The Care Experienced ‘diaspora’.

A diaspora is a scattered population whose origin lies in a separate geographic locale. Typically characterised by the Jewish experience or those of Scots/Irish, African or Romany heritage. That is, large scale populations that have emigrated or dispersed and have most often become forever separated from their roots.

I would argue that the Care Experienced community has its own epic story of diaspora. That for over a century we have been subject by central Government to a movement from care through ‘transition’ into what is laughingly called independence. That it is, in actuality, a process of ‘assimilation’ into the wider community. One that has us exiled from our cultural and historic roots too. And that, in my experience, the bulk of the Care Experienced community are actually ‘hidden’ from view. The vast majority of whom may feel disinclined towards any meaningful connection with their previous lives and may quietly struggle with their often problematic but also deeply problematised past. This unnamed mass of people with a chequered back story must be in the millions. And no Agency has ever engaged with it. So we have no idea of its actual size nor its make-up nor the issues that face it. Unless like me, you have siblings or parents who belong in this demographic. That often live quiet lives so brilliantly that it really deserves our respect and recognition. Some forced to suppress their past lived, others trying hard to forget, out there in Society, amongst the ‘normal’ folk. They may not self-identity as care experienced in the same way as I and others now do. But they are in my mind the very backbone of our community. They certainly live on still with the memories of a childhood blighted in care but without any special support for the lifelong trauma that was once inflicted upon them.

Prior to its appearance on Twitter there was no care experienced ‘community’ to speak of. In fact our only idea of ‘community’ up until that point was the wider one; the one in which we were supposed to belong and to which – as a Care Leaver – we would soon be heading. A very difficult trick to pull off for those for whom that very same community may not be welcoming and others, who may have good reason not to want to belong to it. Prior to Social Media there was Care Leaver and then vacuum. You might bump into a fellow traveller in your time after care but you could just as easily pass like ships. For we didn’t tend to announce ourselves as CEP (care experienced people). Having been through a process designed to shed our identity. And as you mature out there in the wide world you come to realise that the very mention of it (childhood in care) can set off way too many probing questions – ones that we often prefer not to answer. Our past for us (that we may need time to reconcile with) becomes like a hinterland in social settings and conversation. We develop subtle techniques in how best to combat the usual openers in conversation – about our parentage and where we grew up – that allows for the level to stay only at polite chat.

But now, due to the marvel of the internet, we finally get to see each other in our care experienced identity in its diversity and at varying stages and different ages. And so we find we can be more open about our past. Proud even of our accomplishments.

The State and the Institutions however have proved slow to catch up, to recognise us a diverse and yet holistic group. As one complete community. It has yet to offer us the ‘protected characteristics’ that we deserve. That will allow us to emerge as a community.

And the Local Authorities remain as keen as ever, to sever its relationship with us, to end any obligations they may have towards us. At an age on a sliding scale between 16 years of age and 25 years old – which is really quite obscene. For, as the #ECLCM movement has pointed out – what parent would abruptly end their ties with their own child at 16 years old? It would be an anathema to them. Send them off into the wilderness, tell them never to come back?

What do they think happens to us all – as we are scattered into the wind? Well, in the parlance of the system itself – we are deemed either in terms of success or we are failures, we either sink or swim. And for those that do happen to show up again (unwelcomed) it is only to serve as bad data. To inhabit the very worst off spaces of the public domain.

If you are to evidence post 25 year old Care Leavers lives through the prism of Research, the statistics (negative largely) position us disproportionately in all areas of social deprivation. We are presented them, as a warning to others, as the oversubscribed; we clog up the prisons, we kill ourselves, self-abuse, trot out babies that also end up in care, we lose our minds, we lose our jobs, homes too. And yet we also serve – at the other end of the spectrum – as examples, of accomplishment, of ‘success’ stories. We become icons and stars in the care experienced firmament. “Look they say “this is what you are capable of..”

But the fact is that the majority of us are neither prostitute nor poet. We go about our lives hidden in plain sight. Some of us preferring to keep secret even from partners and children (it has been known) the details of our past lives. It being far easier you see to create a fiction that we can live by. Possibly out of embarrassment and/or necessity. In lieu of us ‘learning to accept it’ and ‘not make a big deal out of it’ as is often recommended to us. But then, a childhood in care is very much a big deal. You will leave care but care never leaves you. And it is this effect – and of course the stigma we face – that we seek now to find the language and a common cause to express. There is also an acknowledged, powerful message that we each of us can send out, on the net, when we self-identify as #CEP – to other care experienced and experiencing people, who are coming up behind us.

In our new setting, as a diverse community, we have become also a direct challenge to the bad data that distorts (negates) our experiences. That paucity of evidence that any Academic is aware of, who wants to know what life is like post 25 years for the care experienced. For these potential policy makers so often find they cannot get access to that huge constituency.

I mean, how exactly are care experienced people who have ‘assimilated’ into the wider community expected to get involved in educational surveys? The non self-identifying ex care person is yet to feel the benefit of a like minded community and isolated out there they have no idea that such things exist let alone show any support or interest in them. What value to them that are not valued themselves?

The current Care Review is inflicted with the same problem. In trying to reach (or accepting that it is unattainable) out to a constituency that would likely be the most helpful to it. Those exceptional people who have experienced care and lived to tell the tale. Only there is no telling. I would hazard a guess that 90 percent of the care community within the community have no idea that a Care Review is even happening. Or what it is for.  

And, as the data is not there to advise Policy Makers, so Agencies and Local Authorities alike possess no actual knowledge of the experiences faced by Care Leavers as they age. Despite the fact these bodies are tasked to manage the ‘transition’ process. They cannot possibly know what a life may look like for a CEP in their thirties, forties and fifties. They can’t determine either what a Care Leaver now is likely to expect nor what kind of different issues may arise. And, as we are kept out of sight, the transition process discounts those that young Care Leavers can identify with. The transition process excludes actual experience and refuses co-production. Vital information for the young Care Leaver such important knowledge denied to a care experienced person pushed early, propelled out from the nest.

I feel that ‘transition’ throws up way more problems than it tries to answer. As a process, I’m of the opinion that it is fraudulent. No more than an exit strategy. A fact made worse as it is the most heavily resourced aspect of the care continuum. Funding, personnel and resources that could best be employed elsewhere in my view. Transition to independence has been described as a ‘care cliff’ it is not just the fall however but the leap into the unknown that is the cause of so much distress and fear.

The move from care to community robs many that could benefit from it of a sense of self-identity and of solidarity. So that, for successive waves of Care Leavers, their future, no matter how much support is offered through Apps or Advisors, will remain forever a blank canvas. And those of us who inhabit that misty, murky world in the land beyond – we find ourselves of zero use to the Care Leaver, when we could offer them so much more.

We are as unwanted now by the very Corporate parent as when we were unceremoniously dumped by them. And despite being the amazing resource and asset that we are we will remain unused, staying ‘hidden’ and unrepresentated, as we are expected to. And sadly – for I would value their contributions too – we throw away also the opportunity to learn from them, from others like me. How they managed to get by in the world: if they did it themselves and who if anyone was of help to them. This, the sort of valuable advise and insight that could really assist and truly transform the lives of our young CEPs currently leaving care. That would set the Care Review straight about what works and what really doesn’t.