In the UK, 6,000 young people leave care each year. Of those, 4,500 will have no qualiďŹ cations and one in ďŹ ve will be homeless.* Under Exposure investigates the care system and the kind of issues a young person affected might face. While most young people worry about exams, jobs, relationships, young people in care often have more problems to deal with... * Centre for Policy Studies circa. 2006
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I was 13 when I found out my step-dad wasn’t my biological father. We were having an argument and the revelation came out. I wasn’t living with my mum as she was having difﬁculties, but I couldn’t stay with my step-dad knowing that we weren’t related, so I went to stay with her anyway. We quickly realised that she wasn’t able look after me. We decided together that I should go into foster care until she sorted herself out. We called social services that night. People have this stereotypical view that once social services get involved they immediately want to drag you away from your family. This isn’t true, they’re much more understanding than that. A social worker visited us the day after we called. The three of us discussed the circumstances both my mother and I were in: the social worker agreed that temporary foster care might be the best thing for me. I was found a placement in north London that night. It was a move into a world of confusion, patronisation and shock. »
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The word ‘foster’ means to help someone (or something) grow and develop. The average stay in the foster care system is 33 months. However, 33% will spend three to ﬁve years in the system while 26% will spend ﬁve years or more.
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When children are unable to live with their parents, they may be taken into foster care. That means that they will be placed in the care of another family for a period of time, or until the circumstances at home improve. Generally, the child concerned, while living with a family, is in the care of their local social services. They have full custody of the child â€“ although parents are included in decisions made about the child if they are ďŹ t to contribute. Some children may move to various foster homes when in care. Each child in foster care gets their own social worker.
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» It felt daunting and I questioned whether I had made the right choice. One major difference between living at home and in foster care is the lack of the warmth you should receive naturally from a biological family. While a carer will usually try hard to make you feel ‘a part of the home’, you know you’re not. I spent a lot of time feeling frightened and in a state of melancholy. Different carers have different ways of caring for you. There are guidelines and rules set by the local authority, but each home has its own culture and personality. My ﬁrst foster placement started okay, but I gradually began to feel uncomfortable and ultimately I didn’t feel cared for. To make things worse my mother passed away suddenly. I sunk into depression; six months later I was placed into an emergency placement as all the local long-term residencies were occupied. It was a children’s home and I was there for a month. It was an overwhelming experience. I went off the rails and drank a lot and took drugs. I ﬁnd it hard to remember a lot, but it was a dark time. The other young people who lived there had issues, which meant they couldn’t be fostered. Some of them were badly behaved. Obviously each children’s home is different depending on the type of people living within it, but individuals get placed into a home for a reason and in my experience it usually isn’t a good one. »
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Children in care are three to six times more likely than children not in care to have emotional, behavioral and developmental problems. Carers on average are paid £350 a week for each child they look after. It takes a Bachelors, Masters, or doctoral social work degree – with a minimum number of hours in supervised work in the community – to become a social worker. The latest statistics show that only 6% of young people in care acheived ﬁve GCSEs at grades A*- C.
» I spoke to my social worker about ﬁnding a new foster placement. I had conditions that included living close to my school and having my own room. They found the place where I’ve spent the last three years of my life. I stayed because it was a stable and safe environment. I felt that my foster carer looked after me, listened to me, and provided advice and support when I required it – that was pretty much all I needed. I began focusing on the future, rather than what could have been. I took for granted what social services did for me. Going into care isn’t the worst thing or even a bad thing and sometimes, for some people, it’s the best thing. Like any difﬁcult process, getting through and surviving helps you become a more complete and mature person. The care system is there to help you set up for life, attempting to ﬁll in when and where your parents are unable. I was allowed as much time and space with my family as I needed, and I was never forced to do anything I didn’t want to do. You also receive guidance that you might not necessarily get from your parents, and that can only mean you are better equipped to deal with the twists and turns life throws up.
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A child who is suffering from abuse or is in an unsafe household may be taken into an emergency placement. This means temporary care with a foster carer, a childrenâ€™s home or a residential centre, which houses children in similar situations. Emergency placements are typically short, unless the child expresses a desire to stay in a placement, or is close to becoming an adult by turning 18. Otherwise, dedicated staff try to make the child as comfortable as possible while a social worker tries to resolve the situation by ďŹ nding a new placement for the child.
Adoption is different from foster care. It means that a child becomes a legal member of a family up until the age of 18. An adopted child will usually take the surname of their adopting family. Adoption effectively cuts all ties with the birth family. Adoption is usually a positive thing, which gives the child another chance of experiencing a stable family life.
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Interview with Darren Moore, I was two years old when I ﬁrst went into care. I had many foster carers in my early years, some better than others. My ﬁnal foster home was the best for me. I stayed there for 10 years – I felt part of the family. Finding a successful placement is all about connecting with a family otherwise it’s easy to feel like an outsider. It’s difﬁcult to build trust in others, but eventually it can happen with the right people around you. My experience has taught me that you should look at the care system with an open mind. Know that whoever takes you in is trying to help; they are not against you, even if it seems like it at the time. There were difﬁcult times, especially when leaving care when I was 18. After six months on my own I was allowed to return to my foster parent. I didn’t feel ready to leave and felt pressured to make the move. I wasn’t prepared go out into the world on my own. Lots of kids in care have problems, but remember that it doesn’t prevent you from achieving or mean you’re worth less than anyone else. You can still be successful and happy. Under the Leaving Care Act, the care system provides support up to the age of 21 to prepare care leavers for independent living.
With thanks to those who provided information or participated in the production of this supppliment. Contributers from left.
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Amanuel Tewodros, Darren Moore, Ghafar Khan, Ahmed Zia, Gabrielle Asare
In the UK, 6,000 young people leave care each year. Of those, 4,500 will have no qualifications and one in five will be homeless.* Under Exp...