Every child leaving care matters

By Bernadette Meaden
May 24, 2015

Few people can have a more difficult start in life than those who were taken into care as children. Removed from their families, they may at a very young age have experienced terrible sadness and distress.

Given this start, it is unrealistic to expect children in residential care to reach the age of eighteen and be magically transformed into an independent adult needing little support. Indeed, very few eighteen year olds from any background are able to handle whatever life throws at them without the continuing support of their family.

Sadly though, when a child in care reaches eighteen, they are expected to go out into the world and make a life for themselves. Some leave their children's home as young as sixteen or seventeen, can’t cope and want to return, but find there is no way back.

Not surprisingly, they then struggle to build a life for themselves, and for some, things go badly wrong. For instance, twenty three per cent of the adult prison population has been in care.

The Department for Education is responsible for children in care, and last year the Education Select Committee of the House of Commons took a detailed look at the situation for care leavers. It concluded, "Many young people are settled and thriving in residential children's homes. Forcing them to move at the age of 18 from a home judged 'good' or 'outstanding' by Ofsted to unregulated, sometimes unsuitable, settings is not only illogical in policy terms, but potentially harmful to the individual in question.

"We recognise the resource constraints faced by local authority children's services departments. Nonetheless, the young people in question have already experienced troubled and disrupted childhoods and are far too important for their welfare not to be prioritised. Extending support for these vulnerable young people should be considered an investment, which will lead to better outcomes for the individuals in question and for society as a whole.

"Young people living in residential children's homes should have the right to remain there beyond the age of 18, just as young people in foster now have the right to Stay Put until the age of 21. We recommend that the DfE extend Staying Put to residential children's homes."

Some of the most persuasive evidence given to the Committee came from Every Child Leaving Care Matters, (ECLCM) a campaign group set up to secure the opportunity for children in residential care to remain up to the age of twenty one. Many of the group are care leavers themselves, and know from experience what a difference this could make to the lives of young people.

Danielle McLaughlin left care at eighteen and has written a poem about what happened to her published in full on the ECLCM website.

The next few years are quite a mess
I was a massive drain at A & E
This I must confess
I couldn’t bear the loneliness
Started overdosing on the med
Just enough so they would keep me in
On a ward not my lonely bed.

What saved Danielle was having two children, as she explains:

They saved me in so many ways
In ways I can’t explain
I found the drive to better myself
They took away the pain.
My two little saviours
With all that innocence, they just give
They lifted my heart and filled it
They gave me tickets to finally live.

Now Danielle is studying to become a social worker, and has joined the ECLCM campaign to try to prevent other young people going through what she went through.

There is a petition calling on the government to allow young people in residential care to remain until they are twenty one, if they wish. You can sign it here.

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© Bernadette Meaden has written about political, religious and social issues for some years, and is strongly influenced by Christian Socialism, liberation theology and the Catholic Worker movement. She is an Ekklesia associate and regular contributor. You can follow her on Twitter: @BernaMeaden

Although the views expressed in this article do not necessarily represent the views of Ekklesia, the article may reflect Ekklesia's values. If you use Ekklesia's news briefings please consider making a donation to sponsor Ekklesia's work here.