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.

Saturday, 6 June 2015

A blog about Mental Health - My transition from Care and Custody

When I was 17 years old, I was in custody at Wetherby young offenders’ institution awaiting release. I told my youth offending officer that I didn't want to go back to live at my mother’s house when I was released. It was very clear to me – I had lived there in the past and it hadn’t worked for me. I couldn't see anything that had changed sufficiently to mean it could work this time.

My social worker had stopped all contact with me when I was in custody. No visits, no calls, no letters – nothing.  In effect, I had been abandoned for the second time by my corporate parent.  That meant that I had no social worker to turn to for help or advice at a critical time in my life, and nobody on the outside who would try to find a safe and supportive place for me to live when I was released.  

I longed to be released, and when the day of release finally arrived, the feeling of being released, of being free,  was better than any drug that I'd ever had before in my life.  Alongside the ‘buzz’ of being released was a deep underlying feeling that I would never want to experience any form of custody again. I had the 'light bulb' moment just after I had been sent to the young offenders’ institution. I told my friend in the court cells that I have ‘had enough of this shit’ and I didn’t ever want to be in that position again. We went to different jails. He got a longer sentence than me because he was 18 years old.

When I was released, I reported to the youth offending team office as instructed.  I was told that I was to go and stay at my mother’s home, even though I had told them that it was not what I wanted and it had never worked for me in the past.  I was told that was where I was to live - I had the choice of being homeless or staying somewhere that had never worked before.

 I knew it was going to be hard for me if I lived at my mother’s house not to go and find my old friends and slip back into the ‘revolving door’ of taking drugs, then committing crimes to pay for them.  That route would result in me being a ‘statistic’ - just one of the 70% or so that re-offend within a year of release.  I went back 'home' and as I feared within a few weeks I was told to leave because I was clashing with my mother. We had never enjoyed a positive relationship and I hadn’t expected it to change, but nobody listened to my thoughts, wishes or feelings.

I left my mother’s house and went to the housing office to see if they had anywhere for me to live.  They offered me a bed and breakfast room about six miles from the office. Nobody took me to visit, and I had to walk there. Within the first couple of weeks at the B&B, my emotional health started to deteriorate very quickly.  I was moved to a hostel, which was being used to accommodate drug users and other homeless abandoned care leavers like me.  I was only there about three days before I was taking lots of different tablets in a desperate attempt to end my life. I felt worthless, with nobody to help me apart from my youth offending officer who gave me an appointment of one hour a week. I was isolated and in despair because I didn't want to take drugs or commit crime. That would have been my easiest option to fall back in with the ‘old crowd’ but I wanted a better life than that.

In 2008 I was admitted to a psychiatric ward for three weeks with severe depression. I had stopped eating and I couldn't sleep. I wanted to pull all my hair out, because I was so angry, angry and frightened. I had no one.

If it wasn't for the hospital and the mental health team I would possibly be dead now. I didn't give up when I was discharged. I went back to the hostel and was given a place on a project a few months later. I was involved in that for six months, possibly the best six months of my life. It kept me out of trouble and away from drugs. I owe everyone there a massive vote of thanks for teaching me skills and giving me opportunities that I would of never have gained otherwise.

Being an unsupported and confused care leaver, I had never been equipped or felt safe enough to deal with most of my own demons.  I had never grieved for all the friends I had lost to drugs or who had given up and committed suicide.  I just got on with my life until my world was rocked again when my relationship with the mother of my beautiful son came to an end. I did not cope with the stress, and found myself back in hospital for seven weeks. Again I had tried to take my own life. My head felt like it wanted to explode; I was pulling my hair out and pulling at my face to the point at which it was a complete mess.  Again, the medics managed to stabilise my condition and I decided that I should dedicate my life to making a difference for others. I know that I can help others struggling as I did, using my learning from my negative experiences to support them to make more positive choices.

Then in early 2014 I found myself back in hospital again, this time for four weeks. I was suffering severe depression.  I just felt useless and that I was letting people down. My passion had over spilled at times but I wouldn't want to change that. This last experience of hospital was hopefully my last ever time, but I know that I still have unresolved issues from the experiences that I had as a child and young person. Will I ever fully get over my past? Probably not, but it isn't going to stop me moving forward with my life and making positive change.

My story is sadly not unique. Every care leaver has a different story, but too many reflect the struggles that I experienced, and too often they are faced with coping alone and without support or a safe and secure place to live. That’s why I support the ECLCM campaign to introduce the option of ‘Staying Put’ rights for ALL care leavers until they are at least 21 years of age.

Thank you.

Ben Ashcroft

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Supported care leavers today or broken adults tomorrow?

How many children and young people in Britain have a worse start to life than 'looked after children'?

62% of 'looked after children' have been abused or neglected. This causes trauma, damage and distress which is often compounded by the experience of coming in to care. Is it any wonder some young people go off the rails when they have experienced so much pain in their early lives?

Can you imagine going through what some of these young people have to go through? No probably not. 

None of these children ask to be abused, neglected or abandoned. When 'the state' takes a child or young person into care then it should, as the corporate parent, be doing everything in its power to help them overcome their experiences and prepare them for leaving care. They need help to develop the life skills necessary to cope as adults in the same way that all children prepare for independence,

For looked after children though this is very different, as at best independence is forced on them at an earlier age than their non-looked after peers. These children and young people often feel abandoned by the leaving care experience, some for the second time in their short lives. 'Lightening', they say, ‘doesn’t strike twice in the same place.’ Well children who leave care often feel that it does.

Young people who live in children's homes don't have 'Staying Put' rights when they leave care because in 2013 the coalition government decided that these rights were just for fostered children. They may not feel it, but these fostered children are relatively fortunate. 

Children living in residential care don't have a 'residential care ambassador' or even very many people raising awareness for them. Who has TRULY championed the plight of residential care leavers in England? At least fostered children approaching leaving care have benefited from awareness raising by most of the major charities and child care organisations. They can rely on the support of the Children's Minister responsible supporting them.

This is not the case for children and young people placed in residential care. What does the Children's Minister have to say about children leaving residential care? However translated or interpreted, the lesser arrangements made for them give out a message “You are different, possibly second class, less worthy, less deserving".  He does not mean to say that, but how else will children and young people from residential care perceive being treated differently and denied all the options of their fostered peers? Who speaks out for residential care leavers? 

I have said this on social media before - that if adoption and kinship care aren't appropriate options, then ALL 'looked after' children and young people no matter where they live, be it foster care or residential care, should have equality of opportunity. We shouldn't accept blatant discrimination against often vulnerable children and young people who happen to live at the wrong address, or in the wrong type of care. It was not their decision so why should they suffer discrimination? ECLCM believe that it is purely for financial reasons that 'Staying Put' has not been implemented for residential care leavers – those 16, 17 and 18 year olds who our society appears to think can be so easily discarded.

We need to invest in 'our' children and young people now instead of trying to fix thousands of broken adults in years to come. We need change so that many more children and young people have the chance to have a great future, and are able to experience the good things in life.

'Looked after' children, are children, just like any other children. Please stand with us at 'Every Child Leaving Care Matters' and be a voice for children and young people, Let them know that you, at least care.

Finally I would like to thank and welcome our two new members of our core team who will add great experience and skills to an ever growing campaign that is only going to get stronger and stronger as our message spreads and our support grows.

Thank you all for being a voice and part of our campaign.

Ben Ashcroft
Every Child Leaving Care Matters core team