Sunday, 20 December 2015

Two busy years

‘Two busy years’
The ECLCM campaign has now been going for a little over two years. Did we anticipate this being a marathon? Probably not. In our naiveté, we were probably remarkably naïve at the outset. I think we imagined that the campaign might be over in the course of a few months. Surely (we assumed,) when they reflected on the draft Children and Families Act that was eventually to become law in 2014, they would realise that there had been either a catastrophic mistake or that someone had overlooked the fact that the plan to allow children leaving care in foster homes to ‘Stay Put’ until they were twenty-one years old was wonderful but the omission of those care leavers from residential care was blatant discrimination?

Very quickly it became clear that this was neither a mistake nor had it been overlooked. The word ‘anomaly’ has been used much in recent times to describe this omission. In the view of the ECLCM team, this is the wrong word to use. If it was an anomaly then why, in the two years since, has it not been addressed?

Our ECLCM team includes some experienced campaigners but probably not with the expertise and resources sufficient to challenge the Coalition Government effectively, or the Tory government that followed. We were very willing, rather angry and highly motivated amateurs – but still amateurs.

Two years on and with approaching 10,000 signatories on the petition we are more battle-hardened. We are more determined than ever to challenge the government on behalf of our petitioners. We are determined to make this government take note of the views of the care leavers of yesterday who do not wish their experiences to be suffered by other care leavers, today, tomorrow or in future years.

ECLCM has grown and developed somewhat over the last two years, but we need to take our campaign to yet another level if we are to succeed. We know that and we are addressing it. The team has changed a little – though all our original members remain either in the (rather grandly titled) ‘Board’ or as fervent supporters of the campaign. We have a website ‘donated’ to us by a generous designer. We have more structured meetings and we have forged a closer working relationship (perhaps partnership?) with the Care Leavers’ Association. We have made presentations and attended many different forums of ‘the great and the good’ in the field of children in care but we still find that most things don’t change. We are still volunteers, we remain politically unaffiliated, and we have no funding. Through the course of the campaign we have experienced many ‘ups and downs’ but recent events have been very encouraging.

On 8th December this year Bradford City council became the third local authority to pass a motion effectively supporting the ECLCM proposition that calls on the government to amend the Children and Families Act 2014 to ensure that all care leavers are given the option to "stay put“ until age 21 regardless of their placement, and furthermore that local authorities who have had their budgets decimated by years of austerity receive adequate funding to enable them to offer this option for all the children. Warrington and Sefton preceded Bradford, and other local authorities will almost certainly follow over the course of the next few months.
On 9th December this year, the All Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Looked After Children discussed ‘Staying Put’ and we were fortunate enough to be present through the discussion.

This blog will be in the public domain and as such be subject to scrutiny by others who attended that meeting. They are warmly invited to contest this article, as our recollection and judgement could be wrong – but we don’t think that it is.

 The panel at the meeting comprised well-informed and lauded individuals who recognised that there was no sustainable argument to oppose the extension of the ‘Staying Put’ option to children in residential care. They were not unanimous in this view but neither, I suspect, were the Education Select Committee in their report " Into independence, not out of care: 16 plus care options."  That report was of course ignored by the government and who are we to argue with a government?
We might say that ECLCM is comprised of care leavers and social care professionals who have been or worked with children in care for tens of years and as such have a valid opinion. We might say that we are supported by a very significant number of older care leavers, leading academics, social workers and care practitioners in the country. We might say that every council that we have had time to approach has, or is in the process of. formally supporting children in residential care. We might just say that discrimination against one group of vulnerable young people based solely on placement is simply wrong.  

More important than what we might say are the views of the many children and young people who spoke at the ‘Staying Put’ APPG. They supported ‘Staying put’ for all care leavers to 21 too, just as ECLCM do.

We heard from one young person who had been in a foster placement for 12 years but was compelled to leave because the foster carer couldn’t afford to keep them there on the ‘Staying Put’ arrangement. We heard from young people who had been happy in residential care but had to switch to foster care if they wished to ‘stay put’. We heard young people share that they knew that they were being discriminated against because they were in a children’s home not a foster home and were made to leave their placement.

We heard from young people who no longer had any ongoing CAMHS support, and young people who know that the only reason they were able to remain in their foster home was because their foster carers had subsidised their care.  We also heard from young people who are personally doing well but were appalled that others were being so blatantly discriminated against.
These are children and young people, not commodities but ECLCM are concerned that they might feel like commodities. If there was a voice of a child or professional in that APPG meeting who spoke in favour of the current exclusive arrangements for ‘Staying Put’, then we must have missed it. We were told that our Minister for Children Edward Timpson is a good man who cares a great deal about children leaving care and is looking at alternatives for children in residential care. ECLCM accept that, but the point was made that he has now been looking for over two and a half years. 

Why is he looking anyway? ‘Staying Put’ as an option should be for ALL children in care. Mr Timpson, sadly you had to send your apologies to the APPG and what a great shame that was. You could have heard children and young adults telling you for themselves that the government were wrong, and will continue to be wrong until fully funded ‘Staying Put’ for all care leavers to 21 is an option offered to all children leaving care at 18. Fine words do not make it possible – Government need to fund it.
One remarkable young man who asked possibly the final question of the night suggested that if the government made more effort to secure the tax liabilities of several well-known global companies they would easily be able to afford to implement the ‘Staying Put’ policy that he was unable to access.  Do you have an answer for him Mr Timpson?

Thursday, 8 October 2015

Ben reflects...

In 2013, I was honoured to be invited by the British Association of Adoption and Fostering to travel to Bulgaria and take part in a project called the ‘Daphne Project’. It was a European project looking at alternatives to custody.  I was invited because of my background as a care leaver who had extensive first-hand experience of the criminal justice system in the UK.

 I was invited to facilitate focus groups of young people from residential care to explore with them the realities of the care system and how easily young people from care could find themselves sliding into the criminal justice system.

 I was asked to invite some of these young people to join me in London when we returned home to give a presentation to our European partners about the project. Most of the young people I invited had shown themselves to be very confident and articulate. They were very keen to have their views heard and to be listened to and I was equally keen that they should be.  

 I gave my presentation and the young people joined me on the panel. Together we exchanged views with our European counterparts. The young people were very impressive and I was very proud of them. They demonstrated what I know – that given a chance to speak and be listened to respectfully, young people from care had much to offer.  

 After the panel was over the subject of ‘Staying Put’ for fostered children came up in our conversation. This was the same day that the news was released about the new proposed amendment to the Children and Families Act 2014 being introduced. This amendment would allow fostered children to ‘stay put ‘with their carers after the age of 18 and up to 21 years of age. I was not aware that day that this amendment did not include the 9% of children in care who were living in residential care.

 The young people with me were all living in in residential care. “What about us?” they asked me. “Why aren't we included?” They were visibly upset and could not understand why they were not being offered the ‘Staying Put’ option too. I didn't know what to say. Not knowing about it, I simply assumed it must include all children in care. How could it not? Of course, it didn't. I told the young people that I would do what I could, although I was not at all sure what if anything I could do. I was as shocked at this amendment as the young people I was with.  

 It didn't sit well with me. On the way home, I thought about it and read as much about it as I could to ensure I understood properly what was being proposed.  No matter how I read it, it presented as blatant and deliberate discrimination not simply an anomaly.

 I spoke to several people I had got to know and learned to I respect because of their knowledge and experience of working with children and young people in the care system. We decided that we were going to start a campaign. We approached other like-minded people until we had a team of caring and committed people. We agreed to launch a petition to the Children’s Minister Edward Timpson to ask him to extend the ‘Staying Put’ option to include ALL care leavers, irrespective of where they were placed when they were due to leave care. This was the only just thing to do. We decided to call ourselves the ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters’ (ECLCM) campaign, and began campaigning at once. That was December 2013.

 It is now October 2015 and we are still campaigning. We have over 9,000 supporters who have signed our petition and extensive support from care leavers and most of the social work profession. We are widely supported by many local councillors and some Members of Parliament have openly advocated on our behalf.

 I strongly suspect that if we hadn't started campaigning, the needs of young people leaving residential care would have been quietly side lined and everyone would have just celebrated ‘Staying Put’ for fostered children and young people. I am thankful and proud to have worked with such amazing young people when we decided to start the ECLCM campaign. We have never lost sight of the fact that it is ALL young people from care and all care leavers that we are campaigning for - no matter where they live. 

 On a personal note, I would like to say a massive ‘Thank you’ to each and every person who has helped ECLCM. All the people who have supported us and signed our ‘@rescareto21’ petition asking for justice for all care leavers. No matter how big or small, every shred of support and encouragement has been greatly appreciated by the ECLCM team.

 Finally, a huge ‘Thank you’ to the young people who had that first conversation with me in December 2013.  Without them, we may not have realised as quickly as we did how unjust and discriminatory the way the government intended to implement ‘Staying Put’ really was.  

I told the young people in 2013 that I would do what I could.  I meant it then, and I still do. The ECLCM team will continue until we achieve what we came for – the option for ALL care leavers to ‘Stay Put’ in their final placement until they are 21. We ask that you support our ECLCM campaign. Why? The reasons in the name - Every Child Leaving Care Matters!

 Please sign our petition and share amongst your family and friends. We should never accept discrimination of any kind. We are talking about some of the most vulnerable children and young people in Society. They are just like other children, they have thoughts and feelings, fears, hopes and aspirations. They need love, support, stability and someone to be there for them, just like any other children. The ECLCM team have been with them since day one. Now we ask you all to join us. Please sign the petition and why not join ECLCM as a member?
Ben Ashcroft
Every Child Leaving Care Matters


Thursday, 3 September 2015

The space between.

The space between.

I’ve called this short article ‘The space between’. This is simply because that's how I believe many children who leave care feel - sort of "not quite here and not quite there" - lost in the space between. 
It’s a state of personal limbo -wanting to belong and wanting to share, but unable to belong because quite simply you don't feel that you have a lot to share. Whether that’s actually true or not, it was true in my case, but then I spent a great deal of time in care being me

Upon leaving care I felt full of anticipation and excitement mixed with a feeling of what is best described as fear a fear of the unknown, of a future that includes only me with no offers of support or certainties of a safety net if I fail. My head swims with questions: What's going on out there? Is it easy? Am I going to be on my own to fend for myself?

Years later, I can now answer those questions. Firstly, no it isn't easy. Secondly,  yes you’re on your own and you will be expected to care for yourself. In fact, you will have to care for yourself, because you will face very serious difficulties if you don’t.

When I came out of care in 1970 I was able to simply walk out of one job and into another in the same week! In those days, it was quite simply that easy to get a job. Nowadays though, I'm not sure I could cope. Kids leaving care now almost certainly won't walk into a job. They will certainly struggle to get and pay for a roof over their heads too. It's hard, very hard and that’s why it is simply wrong to put children out onto the streets to fend for themselves at 16+ after being in care. It's quite simply wrong and in my personal opinion with government cutbacks and such its borderline criminal.

Why would you invest a great deal of time and money on children and young people in care protecting them from abuse and untold horrors only to throw all of that away by not giving them a chance? Not giving them that few extra years – at least until they’re 21 years old or, as the Children’s Commissioner recommended, 25 years old? These kids can and I believe will be a great bonus to society if only they're given that chance – A few more years of stability, emotional and practical support, education and training. Just those few extra years….

There's my case for extending residential care to the age of at least 21 but even better 25. So please sign our ECLCM petition to help make that change for thousands of children. Give them the chance that most of you probably had and the same chance you will want to give to your own children.
 After all, its only fair don't you think?

Thank you.

Kev Edwards.

Monday, 31 August 2015

I was never a care leaver....

I am not a care leaver. I was not an abused or neglected child. My upbringing was by no means wealthy and the spoon in my mouth was more like tin than silver. Yes, I remember my mum going through my dad’s trouser pockets looking for change to buy the tea (we had tea not dinner where I lived in our little council house). What has this got to do with Every Child Leaving Care Matters you might ask – good question.

This blog is not an apology for me not being a care leaver – just in case what follows may at times make you think that.

I was the only member of the original group who established the campaign who was not a care leaver – though my esteemed colleagues were not and are not defined by that status but in what they have achieved despite being care leavers. I have – until recently – remained the only person not ‘care-experienced’ presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of our ‘constituency’. Why?

That I have been a social worker specialising in working with children and their families for a lifetime has some relevance. I have worked in residential and fostering services that were considered outstanding or at least good. I have been privileged to work alongside and even supervise some remarkably skilled and gifted therapists and health professionals. All of this no doubt shapes the person I have become and the opinions I hold but none of it is the essence of why I am part of this campaign.

I have worked with children who have been horrendously tortured and abused in almost every way we would rather not imagine. I have acted professionally with abusers, rapists and murderers though as a human being I found their actions inconceivable. I have been the only mourner (apart from a distraught mother) at an infant’s funeral and wept as I carried to his grave, at his mother’s request, the body of a young man who was murdered (by a group of lads who were not in care) before he could ever become a care leaver. Each one of those children mattered, as do the thousands of others who have filled my professional life with just about every emotion I can contemplate. Of course they mattered: but that is not the reason why I was privileged to be part of the founding group of this campaign and am privileged to serve it still.

I had a very ordinary life – difficult times as a child as my parents struggled to give me and my sister the start that they had never had. They did it – we both found a way into grammar school, higher education and degrees, good employment  and a secure base from which to leave home in our mid-twenties. Great parents – they devoted their lives to us. I would like to think that in some small way we repaid our parents as they glowed with obvious pride at their children’s achievements. Eventually the arrival of grandchildren brought them a reward that no-one could put a price on, though neither lived long enough to really enjoy their children’s children. My parents, then, gave my sister and me priceless gifts; not material things, as I could never recall just how much this amounted to; the greatest gift they gave us was our moral compass, our standards, the lessons of life in how to be the best human beings we could be. How to respect and value others; how to be confident enough to reach beyond the immediate, knowing that if we over-stepped and fell there would be arms waiting to break our fall and congratulate us for trying before preparing us to try again. How to be generous in thought and deed; how to serve others – it can be no coincidence that my sister and I became respectively a teacher and a social worker. As far as I am aware neither my mum or dad ever read a book on parenting and apart from professionally neither have I – my role models equipped me to do pretty well as a parent, as they did my sister.

I cannot speak of my ECLCM colleagues’ childhoods. I will however reflect on some of the children with whom I have worked since late in 1974 when my very first ‘case’, B, was just sixteen years old. If he were alive today he would have been 57 years old on 10th June this year. He is not alive; he was a care leaver. He was abused in care and became a ‘rent boy’ – a 1970’s euphemism for victim of organised sexual abuse by wealthy paedophiles.  And another B, also in his fifties, who when I risked being disciplined for showing him his records before such a right was granted to care leavers asked of me “Is that all I amounted to then?” A series of misdemeanours contained within a paper wallet ‘recording’ his childhood. “Did I never do anything good or get anything right?” he asked me. He wasn’t my case but I was thoroughly ashamed that I had no answer. Both boys were every bit as ‘good’ as me, just as ‘worthy’ and almost my contemporaries. One is dead and the other might as well have been for the ten years of his life he spent in care. They had parents but were not blessed with parents like mine. In the judgement of a court their parents failed to care for them, so they were given ‘corporate’ parents (though obviously not referred to as such in those days). Their ‘second’ parents failed too.

I could cite three decades of similar or worse examples of failed parenting by the state; of children abused in care and then cast adrift at sixteen or seventeen and condemned to prison, hospital, the streets, drugs or death. I have been part of that failed system and fought with all my ability against the system when it was failing. I have, along with others, witnessed and celebrated remarkable, successes.

My childhood was not remarkable; many could tell a very similar story. What is remarkable is the success that many care leavers make of their lives despite the system. Professionally I used to advise my teams that leaving care is something that we should begin preparing children for on the day they enter care. It is a process not an event; like my childhood it should be a learning process where children have excellent role models who they can grow to trust despite their having no good reason to trust adults based on whatever caused them to be in care in the first place. ‘Care’, be that in a foster home, residential home or with ‘significant’ others should not be a determinate sentence ending when the clock ticks into their eighteenth birthday. Mine wasn’t, nor, I suggest, was that the experience of anyone who may be reading this. Care should actually be for life – though that doesn’t mean that one should be ‘in care’ for life.

Why am I part of this campaign supporting care leavers? In my case it’s precisely because I am not a care leaver.

  Ed Nixon                                                                ...................................

(This blog was originally prepared for our friends at Children England and is reproduced on our blog page with their permission.)

Ed Nixon (Chair ECLCM)

Saturday, 8 August 2015

To whom it may concern’

To whom it may concern’

I'm just sat at home thinking; thinking about how concerned those people who were supposed to be looking after me were when they got me arrested for refusing to go to bed after a difficult transition in to care from a home. Before then I had always lived at home and although it wasn’t always easy and I am certain there were nights when I had refused to go to bed I am pretty sure that the police were never called.

How concerned were those same people when I was in a cell in the pitch black with no bedclothes or even a cover, crying, traumatised and in need of support? Were they thinking about me being criminalised and developing feelings of hatred against the police? I don’t know – no-one ever said anything if they were.

How concerned was the state when I was sleeping in waste paper bins along with all the other ‘rubbish’, scared and hungry and a damaged young person aged thirteen years old? Not concerned enough to come to look for me I guess.

How concerned were they when I was missing from home and stealing peanuts to survive or eating out of a bin? I was such an unhappy and damaged young person. I became a re-offender on the basis of a 50p packet of peanuts. They were concerned enough to spend goodness knows how much on that prosecution. Maybe they thought that was ‘best value? How concerned was anyone that I was stealing because I was hungry and missing from home with no chance of stability? Not once was I ever asked if I was OK that's how concerned they must have been.

How sad I am looking back on my experiences of growing up in the care system and criminal justice system. I will ask again, how concerned was anyone for me? The best ‘therapy’ they could offer me was a move out of area, that would make things better surely? No it didn't, I went on to get physically abused by the foster carer. Something I don't talk about much as I don't want to be seen as being negative all the time. I was let down by my social worker. When I was abused I ran off to Liverpool, then I was caught and returned to the abusive foster carer. So I jumped a train back to Calderdale where I took an overdose and was admitted to hospital where I stayed for a few days. I was then taken to a video suite where they recorded interviewing me about the complaint that I had made about the abuse. After reading my care files, my social worker was told not to contact the foster carers as this was going to be done by the police and they didn't want the carers to know about the investigation. How concerned was my social worker for me? She was so concerned she rang the carers and told them about the investigation and then went off work – sick I guess. It makes me sad to read it in black and white from my files years later, I always wanted to know what happened to those foster carers and the investigation, that was the main reason I wanted to get my care files. After reading my files and doing some of my own research it turned out they aren't fostering anymore or even together - luckily for them and luckier still for any other children they may have fostered. The investigation couldn't be taken forward because of a lack of physical evidence. That makes me mad and sad because I still remember it vividly and the memories haven't gone away. I am concerned because no-one ever thought it would be the right thing to tell me what had happened – I was only the victim.

Then when I was sentenced to custody I was abandoned by my corporate parent, I guess they were happy to stop caring for me as I would save them so much paperwork and money. I was left in custody and when I was released from custody my transition was home for a couple of weeks, then to a bed and breakfast, then to a hostel and finally to a mental health ward. I never thought I would make it past 21 years old. How concerned was my corporate parent about this? If they were in court accused of being concerned and caring the case would be dismissed because of lack of evidence.

It makes me appreciate the life I'm making and to survive until 32 years old has to be an achievement in itself for me. I'm not sure many people can comprehend some of the experiences I had growing up and seeing some of the most tragic things anyone could ever experience in life. Am I unusual? No I don’t think so. I suppose I am not dead, homeless, taking drugs, on a mental health ward or in prison so perhaps I am a bit unusual – like most care leavers who somehow manage to survive the system and even succeed. But like them I am concerned that I have done this despite rather than because of the system. Now that’s a concern we should all have.

I find it disgusting young vulnerable kids can be abandoned as young as 16 years old, all looked after children and young people deserve to be treated fairly and equally. If the state is taking children and young people in to care then it has a duty to support them all. The options of aftercare support should be available to all of them, no matter where they happen to live. Are you concerned enough to support Every Child Leaving Care Matters?

Tuesday, 4 August 2015

A guest blog from an adoptive parent - "Molly"

This is an anonymised guest blog sent to ECLCM by an adoptive parent. The names have been changed to ensure privacy. Although our campaign is solely to achieve "Staying Put" rights for all care leavers, we are publishing it without prejudice to share this adoptive parent's concerns and permit debate

"Dear ECLCM,

I'm writing to explain the bones of our case in the hope you might be able to glance over it and note where practice had gone wrong

We adopted our two older children when they were seven and five years old respectively. We were told they'd had some neglect and parents weren't very attentive. It turned out that this was far from true and both children had suffered severe and sustained repeated trauma due to violence, abandonment, feral living and sexual as well as emotional abuse.  Worse, these are the youngest of 13 children. It's been a long 20 years of Social Services’ involvement.

 Our eldest John was compliant and subdued, Molly acted out. Having between five and 10 rages a day and very much struggling with having any capacity to calm down. Normal parenting strategies had no effect. We joined ‘Adoption UK’ and learned quickly about trauma aware therapy and that we needed to develop therapeutic re-parenting.

We tried through a long and exhausting process to get any support. In the end resorting to complaints which yielded some help but by then Molly was 12 and it was all too little, too late. We had some life story work together, but she needed much more.

Her dissociation and violence were really extreme at that point. CAMHS diagnosed severe attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, but it became clear we were getting no help and neither was she. Living in a family was too hard for her and so CAMHS suggested a 52 week residential placement in a therapeutic community.  She lasted two and a half years there

Molly wasn't able to engage long term and began to abscond. The unit were not allowed by OFSTED to lock their doors and so Molly started to abscond further afield. One week she absconded to London and the police didn't bother looking for her as she was a ‘looked after child’ and didn't matter. We kept on fighting for her to be supported and found and she reported in of her own volition, she explained she'd been sexually assaulted.

On her return to the unit she became increasingly in trouble with the police for theft, taking other young people off, setting fire to the buildings. The unit managed to diagnose her with ‘atypical autism’ and for a short while we felt supported and understood. However due to her increasingly destructive behaviour and lack of engagement they gave notice on her bed.

My husband and I researched and looked round at other units that would off some secure accommodation for her. The day before she was due to move social care said she was going into foster care and if we did not like it she would be sent home to us. That would mean they would remove the other children at home here.

So we had no choice, we wrote formally warning Social Services of our concerns that she'd never cope and please don't place her with other children. This was completely ignored. They placed her with a family in a large town locally. It was a disaster. Molly constantly ran away, no school attendance. She began self-harming. The police kept picking her up with a variety of phones in men's flats and they were clear Molly was being exploited.

One meeting the foster carers said unless something is done Molly will be raped or worse. Then Molly escalated again, threatened to kill the foster carer and menaced them with a lighter, wrecking the house.

Molly found herself in police custody in a cell at the station aged 15. It was grim, not least because that we weren't allowed to see her as the custody sergeant assumed we were abusive parents because she was in care.

All weekend I tried to get Social Services to agree to a secure placement and eventually on the Sunday we got that agreement. Monday morning she appeared in court and as she was no longer on remand. Social Services washed their hands of their commitment to place her in secure and instead placed her in a children's home.

Her new home let her go out with no supervision and again we protested. We were told we were ridiculous; that 15 year olds all go drinking up the park etc. Tearfully I explained about the risk to Molly of paedophiles and rape. I was told that it was a nice area etc. Within 2 weeks she was raped, and then was raped again three months later. Suddenly having support going out was a good idea after all. Dreadful!

Molly got into more and more trouble and ended up in court expecting a custodial sentence for burglary but instead she got a tag,

During the last six months we were allocated a good post adoption social worker who had her head screwed on. She helped us apply for the new adoption support fund which paid for my husband and I to have psychotherapy. It was only 10 sessions but it really has helped.
It took us nine years of asking to get the children’s files from the placing local authority. In the end we had to take it to the ombudsman before they capitulated. The files aren't complete but even so betrayed 20 years of Social Services’ chaos as the children were said to be the Housing Department’s problem, then the Health Authority’s problem, then the school’s problem, or the responsibility of the older children’s team and not the younger ones, or else the younger ones, not the older ones....

The children disclosed sexual abuse and were described as feral children in a derelict house. The older boys were drug running and the birth mum making her living through prostitution. At one time the home situation was so awful that they took the dogs away – but they left the children.
These children are ruined by lack of care. They experienced too much of what they don't need and not enough of what they do.  I'm told that the ‘thresholds’ were high. To me, that seems to mean that child abuse is allowed in some rubbishy local authorities.

They then place these extremely traumatised children for adoption and wash their hands of them. If you dare to present to social services with any issues you are told clearly that this is your fault. They are ‘cured’ by adoption and all the rubbish behaviour they display subsequently is down to you. They are so punitive towards you that you are very reluctant to go near them again. If you then seek a diagnosis for your children's problems in order to achieve therapy or support, and go in with a good sound research backed argument, the social work team is intimidated by your knowledge.  They will suggest that you are over protective making excuses and have some weird form of ‘Munchausen’s by Proxy’.  They very much treat you as dysfunctional parents to a dysfunctional child, not as functional parents to dysfunctional children.

When Molly moved aged 12, Social Services were hellish. Despite her increasing violence & hurting our then two year old child, they insisted that she remain home but with the health visitor’s requirement that we be more vigilant. I have three children and cannot hold on always. I had to take our two year old with me when I went to the loo!

But it didn't stop Molly. Family was simply too hard for her. CAMHS backed us and Social Services were furious. To me, it seemed that they felt angry because we had achieved what they and their systems could not.  We had needed help badly, but it was not being provided. We went to see our MP in the end as the local authority wouldn't support us.  The MP set up a meeting and funding agreed by Health. It seems that Social Services have never forgiven us.  I believe that they lost sight of Molly’s needs totally.

When Molly moved my husband and I fell apart. He developed anxiety and had time off work and I was in hospital lots of times with an immune condition.  When asking for help we were told: 'You got what you wanted’.  I sobbed and was told that this was attention seeking ....

The last six months have been particularly grim with Social Services who not only investigated us for false accusations, then retracted them without informing or discussing it with us as protocol demanded, but gave Molly’s birth family ‘red carpet treatment’ to disastrous effect. The constant denigration of us in front of a very vulnerable ‘messed up’ young girl has contributed massively to where we are.

Molly is 18 now and we've lost her to the land of vice from whence she came.  As far as we are concerned much fault lies with social 'care' who do not seem to 'care' in the least.".

Sunday, 2 August 2015

Ben's story

I remember when I was taken in to the care of the local authority. In some ways it seems like yesterday not over twenty years ago. It feels so real that it could be happening now. I phoned the operator on 999 “…my mom has abandoned me and my brother and sister, she hasn't been home for a few days, we don't know if she is dead or alive and we are alone at home!” The Police and Social workers turned up within the hour to see that we were all well and fit. We were, we had been eating jam sandwiches and custard creams.
The Social Worker ended up taking me and my brother to a Children's home a couple of miles away while my sister went to one of her friend’s houses to stay with them. It was only a couple of weeks away from Christmas and this is what we were faced with, being split up from my mom and sister for the first time ever. It was heart breaking knowing we weren't wanted or my mom just couldn't cope with us.

After arriving at the Children's home my behaviour was out of control and I was kicking off and joining in with the other young people who were misbehaving and refusing to go to bed. After a few days of being in the home I was told my mom had been found in Blackpool having a good time. She said she didn't want me and my brother back but my sister was allowed to return home. This made my behaviour even more erratic because I now felt un-loved and unwanted.
By the week before Christmas 1995 the staff at the home had had enough of me refusing to go to bed. I was warned on previous occasions that if I didn't go to bed I would spend the night in the cells instead. I'm 11 years old. My mom never threatened me with getting arrested for not going to bed. By this time I didn't really care if they rang the police, what could get worse? In the end the staff rang the Police and I was arrested along with two other young people for refusing to go to bed! I was then roughed up by the Police officer and handcuffed. Once at the Police station I was threatened again by the same officer “It's yes sir, no sir when you get in the custody area you little bastard.” I was shitting myself, I had never been in to Halifax Police station. I was put in to a cell with no mattress, no light or cover. Sat there in the pitch black crying because of how scared I was. I never thought this could happen to me and having been through hell the last few weeks I had thought it couldn’t  get worse……….it just had. But it was real, very real. If they were trying to teach me a lesson it probably back-fired. I hated the police officer who brought me in, how can I respect or even approach someone like him.
After I had been in the cells for hours in the pitch black I was let out of my cell and charged with breach of the peace, then told I am being split from my brother as the Children's home “..don't want you back there now.” I am now moving to Foster Parents eleven miles away in Todmorden. Now I have been split up from all of my siblings and mom. I am alone now for the first time.  I was quickly moved to another foster carer’s house also in Todmorden and then back to a different children's home. Over 1996 I had three Foster carers and four more children's homes and a couple of kinship placements that didn't work.
I was involved with the criminal justice system as I had started to offend on a regular basis and being moved from pillar to post, it felt like everyone was passing the problem - me! In 1997 I had 16 moves in a year. seven residential homes, ‘home’ twice, one foster home, one external and structured unit five times. My offending behaviour was getting out of control as was my self-harming. I was trying to take my own life at times and at other times I wanted attention. I had no chance of stability because I was constantly being moved.
I was being told that I will have a bleak future and have a life of being incarcerated if I carry on the way I am. I just didn't care about myself, no one else did so why should I? I was on a downward spiral to custody or a secure care centre because of my self-harming. I just didn't care, it was about the only thing I had any control of I would cut myself just to see if it hurt and get stitches. I would try strangle myself but this only led to one thing, no not seeing a therapist – being moved on.
I was taken to a secure care centre at Barton Moss on welfare grounds. The court had made the order for me to be there so I could have a full psychological assessment. It never happened and after three months the court refused to extend the order as the report hadn’t been done so I was discharged. Interesting that one, why didn’t they hold someone to account and get the assessment that was thought to be so necessary as to detain me in custody for three months? So then I was let out the moves and offending continued. I was moved from children's homes to different foster carers but it felt like everyone had either given up on me or that they could control my behaviour or both. I felt pretty much the same way.

I was out committing serious offences and taking drugs to numb the pain. Later I received a sentence in a young offender’s institution where I had my ‘light bulb’ moment in the court cells after being sentenced. I knew if I didn't change whilst serving this sentence then I would be involved with crime and drugs probably all of my life. I had seen friends die from suicide and drugs and feared that is the way my life would go. I needed to be strong and resilient to beat crime and drugs and to have a successful life.

By the time my sentence had finished I had been moved fifty one times and had thirty three convictions.
Has it been easy since? Never. Have I felt like giving up? Often. Have I had breakdowns? Several. I thought I would be dead by twenty one years old living the life I was. I'm not thirty two, a published author, campaigner, advisor and advocate who has been to Buckingham Palace as thanks for my services to children, young people and families. Is there to be a happy ending? Well, we’ll have to wait and see but I’m working and hoping for one.
At last I have been given the opportunity to do what has driven me on at times when giving up would have been so much easier. I'm currently waiting to start work as an intensive support worker with looked after children. If I can use my negative experience to make theirs a more positive one then that will be great.

Monday, 27 July 2015

A little bit of me....

A little of me….

There’s a box in my room, a box that holds my past, all typed up in fonts of sorts and thoughts of others who were acting as a mother. These others were busy defining my behaviour, deciding my fate, acting upon their theories, their knowledge and at times my wishes….but only at times.
I am shocked and heartened by the fact that at times someone did listen; someone did act and shout on my behalf about a system that was ruining me. Sometimes they used my situation to complain about a system that was failing, shouting to the gods above, those invisible people who make the real decisions, telling them what we know now is still happening. They shouted about a system that was underfunded, under resourced and so far from recognising us children as individuals. It was and remains a SYSTEM.  

This ‘system’ was taking me away from me, moulding me, shaping me into this “damaged” person. Apparently for one foster carer I was the most damaged person she had ever encountered?! This is actually stated in my care file. I read those words, written about me by some invisible other who ‘cared’ for me, but burning into my eyes all these years later.

It didn’t seem to matter what had been, what had happened to me before, she just saw the NOW. She wrote about being confused that I wouldn’t show emotion; that I didn’t talk of relationships; didn’t join in; that I was always on the periphery. I read these words and felt a swell of maddening rage and sadness re-emerging in me from a time in the distant past.  I had read the pages before I saw it coming, I understood why - I don’t remember this person they type about. I was just going through each house. I didn’t see what they saw as the’ problem’. I didn’t understand why this was a problem, or understand why crying, laughing, anger, happiness or the range of childhood emotions had to be shown just in order to keep my place – just to keep a home. How could I know that this was the expectation? I didn’t realise this was a norm.

I have to admit I didn’t feel safe within these bricks. There were too many people, too many things going on.  I couldn’t make sense of what was happening when he did the things he did - the other “damaged” kid. He was OK, but we were lost together, drawn together, trying to get through. We were doing what we needed to do just to make it through these bricks. I don’t know his “before” only the ‘now’ - but that’s another story - one that is not typed in a clever font, or even held within anyone’s memory - just mine and his. Many of my most intense child hood memories are intimately linked with others – times when we were so happy; so sad; so enraged - so anything. I shared in theirs and they shared in mine, our roads our etched in my head.

Reading my file I wonder was I always a target that they didn’t always reach? Was I bought and sold for the price of belonging? I can now hear the alarm bells ringing, the signals for abuses to follow in the future, of grooming, attention seeking, and the naivety of a child desperate to fit in. The muted screams of a child who just wanted to be wanted, who needed so much to feel wanted just for herself, just her.. just for me. Was I worthy? Am I worthy? What does ‘worthy’ mean? Can anyone actually want ME?

As I read on I see the change… the acknowledgment of myself finding myself part of something, a home, a sense of belonging, of becoming someone who would be understood. Understood perhaps, but not in the functionality of a family. I was defined and understood as one with others in homes, one of numerous young people, each with their own personality, each with a ‘before’, all with a part of me that I recognised at times in my life - my day, my soul.

I ‘belonged’ in kids homes, I got ‘me’ in kids’ homes because in that setting I could actually see myself running - running round, sitting off, kicking off, shouting crying, talking… through the mist of events and feelings I could finally see ‘me’.

I felt safe with these kids, but not with the staff. The staff were a different entity, a 'THEM', but the kids, ha, I was with them, part of them all the way. Even the shit dynamics and sociological expectations of this systematic community I understood instinctively. We at times were one! We were united. We were solidified in a strong but silent way by our ‘befores’, our unknowns, our unspoken understandings. We the powerless shared a common need to rebel against and hold power for once. I felt this strongly then and I feel it now. I wear a badge that I hold no shame in wearing.  I AM A CARE LEAVER.

There have been different times in my life when wearing that badge has brought me shame, happiness, anger, and a range of emotions, but it has also always brought me a sense of belonging. 
This strong sense of belonging is one that carers and social workers could not give to me no matter who they were and who I was at that time.  These care kids gave it to me. A hilarious journey of defiance, comradery, unspoken understanding.

The fonts on my file keep on appearing, being signed off by names and people I once spoke with. Each page is littered by words describing my linear experiences of the physical aspects of my life. They record ‘things’ events, happenings. They don’t reflect what my heart and soul were doing or how I was really growing and developing. They are a litany of acts, moves, changing faces of interchangeable people …many, many people. They are as a novel of a life that seems so long ago, a novel of developing emotions, never written but that the enlightened can read easily between the lines.

Many bricks held this girl. There were 72 places made of those bricks, 72 places, each built with the expectations of the system and its norms, 72 places of bricks and mortar. Each place was physically real but was not tangible to me. Each was just another font in that box, but each adding to the burden I carry today. Most things if not all I accept as things that cannot be changed but these things have made me the person I am today. They have shaped me into this person who knows and understands, and who more often than not can see between the lines. I fight with myself with this skill – and it is a skill.  It’s a skill that can be draining; that can harm if not careful, but can help if used correctly.

There’s a box in my room, holding pages of font that were types by many, written by some. A box that I sought in earnest to help me to get to know me, but which slapped me down as an adult. There’s a box in my room that holds in font the reasons why my paths were trodden as they were, a box which holds the insights of my heart and my head.  There’s a box in my room; a box that most care leavers seek to find and discover at some point in their life.

Each care leaver hopes that their box will hold an explanation, will bring reasoning to their life. They hope their box will explain their ‘nows’ and perhaps even what went before? Why what was was; and what is is? Why they are what they are, and what is ‘now’. Once a care leaver always a care leaver.

Those days of leaving care I would say were my darkest, most lonely days of my life. They were a time I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy.  I was so, so, so lost, and I question now if the fonts in that box read differently to others, or even if those fonts were actually ever read by the gods above, those faceless decision makers busily pushing their pencils. If they really knew what happened to me, would they have let me spend so much of my young life in that awful, awful black abyss that is leaving care? Would I keep being smacked in the face and let down so hard and so often? Or is that just normal?  All in a day’s work in the life of the gods?

May I just say here now that I did struggle hugely leaving care. I probably was included in every care leaver statistic at some point - apart from going to prison. It was a dark time. It was lonely. It was harsh beyond the capabilities of clever fonts and invisible gods to explain. But I am here now with that all too familiar sense of resilience to succeed.

Now there’s an oft used word that I have issues with -resilience!  That’s a discussion I will save for another day.

I still have that box in my bedroom. I visit it now and then, but never for long. It angers me but it also makes me smile. There were some bloody good people out there who really got it, who really got me! There are memories that remind me of who I am and fundamentally that I am a good person. I fought back then for the children with the muted voices, on roofs and in font. I always fought. I continue to fight now and will stand with ECLCM until we succeed.

I won’t ignore the 9%; I won’t see another box in a room holding a whole host of questions and answers in font. Action is needed. I ask you to please join us.


Let the next box (because there will always be one), hold different tales, different words.

Every child leaving care matters!


Thursday, 23 July 2015

Swings ‘n’ Roundabouts

Firstly let me explain the title for this blog.

‘Swings ‘n’ roundabouts’ refers to your actions and reactions to other people  based upon the actions and reactions you interpret as inflicted upon yourself.

It is a truism that the way that you are treated very much depends upon how you treat others. That being so, in my eyes compassion breeds compassion. If I expect to receive compassion from others, I must first treat others compassionately.

It follows then that if you are treated like rubbish and belittled every day of your young life, that will elicit a negative reaction.  In fact, I suggest it might result in two different reactions.

One reaction stems from your self-belief being totally and utterly destroyed such that you become convinced that all you undertake (if you ever deem to undertake anything that is) is doomed to failure. With each resulting failure, the impression grows progressively stronger and more self-destructive

The second reaction is that you treat people around you with utter disdain, belittling those around you and bullying your way through life. You pick on the vulnerable and weak in society, much like you were once picked on yourself

Of course, the people I'm referring to here are children. Children in care, ‘care’ being the operative word.

Most children in care are nurtured and helped in as much as time and resources will allow. Staff being loving, caring and committed is not enough if they are not given the time and resources to do their job.  They can only spend so much time sharing a limited amount of love amongst a large group of love –starved children. Every child matters; every child is an individual and needs and deserves individual care. Sadly, the reality is that time and resources don't always allow for them to be treated as such and to receive enough of that loving care from their carers.

Children often enter care for their own protection having been the victims of abuse. They sometimes come from a bad environment and it is not uncommon for them to bring that bad environment into care with them. Like a malevolent ghost it can haunt them throughout their childhoods. The lucky ones get help with their demons. Many don’t, and remain very vulnerable.
This vulnerability is particularly acute when it comes to the time when they need to leave care.
 Leaving care itself can be one of a series of serious childhood upheavals that the child doesn't need and sometimes just can't cope with.  It is made particularly more acute because what help carers were able to offer previously is too often withdrawn at this time.  You will notice that I am not politically correct – I refer to the ‘child’ and not the ‘young person’.  I said ‘child’ because that is what they are - children.

They are still children in the eyes of the law - they can't vote, go into a club or pub, can't drive, can’t marry without parental consent, etc. Yet they're expected at sixteen to cope with the adult world – to work, feed and clothe themselves and to cope with all life will throw at them. “So what?” I hear you say. "That is what all children have to do." That’s often true, except that children from care cannot just turn up at mum and dads for help or support, to borrow money or enjoy a roast dinner on a Sunday. They can’t leave a week’s washing and ironing for mum to do.  Such luxuries are not there for these vulnerable isolated children.  These children have nobody to turn to for a hug or to help them out when things go wrong. Under such pressure, the child can all too easily go off the tracks, resort to crime, hurt themselves, hurt other people, or just give up trying and disappear into hospitals or on to the streets.  Only then if they are lucky might they get the help they so desperately need. 

Tragically, by then it is often too late, because once they have started that downward spiral and finally reached out for help,  it is sadly too damn late.
Now to me that can't be right and I'm sure it’s not ringing too well with you either.
Why not break that cycle? Why waste resources and money on throwing children out at sixteen. Why not just give them that helping hand, that guiding hand, and let them go into the world a few years later? 21? 25?

It makes perfect sense to me and I hope to you. Because these children are potentially such valuable members of society, given even half a chance ... Give them that chance; give them that chance to shine and know just how good a feeling it is!

Please! I beg you all - let's lobby the government and sign the petition for every child leaving care. For every child to have that extra few years, a few years in which to find themselves and to learn safely just what the outside world is about.

Sixteen is a very dangerous age. It's an age where we experiment. It’s an age when we take on board just what's going on around us; it’s an age at which we like to think that we are adults and that we know it all. Of course, we don't and no one does.

So there you have it! That is my case for extending the age of Care Leavers to a minimum of 21. Let these kids whom life has treated so badly have a chance to put something back. Give them the chance to prove that they are or can become a valuable link in Society’s chain.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.

Kev Edwards.

Thursday, 2 July 2015

The ugly truth of a care leaver

"Life is hard, life has challenges. We all know that. It's how we approach those difficulties and deal with them that shape us into who we are.

We all have inner strength and as humans can adapt to survive in this world.
In life we want to be happy. We want to feel love. Love is what gets us through life. The love and support of our families, the encouragement and care of those closest to us. Growing up those elements are vital for us to develop as healthy human beings.
What about those who never had love? What about those who never had encouragement? What about those who never had support?
Forgetting about what some people never had what about those people who had the opposite, damaging end of the spectrum?
What about those who had hate? What about those who had neglect? What about those who felt abuse?

Well I'm aware first hand how those who did have that negative upbringing are stunted from healthy, mental development.
Lots of children who were bought into the world in troubled homes do end up in the care system. Often in multiple foster families and sometimes children's homes.
What I want to focus on though is what happens when that child becomes an adult.
At seventeen that child is on their own. Chucked into the world on their own with the occasional superficial advice from a support worker.
But hey, they've had a rough start in life but it's what they do now that matters right? You get to hear people say 'well I moved out when I was sixteen and I made it OK'.
Or another thing that annoys me is people who get nice things and go on holiday all the time and are like 'well if you work hard you get nice things'.
The thing is, is that these people do not have the slightest clue.
Physically, most care leavers are on even grounds with everyone else. Mentally, people have no idea how much on a different wave length some of us are... and not by choice. People say 'just choose to be happy' or 'just get on with it'.
How many charity's and support is there for older people who are now alone and have no family? How many people feel so sad for those people? A lot of people do because dur it is sad.
How tragic is it to have that same thing at eighteen? To be completely alone. To have to figure out everything. To have the same cycle of waking up, going to work and then going home to be all alone.
Those people who have all those fancy materialistic things and go on great holidays blah blah can claim what they like about how hard they work but I'd like to ask - would they have the same motivation if the following factors applied?

1) Your family no longer exist
2) You don't have a nice home
3) Most of the money you get from your pay has to now go on living
4) You go home to be alone
5) In fact most of the time you are alone your own
6) Also your head is so messed up from all the traumatic childhood experiences you've had
7) Oh and also you get to look at your arm every now and then and embrace the scars that will never go away
8) and the stretch marks and excess weight from all the times you were so alone you ate for some kind of comfort
9) You're so stressed all the time you feel like you are dying

I could go on and on and on but I think you get the idea. 
Let England continue to fail care leavers. Let England continue to have unrealistic expectations. Let the system fail the most vunerable people.

Because I mean of course with all the above issues care leavers can:
1) Find somewhere to rent at 18...because of course they know so much about tenancy agreements and contracts etc and aren't bound to end up in some sort of financial trouble
2) Oh and let them do that while they legally still have to be in school
3) and have that full time job on the side
4) Yep, they can make great decisions on their own, no help required at all
5) Oh, finances...yeah paying rent, studying, working...eeeassssyyy.
6) But when we do have to drop out of college of course we can get to Uni with no A levels
7) Homeless? We'd never become homeless...

So yeah we can be successful right?...
We don't have to practically half kill ourselves doing so?

That is all"

Blog by a care leaver Hannah Lucy Ide, 
(Reproduced with her prior permission)

Friday, 12 June 2015


‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ – We have all heard of this. We recall how our veterans returned from the battlefield traumatised by the horrific things they had seen, and how that trauma blighted their future lives.  A little known fact is that some people who grew up in the care system may also suffer from very similar disorders that don’t stop when they leave care in their teens but haunt them throughout their lives.

Most children are taken into care for their own protection as a result of abuse by adults.  That was what happened to me. For many of us, the nightmares began there.  They should stop there, but sadly, for some they are reinforced by abuses within the care system. That was my experience as I was abused at the hands of thoroughly evil men who were supposed to be caring for me.

Post-traumatic stress disorder is completely debilitating for the sufferer and will usually have life changing effects long after the original trauma has ceased. Some people will rely on medication to manage the symptoms for the rest of their lives.  Too often, once it has started it cannot be stopped, but fortunately that was not true in my case. With support I have regained control - no more waking at night screaming, not knowing where I was, not being able to communicate, not being able to enter a crowded room.

Granted, these things have not disappeared completely - I can manage my demons with support, but I am by no means cured - but I am getting better. I am better to be around, better to talk to and most importantly better to listen to. I don't ramble ... Only in writing I suspect.

During my childhood in care I saw two children take their own life - a girl aged sixteen and a boy aged around fourteen. In fact, he was a friend of mine and his death hurt me really deeply. I was told later, his family didn't even attend his funeral…but I'm rattling on. Sorry.

My original point was that children can suffer with PTSD symptoms as children which can continue and even worsen into adulthood. If this is not identified quickly enough, the outcome can be truly devastating; to not only the poor individual who suffers not knowing what is wrong but also their new family. Loved ones often bear the brunt of the mood swings, the suicide attempts for no apparent reason. They can't comprehend the crushing feeling of worthlessness that envelops the grown up child from care, who are reliving the agonies of years before dragging them once again into further despair.

My condition was not recognised until I was 58 years of age so you can imagine the devastation that I endured during my life. Not just me, but also my loved ones and the people around me. To love someone but feel unable to express that love, to struggle with expressing emotions and the strong feelings inside can be so destructive. People see you as cold and unapproachable when in fact the truth is the exact opposite. You want to be needed; you want to be touched; you want to be able to approach and enjoy the company of others and to be able to join in the fun, but you are emotionally incapable of doing so.

How on earth can a child of 10 year old be so affected? Horrible isn't it? It is horrible for the child, horrible for the teachers, the social workers and all who try to care for them. It is horrible for everyone who participates in the child’s lonely life. For the child, this is a life of being locked into your mind, locked into a world you think is fantasy but in fact is a cruel and cold reality. The turmoil in the child's mind then manifests in their actions and how they relate to other people and other children. I was going to say’ ‘play’ with other children, then but there's very little play in the life of an abused child.

The next time you see a child in the corner of the playground not joining in the fun, spare a thought for that mite who might be facing demons that you could never comprehend in your worst nightmare. It’s a short life to that point but it’s a life that will have seen more than most people see in a lifetime.

I’ve not mentioned the anger.  When a child is unable to express how they feel because they don’t know how, don’t have the self-esteem or their feelings are in turmoil, that can escape in an explosion of anger which will surprise and horrify those around them. This is described as ‘challenging behaviour’. When a child is abused in a relationship where they are powerless and impotent, where their feelings and well-being don’t seem to matter, that also gives birth to an intense anger, which can live just below the surface for many years to follow if not addressed.

What has all this to do with ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters' you ask?  Helping children make sense of their lives and learn to face the world as a happy and fulfilled adult takes time, sensitive care and support. This is particularly true at certain times of life – adolescence for example. The teenage years are traumatic and difficult for most children. For many children in the care system, they can be living hell.

This is a time when children need security, continuity of care, caring relationships. Yet for many of the most vulnerable children in the ‘system’ in residential care, this is a time of life under ‘Staying Put’ when they may be compelled to become ‘independent’. Is it any wonder that so many care leavers struggle as adults?  Reflect on these words:

Every child leaving care matters

Kev Edwards

Sunday, 7 June 2015

The Silent Ones

Children in the care system are each different and each respond in their own way to the stresses and struggles that being in care means to them. I wish to focus on a group of children in the care system who are often overlooked. These children are usually quiet unassuming souls who have been desperately hurt and abused, frequently so badly that their will and their spirit is broken.
They may not present behavioural problems and demand little attention from their carers, but they wear their inner sadness in their eyes and carry despair in their souls. They feel unwanted and unloved and are amongst the most vulnerable children in the care system.

These children have often been subject to abuse in all its forms and enter care at their lowest point. Care is supposed to provide a safe haven but for many of these children, it does not.  They may have good practical care – three meals a day, a clean bed to sleep in, but it simply isn’t the care they need. Even when the carers are kindly, these children need more than hugs or arms enfolding them. Within the care system, they are too often no more than a number, another call on limited resources, another name.

These children need to feel wanted, to belong, to be loved and cherished. In their struggle for acceptance and belonging, they often fall in with the ‘wrong crowd’. At least in the crowd, they feel a degree of acceptance that allows them to feel less lonely, less isolated, less irrelevant.  To them in their state of vulnerability, this mere acceptance is a good thing. Tragically, far too often, it isn't.
I'll talk a little of me now if I may.  I excelled in school because it was a release from the stress of care, a way of getting away from the despair of a life of pain and hurt.

At the age of fifteen I was due to be adopted by a family who had taken to me from my friendship with their daughter at school.  I was going to be the son they never had, the son they wanted. I felt wanted and valued at last, and I was happy for the first time ever.
 It wasn't to last though, and when it crumbled it was through my own stupidity. Looking back I can see why it went wrong, why I went wrong.

Not knowing what love was, and not knowing how to express or receive it made me feel empty inside. I was a shell unable to comprehend the damage I was about to inflict.
 I made their daughter pregnant!  This was truly devastating for everyone involved of course, but for me it was the beginning of a very long and deeply unhappy period in my life.

My behaviour suffered and I was expelled from school. I was sent a way to an ‘assessment unit’ the infamous ‘Redbank’ in Newton le Willows in Lancashire. For me at that time, this place was barbaric and like hell on earth.

I don’t intend to dwell on what happened there. Some things are too painful and must remain private even now, many years later. Let’s just brush over it.
My next placement was ‘Bryn Estyn’ in North Wales. I had been desperately unhappy at ‘Redbank’, but going to ‘Bryn Estyn’ was like going from the frying pan into the fire. It was far worse than the previous placement.

Again I'm not going to speak of what happened there, but as may be evident, a pattern was forming in which I was being punished severely for my juvenile stupidity. I know I had acted stupidly, but as I reflect I think it was possibly inevitable. It was inevitable because I did not know how to love or be loved.  The care system that had taken it upon itself to care for me had not seen fit to instruct me in the facts of life and I had no idea what love was. Shouldn’t someone have been teaching me that there is a difference between sex and love?

I digress; let's go back to the children like me who have been abused, beaten and broken.
 There's no escaping it; the system has let both them and me down.

If they're not shown love or respect in care, how can they hope to cope on leaving care at the age of sixteen? They are still little children when the ‘system’ discharges them and expects them to be ‘independent’.  There can no escaping or dodging the issue; it can't be glossed over -  these children like me are let down by a system that goes through the mechanical motions of ‘care’ often without actually offering what ‘care’ should really mean. By that I mean emotional acceptance, a sense of belonging, being taught that you are worthy, being listened, to heard, respected …loved? 

Too many of these children are simply unready and ill equipped to cope with life on their own in their teens. Many need to stay in care longer. Many need to stay at least until they are 21 years old because unlike children in a home environment, they may have spent their childhood living in a regime (in some cases a strict regime) where daily routine is strict and must be followed, but which simply has not taught its children anywhere near enough about the outside world. The world outside is different than the world in care – it is harder in many respects, because life in in care for many children is often emotionally sterile, with too many children shrouded in coldness and emptiness.  

This cannot prepare a child to have healthy loving emotional experiences that they have a right to expect when they are growing into adulthood.  Life in care for many has been emotional survival. This environment is not what they need to have as they prepare to enter the outside community.
Notwithstanding the emotional price, for too many the care environment doesn’t teach them how to look after themselves as far as work, paying rent, feeding yourself, shopping, laundry, bills, etc. etc. In fact, the world outside of care for too many of these children is an alien environment.
Children need to learn these life skills before they leave care. If they don’t they are going to end up in a vicious cycle of crime drugs, self-abuse, prostitution, exploitation – the statistics speak for themselves.  It’s as clear as night follows day.

In conclusion, I was one of the lucky ones.  I kept in touch with my girlfriend of 46 years ago. We are happily married and very proud of our wonderful caring son.
My story demonstrates once more that you can't judge a book by its cover or be judgemental about people based on their by their upbringing or childhood behaviour.

There you have my case for ECLCM. I’m sorry if I drifted and rambled - I’m not a great speaker or a great writer. I am however passionate about what I believe to be a right for children in care. It’s something I know about because of my time in care from the age of six months until I left care at sixteen.

Thank you for reading.

Kev Edwards.