facts.
I still feel the trauma and stigma that being in care left imprinted in my body like the letters in a stick of rock. I had never known anything other than being in care. I still remember leaving my children’s home in 1974, I was 16. The pain was so overwhelming, I blocked it all out. The eight years I’d spent in the lemon coloured bedroom, with the sunshine coloured bedspread. The family meals, the smell of roast dinner on a Sunday after church, the jars of pulses, rice and macaroni in the kitchen where the cats Marmalade and Tinkerbell slept. The music room where I found a friend in the lyrics of David Bowie; the piano that I learnt to play; my first kiss. It’s the place I still go to in my dreams. It is my home, my Hiraeth. And when I left, nothing prepared me for the loneliness, that well of despair, that never ending nothingness. I used to get so frightened that I would get the girl who lived in the bedsit opposite me to sit and hold my hand until I fell asleep. So many years ago. Yet what has changed?