Life after care.

How the older Care Experienced Community deserve so much better.

Care Experienced people have gone from a situation where many of us saw no support at all when leaving care, to the gradual introduction of services for support moving up from 16, 18 to 21 years of age. For a select group (in full time education) that support can extend until up to the age of 25.

It’s an age distinction which does not apply across the board to incude young people in children’s homes however. Something the campaign group ECLCM (Every Child Leaving Care Matters) have long fought for. Exactly why their is no parity for young people in residential care is unacceptable – especially as you could argue that residential sector contains probably the most vulnerable and disadvantaged of young people in care.

There is strong argument over the moral and legal obligation for Local Authorities to support the Care Leaver post 16 or 18 years of age up until even 25 as most parents will attest. A child is still welcome in the home regardless of their age. I believe that support for the much older Care Leaver is desperately needed currently, that it is also a moral obligation on every Local Council and that guidance exists that requires them to do so.

Within the Statutory guidance for local authorities, clinical commissioning groups and NHS England (March 2015) one of the overarching principles is that:

Parents want their children to have the best start in life, to be healthy and happy and to reach their full potential. As corporate parents, those involved in providing local authority services for the children they look after should have the same high aspirations and ensure the children receive the care and support they need in order to thrive. 

Under the Government’s Statutory guidance for local authorities of February 2018 (Applying corporate parenting principles to looked-after children and care leavers) it is recommended that a flexible approach is taken to what the legislatures call ‘Corporate Parenting’:

The corporate parenting principles are not about applying a formulaic approach to how services are delivered in relation to looked-after children and care leavers. Rather they describe the behaviours and attitudes expected of councils when they are acting as any good parent would do by supporting, encouraging and guiding their children to lead healthy, rounded and fulfilled lives. The principles intend to ensure that all councils have high ambitions for the children in their care. In doing so, the application of the principles must respond to the individual needs, vulnerabilities or disadvantages of looked after children and care leavers. This will assist in securing that such children and young people are not placed at significant disadvantage when compared with the support a non-looked after child or young person may receive from their family. Local authorities will need to consider the extent to which the corporate parenting principles are relevant to a particular service area or exercise of a particular function. This should be a reasonable and proportionate evaluation based on the extent to which the service/function is being carried out in relation to looked-after children and/or care leavers. 

Interpreting a strict observation of the legislation is not good Corporate parenting (a term many of us are not keen on by the way). As well as the emphasis on the Local Authority to act as a ‘good parent’ the Care leavers’ charter from the Department for Education refers to the importance of being a ‘Lifelong Champion’.

To be a lifelong champion: 

We will do our best to help you break down barriers encountered when dealing with other agencies. We will work together with the services you need, including housing, benefits, colleges and universities, employment providers and health services to help you establish yourself as an independent individual. We will treat you with courtesy and humanity whatever your age when you return to us for advice or support. We will help you to be the driver of your life and not the passenger. We will point you in a positive direction and journey alongside you at your pace. We will trust and respect you. We will not forget about you. We will remain your supporters in whatever way we can, even when our formal relationship with you has ended. 

The emphasis is on every single Local Authority to show that they operate (in the language of the legislator) a strong ethos in ‘Corporate parenting’. More personally, as a parent myself, I feel that ‘good parenting’ never stops. Never. Ever. That many children especially from middle class families will either have returned to the nest and some will never have left it well into their thirties. They will have also become to regular family visits that are never available to us from care backgrounds.

 ‘…institutional abuse does not stop when we age out of the system. Once in contact with the juvenile justice system we have a 90 per cent chance of becoming adult criminals. We have a one in three chance of leaving care at 16 as …girls pregnant or already with a child. We have a one in two chance of being homeless within that first year. Only one in 100 of us will get to university, but one in three of us will have attempted suicide. We are also highly likely to wind up addicted to drugs, engaged in prostitution, unemployed, mentally ill or incapable of sustaining loving relationships.’ (Murray & Rock, 2005)

Thankfully there is a far higher awareness of the problems faced by the Care Leaver these days. A huge amount of support that includes Advisors with pathways, employment and education possibilities. There is positive discrimination and fast tracking, backed by governmental legislation and guidance from numerous Agencies and Charities. The Care Covenant is an Industry wide commitment for additional levels of support for our Care Leavers. There are benefits from free Wifi to a year without paying Council Tax. There is also even a bespoke App available for the Care Leaver today. And Care Experienced activist and entrepreneur Terry Galloway has now developed a website that looks at the Care Leaver offers from every local Council in the country. That should focus the minds of those Local Authorities and force them to ‘level up’ and bring higher standards to the care leaver.

But where is the support for those who grew up when NO support was available. Who struggled through decades, some of whom carried severe trauma with them. Our older community are our very own veterans, war heroes. As the UNICEF global Advocate Benjamin Perks has so eloquently put it. Members of the Care Experienced prior to the 1989 Children’s Act were victims of the greatest human rights violation.

There was a failure of corporate parenting on an industrial scale for them as children; from those who should have cared for them and kept them safe. Systemic failings in the procedures and processes for child care and child protection which led to large-scale abuse and neglect of children in almost all of our children’s homes and placements between 1950 and 1995 (when the bulk were closed down).  Alongside the sexual abuse of boys and girls it also includes institutional brutality and neglect, inhumane punishments, racism, dehumanising attitudes, separation of siblings, witnessing abuse of others. The onus on the Local Authority to parent by developing their potential and giving them renewed chances for a brighter future never, ever happened.

The current pathways, support services, the Apps and Advisor’s support has proved too late in coming for most of that group. Good practise has in effect arrived for the Care Leaver today on the backs of the suffering of previous generations. And in their determination to be seen as ‘good parents’ to its current Care Leavers every Local Authority needs to accept the responsibility it also has for the older care experienced it has forgotten. And I feel strongly, to extend that ‘care’ out to their children/grand children also.

The children of Care Experienced people (some now adults) should be considered as second-generation Care Experienced. Some of them have become outstanding advocates for the community and their place in it assured. Respect to the amazing Amanda Knowles MBE, daughter of a care experienced adult, Your Life Your Story organiser and Campaigner for children’s rights and justice in children’s social care. And to Hayley Lewis from Islington After Care Assn trying to get a Community Centre off the ground and get reparations for those who were victims of abuse in care 1950-95.

And it is their children that I think deserve acknowledging. Children who may have been at risk of being taken into care and whose parent/s kept them out. These children are not recognised within the education system or other support mechanisms in the way that the current looked after or care leaver is. They are not to fast tracked or find special support – even though there are many who clearly require that kind of support.

The extended family of the Care Experienced should become the focus – holistically – to those Support Services that can assist them. But who are currently the focus of Local Authority Services and a Family court system that is prejudiced against and vilifies them.

“Most, if not all, care experienced individuals lack a feeling of belonging and find it hard to find a place that makes them feel whole, complete.” Letesha Kirton-Adams, Care Experienced Social worker.

The fact is that many of or older care experienced community – some now in extreme old age – have struggled on in isolation with intractable emotional, psychological and health related issues over many, many years. That most within this community have resolutely refused to engage with Council Support Services and that there are many – who feel isolated and unrepresented – who also feel the gaping need for an organisation that will bring all care experienced people together, offering peer to peer support – as an avenue of trust and a thrust for accountability.

The Care Experienced has its own story of diaspora. Prior to its appearance on Twitter there was no ‘community’ to speak of. There was the Care Leaver and then came the vacuum. A vanishing trick that has been pulled on us for over a century that decimated our culture and deleted any sense of self-identity or solidarity. And that loss is felt strongly by those of us who decided to ‘hide’ our past lives, create a fiction in place of it. Out of embarrassment or necessity. But what of each generation of care leaver who has nobody like them to refer or relate to?  No representation and little or no understanding of how they might cope with the adversity that their future holds for them.

The land ahead – in their thirties, forties and fifties. What they are to expect and what kind of different issues may arise. They have no-one to look to or look up to. And as successive waves of Care Leavers literally dissolve into the wider their future – no matter how much support is offered through Apps or Advisors – is a blank canvas.

The only evidence available to their professional support is from data that may or may not distort that experience. And as the Research is not there to advise policy makers, so Agencies and Councils alike have no knowledge of what the experience for us older ones is actually like. If you are to evidence post 25 year old Care Leavers lives through the prism of Research the data (negative largely) positions us disproportionately in all areas of social depravation.

In a University of Hertfordshire Report Care leavers’ experiences of being and becoming parents this mixed dish of complex issues for the post 25 year old parenting Care Leaver reveals:

‘..a lack of consistent support from family friends, partners and professionals is frequently encountered in the international research on Care Leavers as parents. Care Leavers have also reportedly been considered to have difficulties in romantic relationships, such as choice of partners, difficulties with trust and closeness in relationships and a lack of stable lasting relationships Instability in living placements and a lack of trusted confidantes has also further led to difficulties in knowing about and accessing available resources. A lack of emotional and social support could also be seen to contribute to the poor mental health of mothers’, a large proportion of whom had mental health difficulties that were present prior to their pregnancy captured the overall experience of mothering whilst in/from care as “prevailing on the edge on my own” which they felt captured the loneliness and precariousness of their existence. 

As a parent and a CEP I was determined to break the ‘care cycle’ and be different to my own birth-parents. That can place huge pressure on my parenting that is very real. For some it has the potential to bring up intense feelings of negative self-worth. Examining the limitations of their own parenting and reliving their own childhood through the eyes of their own children is especially difficult for parents who were in care. Mixed feelings are also brought about through a fear of being like their own parents and/or the very real (unimagined) fear of social services involvement.

The Research shows that a number of CEP’s sadly go on to experience CPS involvement with regards to their own children, resulting in a comparatively high proportion having their children removed from their care. Some studies have estimated the figure for intergenerational patterns of having children taking into the care system as similar to intergenerational patterns of abuse, of between 10-40%.

A lack of consistent support from family friends, partners and professionals is frequently encountered in the international research on Care Leavers as parents.  Care Leavers have also reportedly been considered to have difficulties in romantic relationships, such as choice of partners, difficulties with trust and closeness in relationships and a lack of stable lasting relationships. Instability in living placements and a lack of trusted confidantes has also further led to difficulties in knowing about and accessing available resources. A lack of emotional and social support could also be seen to contribute to the poor mental health of parents, a large proportion of whom had mental health difficulties.

The Researcher Jade Louise Weston comments: One wonders who or what Care Leavers as parents draw on in the formation of their identity as parents and in their parenting role. 

If the statistics show clearly that the care experienced are over represented in homelessness, prison, and mental health and addiction services then members of this community deserves better. The Care Experienced of any age (Department of Education) deserves a “good parent” who will walk alongside them and be there throughout their adult life when advice and support is needed.

I have spent most of my social work career working with young people in care.  My experience of continued contact with these young people as adults is that they are frequently living with the effects of their chaotic childhoods well into adulthood. It can undermine so many aspects of their life, relationships, health, work, and their ability to fulfil their potential and own wishes and dreams.

You may leave care but care never leaves you. Those of us who were fortunate enough to be parented throughout our lives by our birth family know what the consistency of relationships, love and sense of belonging gives us. We probably take these things for granted as we take them on into our independent adult lives. Our childhood experiences define our adult lives for us all. We also appreciate that – should they live long and healthy lives – our parents will be with us through all the events in our adult lives, the good and the bad, the celebrations and the sadness. They will offer the wisdom of an older generation and support us in every way they can. There are many failings in the care system and the local authority as corporate parents would probably not measure up too well on any good parent indicator. There is no provision for the state to continue to provide support and advice after the age of 25. Of course, there are universal services but there is no dedicated, special, fast-track provision.

Being a child of the state should at least mean that you get to the head of the queue for any wellbeing service, any addiction service, counselling, family support services and so on. The public parent should acknowledge you. Jenni Randall, retired Social Worker, blogger and winner of a lifetime achievement award at the 2013 Social Worker of the Year Awards.

There is an agreed and growing need for all Statutory Agencies to open the debate about providing more accessible, specialist services to those the State/Local Authorities have parented – for all or part of their childhood. Many of whom manifest problems that Charities, Agencies, the LA and the State may feel they are currently addressing but – and if that is true and there is no way of knowing – issues that affect the older Care Experienced parent and their offspring are being dealt with in a non-holistic, piecemeal manner. Ignoring the core issues that manifest in an inter-generational way for our Community.

There is a real need for dedicated services that should be accessible when requested, fast-tracking all care experienced people through universal services when required and providing grown up systems for accessing files and personal history. To empower the Care Experienced releasing the shackles of the care experienced person’s history so that a happier, more content adulthood/old age awaits them.

What would have made the biggest difference would have been my local Council giving them advice and financial support, or sign posting me to services that could have helped. I am one of the lucky ones. My beautiful seven-year-old was never placed into care. But not all care leavers can say that. Lauren Parker, Coram Voice creative writing finalist.

The evidence generally points to the parenting outcomes for Care Leavers as disastrous. That approximately 40 percent of young Care Leavers will see their own children taken into or received into care. But this leaves out over half of the equation – of those who have managed despite the obstacles to bring up a family and navigate their own careers and tap into the potential of their own children. In other words, all Care Experienced related data is pessimistic and questionable. And because the State determines to assimilate us into the wider community and the CEP may not wish to engage or even know about CEP studies – statistical or experiential data post 25 years is negligible. Any data that purports to investigate the parenting experience of Care Leavers from their own perspective and in its entirety and diversity is scant. The professionals simply do not know.

Parenting for instance currently looks almost exclusively at young women with small babies – almost all of whom have recently left care (with some bearing children from within care). These are always single, isolated and young Mothers. This experience – as valid as it is – bares little or no relationship to those Care Leavers who have raised not only children (who may now have grown into adults) but also grandchildren. It excludes men as Fathers and the LGTBQI+ experience. The needs for a diverse understanding of the CEP experience later in life is never met nor evidenced. This lack of data is the black hole that represents the ‘hidden’ isolated and at times aggrieved and unrepresented grouping that is represented here.

The need for CEP’s to reach out to their own siblings – brothers and sisters who have often been forcibly separated in care – is also starkly not evidenced. You need only look to TV programmes that illustrate the pain and anguish of older separated siblings when they are reunited to see that this pain never goes away. That the need for extended family remains acute and is essential as CEP’s reach old age.

Decision makers try to take into account the views of care experienced people when making future plans.  And these people are normally aged up 18, or 21, or in some cases 25 years of age. This is commendable as well as vital, but not sufficient to address the challenges that young people will face whilst they are in and leaving care. Views and experiences change dependent upon age, experience and the length of time since young people have left care – and this variation is important.  Imagine if older care experienced people could have a dialogue, exchange thoughts and ideas with their younger peers, and could offer encouragement, advice and positive role models. Imagine also if those who made decisions about care had access to the massive experience and understanding of not just one band of care experienced people but could speak with care experienced people of all ages and in all their diversity, including those still in the care system and those who have successfully negotiated it and are now in the community. How services could be improved!

I am all for a package of reparations from our Local Authorities. That includes finance, support services (that are trauma informed) and a community centre or hub that would include Art therapy and other activities. A point of return (so many old children’s homes have been demolished) and place for the community to bring their own families to.

Our Local Authorities – who broadcast their proactive support for this generation of care Leaver (which is questionable) – are guilty of abandoning generations of care experienced people who live daily with loss, anger, painful memories, as well as stigma and prejudice. These are adult lives that are lived in conflict by our brave veteran heroes who ask for nothing and get less than and try to live a positive life – for their children and siblings often – that despite our best efforts remains determined by a difficult and unresolved past.

Posted in CEP

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