Anna’s Blog – Why Young Care Leavers fair so badly in Modern Britain
Fifty percent of young people now go to university. If you’ve been in care that figure drops to just six percent. Our CEO Anna Lunts looks at why young care leavers fair so badly in modern Britain.
Diane Abbot, Labour MP for Hackney North and Stoke Newington and Shadow Home Secretary, said last week that Stomzy is doing more for social mobility than the Government after the grime star announced he will be funding the university costs of two more Cambridge students.
“So Stormzy is doing so much more for urban youngsters than the Tories with their ludicrous fried chicken box campaign. He is offering leadership. The Tories are peddling stereotypes #Friedchicken.’ She Tweeted.
The Stomzy scholarship is aimed at supporting people from minority backgrounds who have earned a place at the university but may be put off going due to lack of funds. His laudable, practical response has made me consider how completely out-of- reach a university education is for so many of our bright young people.
The reality for young people who have been in care is that their life chances are significantly worse than for the rest of the population – just six per cent of them will go to university compared to 50 percent of their peers.
Research published last week by the think tank The Social Market Foundation found that 65% of all looked-after children in England were in council areas where services needed to improve. There are many reasons why children who have been in care struggle in adulthood. The fact that 50,000 of looked after children are in the care of councils whose services are falling short must surely be a significant factor.
Matthew Oakley, SMF senior researcher, said: “These are the children who need the most support and the best care. Yet we are collectively content to give them inadequate support and care. This neglect is nothing less than shameful.
“We know that failing to properly support looked-after children will help to condemn them to a life of poverty and struggle, or even worse. And yet, the numbers of such children in failing services is actually rising. That is scandalous.”
Looked after children are five times more likely than those who have not been in care to be convicted of a criminal offence or subject to a final warning or reprimand. They are also five times more likely to have been excluded from school and overall face a much higher risk of homelessness, teenage pregnancy and unemployment.
Many young people suffer poor mental health as a result of the circumstances which led them to be taken into care. People like Richard, highlighted in the Barnardos ‘Neglected Minds’ report:
Richard came into care aged four as a result of both parents suffering from substance misuse. Richard’s mother died of a drug overdose and Richard had found her body, resulting in significant trauma. Richard requires a very specific approach to help him deal with these issues; person-centered counselling for example causes him to relive the trauma. The service supporting Richard is looking to see whether they can access Cognitive Behavioural Therapy (CBT) or other more appropriate therapy to help him deal with these issues. This range of issues however makes accessing existing statutory services for this group of young people challenging.
Many looked-after youngsters are also vulnerable to mental health issues because of the poor quality care they receive. Award-winning poet, playwright and broadcaster Lemn Sissay grew up in foster care. When he hit adolescence and became a ‘bit rebellious’ his foster parents told him he had the devil inside him and returned him to Wigan social services. He was 12 years old. Over the next five years, he lived in four different children’s homes, ending up in the notorious Wood End assessment centre, where he says he was imprisoned, bullied and physically abused by staff. At 18, he left the care system, in shock, without a penny to his name or any qualifications.
“Institutional shame is very powerful, because it is insidious. It works its way into you to make you believe it. A lot of kids in care think they deserve the shit they get. The best thing I ever did was go into therapy,” the 52-year-old told the Guardian newspaper last year after winning financial redress from Wigan Council, for his mistreatment as a child.
Despite the government’s frequently repeated commitment to tackle social exclusion the system still perpetuates an underclass of young adults with blighted life chances. A £2billion funding gap in social care in England, the lack of well-trained workers in front-line positions, high staff turnover, and a chronic shortage of foster carers means the outcome for many of those young people in care is dismal.
“When you have been in care your memory is relative to a wilderness and every reminder of family in your adult life is a reminder of that wilderness of childhood … I think we should not be giving young people that utterly bare, barren childhood to look back on. In care, we should be creating memories,” Lemn Sissay.