Children's Homes, Foster Care, and the Social Care System. Creating Already Damaged Children into Even More Damaged Adults
There are historical allegations from children in care homes. What is being done to help the damaging statistics of what happens to them whilst in care and after they leave care.
After hearing Alex Wheatle's story about his time in a Lambeth children's home in the 1970s, he wrote a book called Brixton Rock, where he told his heart-breaking childhood in a care home where he was racially, sexually, and physically abused my the staff member's at the care home.
Alex and many others, looked after children, are placed miles away from his family for other reasons than safe guarding. This makes it difficult for those children to keep meaningful relationships with their then social workers, family members, and friends, although there is a national focus on providing care closer to home. However, for some of the most vulnerable children, this is not being applied to.
He talked about how living in care is what caused him to be exploited by adults, to sell drugs for them in the 1980s. This happened because there were no adults or authorities looking out for his welfare. He used to run away from the children's home he lived in. The main reason for that was because he was being abused by the staff and bullied by the other children in the care home. His care home was in the south of London, where there were high rates of crime. This is how he ended up walking into the paths of criminals, who had their own plans of what to do with a vulnerable 14-year-old boy without any parents. The exploitation that happened to Alex is a common form of exploitation used by gangs; for transportation and selling drug.
Statistics show that care leavers are five times more likely to face benefit sanctions than any other benefit claimant. The DWP rejected an idea from a group of MP's to reduce the sanction by a maximum of 20%, claiming that benefit sanctions motivate people to find work.
These continuous failings are adding more vulnerability to already vulnerable individuals. Another care leaver told her story about becoming homeless after leaving care and starting university in the video below.
Ex-care leaver tells his story
Another former looked-after child told me his story in an exclusive interview. He wishes to remain anonymous, as he felt that his story was much too embarrassing. Care leavers from Shirley Oaks a children's home in Lambeth London have been awarded compensation for the abuse that they had suffered. However, it is thought that many of the ex-care leavers from Lambeth Children's home may not know about the compensation they are entitled to. Lambeth council agreed that children looked after in their children's home were abused and neglected. They have taken some responsibility to the failings of the police, social workers, care home mangers, and other health care professionals.
A recent report shows that sexual abuse of children in care homes in Nottinghamshire was widespread for decades. Their failures to learn from mistakes exposed more young people to harm.
The Independent Inquiry into Child Sexual Abuse revealed in the report that abuse included repeated rapes, sexual assaults, and voyeurism; which took place during the 1970s, 1980s, and 1990s in multiple of Nottingham City Council and Nottingham County Council's homes, as well as in foster care.
How being in care can affect a child?
The impact it has on children can have a lasting effect on their self-worth, mentality, future, and aspirations; their negative life experience can shape them, ultimately creating individuals who are products of their environment.
A project called CHIC has been created to support children in the care system. The aim of the project is to teach staff warning signs and to spot challenges faced by children, giving a nurturing and supportive relationship between staff and child.
Research by Barnado's suggest that children in care can experience difficulty in developing emotional resilience and often struggle to self regulate due to a history of broken relationships and trauma.
Children are leaving care at a very early age before they are mentally developed enough to look after themselves. A study by Action For Children suggested that the public believe 21 is the age young people should leave the home. However, 18 is the average age people leave care in England, and 31% of young people leave care aged between 16 and 17.
Frost, N and Mills, S (2018) wrote about abuse in children's homes in Leicestershire and Staffordshire. The book explained that there are at least four different and distinctive forms of abuse in care homes. These forms include: sanctioned, institutional, systematic, and individual. Recognition of these different forms of abuse is an important starting point in addressing the question of prevention, but before moving on, there also needs to be recognition of the much wider societal inequalities of power enveloping abuse in residential care. The sanctioned abuse can capture informal practices or cultures, which can result in abuse.
As Chief Rabbi Sir Jonathan Sacks said: “Children grow to fill the space we create for them, and if it’s big, they grow tall. The years of childhood pass all too quickly and become the foundation upon which the rest of life depends."
Foster Care can be profoundly injurious to a child’s mental health (Harden, 2004; Paediatrics 2000), whilst children in foster care have more compromised developmental outcomes than children who do not experience placement in foster care (Harden, 2004). Young people in foster care are more likely to develop behavioural, educational, and emotional problems than children who are raised by abusive and high-risk parents (Bass, 2004; Harden, 2004).
The Impact this has on society
The seriousness of children in care not being looked after properly will see even further care leavers ending up in prison in their adult life, or even before. It is not just the care that a child receives whilst in local authority care that will determine their future. The nature versus nurture principles also applies. However, it is fair to say that those in care at higher risks of becoming statistics in later life. The transition to adulthood for young people leaving care is accelerated, placing them at increased vulnerability, compared to their peers.
In addition, other important policy relationships have been researched, including poor educational, economic, and income outcomes in adulthood (Metzler, Merrick, Klevens, Ports, & Ford, 2017), suicide (Dube, 2001), illicit drug use (Dube, 2003), smoking in adolescence (Robert F. Anda, 1999) and premature mortality (Brown, 2009).
Alarming statistics about care leavers include the fact that only 6% of them go to university compared to 50% of the general population. Young people who have been in care between the ages of 10 and 17 are five times more likely to be convicted of a criminal offence or subject to a final warning. Looked after children are also five times more likely to have been excluded from school. Overall, they face a much higher risk of homelessness, teenage pregnancy, and unemployment.
Evidence from the British Birth Cohort Studies shows that progressing further on the educational ladder is linked to improvements in mental and physical health, employment, income, housing, family life, as well as absence of addiction.
Care leavers make up less than 1% of all children in England that were looked after during March 2011, compared to the fact that up to half the young people held in young offender institutions are, or have been previously, looked after, as shown in a report by The Prison Reform Trust.
In the recent "county line" drugs gangs, it is said that a high proportion of the children exploited by the gang members running these criminal operations are children in care or on at-risk registers. Most of these children are from disadvantaged backgrounds.