Saturday, 30 August 2014

My Story by Ian Dickson

I thought I’d share some thoughts on leaving care as the ECLCM campaign approaches its first members’ meeting. It is a personal view based on my own experiences as a care leaver and upon living and working alongside children and young people in care for over half a century.

When I was in care in the 1950’s-1960’s, it could be a very abusive environment. By that I refer to emotional and physical abuse, although I am aware that many kids also suffered sexual abuse as well. Certainly for boys, physical punishment was not unusual and for some like me was commonplace. This was not because the ‘system’ or decision makers were abusive or did not mean well – indeed the Chief Children’s Officer in my city was a care leaver himself, and the Children Act 1948 had been introduced to improve life for children in care. Children’s officers did their best working with the resources they had, which were not very much, and within a society and culture that had little sympathy for children in care. Some might argue that has not changed much.

There was little real preparation for adulthood, and when a young person reached 18, they were on their own. It is a testament to the resilience of young people growing up in care that so many did well and their experiences fed into the campaigns to improve the care system and after care of the later decades.

In my own case, I had my share of physical and emotional beatings in children’s homes, but found solace in school and this probably helped me avoid any drift into the criminal justice system. I was fostered at 12 years of age by an elderly couple, who were ‘left to get on with it’ with me. It is to their credit that they persevered with the challenges from what had become a pretty unpleasant adolescent until I was 18 years of age.

At 18, I was on my own. I left care with no support arrangements in place and absolutely no real preparation for what I would face. It was bad enough to struggle with not knowing what to do or how to do it, but the crushing sense of isolation, worthlessness, terror and anger made me struggle with even basic decisions or interactions with ‘normal’ people. Perhaps inevitably, I became homeless and unemployed.

I was lucky. Fate was good to me. An adult sister (also a product of the care system,) who I barely knew gave me a temporary ‘couch’ to stay on in her flat. Only now as an adult do I realise how kind that was. That couch gave me an address.

I walked the streets looking for work and found an employer who was prepared to take a chance with me. This man took an interest in me, praised me when I showed some promise at work, and sent me to night school to take educational qualifications.

When I was 17 I met a girl and we went out for a while. I contacted her again when I had left care and even though I was a ‘care kid from the wrong side of town’ she agreed to go out with me again. She became my wife. We were married for over 40 years until she was taken by cancer a couple of years ago. Her total belief in me and my ability and her unwavering support was the single most important reason I was able to achieve anything in my life.

The couch at my sister’s could only ever be temporary. I plucked up courage and visited the elderly foster parents I had given hell for six years. I asked them to let me live with them again, and incredibly, they agreed. I lived with them until I married at 21. In later years when I was a social worker and they were elderly and disabled, I was able to return some of their support.

Now I had a job with prospects and an improving education, somewhere to live, and most importantly, people who believed in me and loved me. The potential I had to achieve and the self-belief I needed to do so were able to develop safely, and my adult life began. A long happy married life, a loving family, university and a successful professional career followed.

Had my sister not offered me a couch to sleep on, had my employer not invested in me, had my girl not stood by my side, and had my foster parents not took a chance with me, I doubt I would have ever broken out of the vicious circle of disadvantage known intimately well by so many care leavers. I have little doubt that I would have become a ‘disadvantage statistic’.

That brings me back to the ECLCM meeting. All ECLCM are seeking is for all young people leaving care is to get what I got. To be allowed to stay on with their placement (wherever that is) until they are 21, to have the support of people who care and a start in life that other kids take for granted. With such I support, I was able to build a happy and successful life. Do we want anything less of every other care leaver?

Please support ECLCM and our campaign to gain equal support to at least 21 for all young people leaving care.

ECLCM is a campaign group, without funding or political affiliations with any other group, formed to stop Government discrimination against children in residential care who want support to 21, the same as those in foster care.

Friday, 22 August 2014

ECLCM Westminster Meeting

Every Child Leaving Care Matters (ECLCM) have organised a meeting at Westminster, 
Thursday, September 11th 1.00pm-3.00pm.

Places have to be booked in advance via the booking form here
Priority is given to care leavers and ECLCM Members - you can join ECLCM here

The agenda is below:

Agenda ECLCM Westminster

11th September 2014

The Wilson Room

1300    Arrive
1305    Welcome and ECLCM presentation    Ed Nixon
1325    Craig Whittaker MP
1335    Who, Where, When and How? – finding common ground to achieve equality for  Residential Care Leavers - Open Debate
1430    A call for volunteers to offer practical support for the campaign
1440    A.O.B.
1450    The ECLCM Proposal (Circulated in advance with invites)
1455    Closing Remarks
1500    Finish

Saturday, 9 August 2014

Westminster and beyond!

This blog is designed to bring members, signatories to the ECLCM petition and any other interested parties up to speed about developments in the campaign without being restricted to 140 characters!

Many of those who we hope will read this will, by now be aware that we have the opportunity to hold a relatively ‘public meeting’ in The Wilson Room at Westminster on 11th September.

Whilst we have – as far as is possible on Twitter and other social media - thanked Craig Whittaker M.P. for his generosity in making this possible this blog presents us with the opportunity to do so more formally. Mr Whittaker has followed and (in an apolitical  sense) supported the campaign for some considerable period now and all of those associated with our cause want to place on record our gratitude to him.

The opportunity to hold this meeting is a very welcome one and within the limitations within which we work we want to use the opportunity to the best advantage of care leavers and their needs particularly in relation to ‘staying put’.

We can invite up to 50 people on the day and we’re working on how to best sort this out as happily demand is high. Please bear with us – the lack of anything but our own spare time to organise really does hold us back sometimes but we are doing the best we can to make this an inclusive event.

Our thinking is that we would like as many of our immediate cluster of campaigners to be there as possible. We have also received massive support from some individuals and organisations over the last eight months who would like to attend and we want to accommodate as many of them as possible, partly because of what they have and can continue to do to promote the campaign to a wider audience. We are absolutely committed to having some care leavers or ‘near care leavers’ there. After all they or those they represent are what this campaign is all about. We would also like to include some ‘ordinary’ members -those people who are no less important than ‘high profile’ or well known organisations but who are the ‘grass roots’ of this campaign.

If you have been doing mental arithmetic over course of reading this paragraph then you will understand our challenge. We have given ourselves until early next week to determine how many of ‘our group’ can get there and at the same time we are allocating ‘invites’ to an agreed list of those representing organisations (many of whom are Members of the Campaign, too). There is a problem in inviting care leavers as we have no funds and we can’t expect that young people to be able to fund themselves but we will find a way. Having identified how these various groups can be accommodated we will then know how many ‘ordinary’ members we can invite and the fairest way will be to do this on a first come first served basis – we will publish details on social media hopefully by the end of next week of how  we will organise this.

We will also produce another blog – and provide links on Twitter and Facebook – nearer the date of the meeting in which we will publish the proposed Agenda for the meeting and details of how those coming can physically gain access to it. Please pass this information onto anyone you feel may be interested – the wider our network the sooner we will succeed in this campaign for justice for residential care leavers.

Thank you