Christmas in care

The New Statesman remind us that not all will be having an easy time at Christmas.  They’ve been talking to a young woman in care and those that look after her:

“Christmas here can be very difficult. Sometimes they think their parents are going to turn up, and then they don’t. Even if they do, they might get home and find that Christmas dinner is, you know, a tin of beans,” says Jane Raby, a senior worker at the Community Living Project, a residential home run by NCH, the children’s charity, for six 15- to 17-year-olds in a leafy district of Leeds. “We have to try to manage their expectations, and give them as good a time as we can here. But it is hard.”

The experience I had working with children in care as a councillor was that being “normal” was hugely important to them.  I’d guess that Christmas is one of those times when that is very difficult, particularly for those in residential care and for those leaving care.

The New Statesman has figures which tell a gloomy tale:

  • 60,000 children are in care at any one time
  • 85,000 each year will spend some time in care
  • 50% of girls leaving care are single mothers within two years
  • 25% of girls in care become pregnant before they leave
  • 1/3 of the homeless have been in care
  • 50% of prisoners under the age of 25 have spent time in care
  • 63% of children in care are there as a result of abuse
  • 77% of residential care staff are not qualified to government standard

Of course being in care can be a positive (if difficult) experience and some of the young people I knew from care have gone on to start their adult lives in ways that make me and all the people who know them proud.

But it is why the Care Matters Green Paper is imporant, recognising as it does that the support isn’t adequate and that “leaving care” has become an unhelpful concept, limiting the support that young people get from local authorities on the basis of age rather than competence.

Here’s Alan Johnson in the introduction to the paper:

Quite simply, it is now clear that this help has not been sufficient. The life chances of all children have improved but those of children in care have not improved at the same rate. The result is that children in care are now at greater risk of being left behind than was the case a few years ago – the gap has actually grown…

The fact that children in care have to rely on the State for part or all of their upbringing makes them truly special. It is what distinguishes them from many others who also need extra help. It is why, in my view, we are under an urgent obligation to take action with them and for them.

Time for corporate parents to make a few New Year’s resolutions.

About Andrew Brown

I live in Lewisham, South East London, and spent 9 years as a Labour councillor in the borough between 1997 and 2006.
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5 Responses to Christmas in care

  1. lovelewisham says:

    You’re quite right to highlight this, Andrew. When I was in residential care, back in the seventies, it was the kids with parents who would visit, or not, that sufferred the most. They were screwed-up by alcholic parents before they came into care and left hoping that one day things would become ‘normal’ for them. I remember that we would ask the social services mini-bus driver to drop us off a few roads away from school, so that other kids didn’t see us arrive. There were many positive aspects to being in residential care, though. The staff were fantastic. I felt secure because I knew that I was being looked after by people who knew what they were doing. Then, of course there was clothes shopping with the Care Worker and the council order book! I used to get two pair of top brand jeans at a time, when my ‘normal’ friends used to get one pair of tesco ‘bombers’!

    You are right to emphasise the Council’s Corporate Parenting role, and you did something contructive about it when you were an elected member. I think it’s time to develop a shameless ‘Corporate Nepotism’ policy!

  2. andrewkbrown says:

    I always thought the clothes money thing is a bit double edged. It allows kids in care to buy the things they want and need; but it’s probably more than their parents could afford (making returning home more stressful for the majority that do that), and giving a false sense of financial security to those going through the leaving care process.

    My sense was that social workers and carers often felt obliged to hand over the money with little sense of making sure it is being spent appropriately. And that the young people didn’t ever consider budgeting (and which teenagers do unless parents and carers stand over them).

    But Corporate Nepotism sounds like an excellent concept to me. The more the state recognises that they can find ways of caring for the kids they bring up well beyond their 18th/24th birthday the better.

    There are also other things that councils should be thinking about to measure their ‘success’ as a parent. Such as how many young people can drive when they’re 18 and what could be done to give them skills like that? The council has a fleet of cars and vans that – as you know Nigel – are often empty over weekends…

  3. Jerry Lee says:

    I got pocket money money when I was in care. It was great because there was a national rate, based on age(probably linked to inflation as well!). I understand from our Leaving Care traineee that that is still the case. Great! I never got money to buy clothes, that’s when we had to go out with the council order book. All really good preparation for working in Local Government! (but don’t tell the Director of Finance!)

  4. Jerry Lee says:

    Sorry, just seen your comment about using our fleet to give our kids driving lesson. Great idea, I’ll look into it. I can just imagine the reaction!!!

  5. andrewkbrown says:

    I did suggest it a couple of years back, when Direct Team were still in business, but nothing happened…

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