A report by the Children’s Commissioner on children’s experiences inside the care system highlights the appalling way in which children are being treated, and evidences the serious emotional harm the sector is causing these children.
The report, which is 14 pages long and features 22 children and young adults aged between 9 and 21, offers extracts from interviews in which children and young adults describe how the care system treated them and how that treatment made them feel.
While there are a few good experiences shared by children (most of which stem from support given by individuals outside of the care system), the report makes for a read which is both embarrassing and deeply troubling.
The most concerning revelation comes from several children in care who explain that the lack of proper care inside the system directly damaged their mental health, highlighting once again that the child protection system is causing tangible harm to the children it is supposed to be looking after.
One example given was that a change in social worker caused children to have to relive past traumatic events, because they had to talk about their past again.
An exceptionally high turnover in social workers around the country means that children are often having to relive painful past experiences – including the act of separation itself – multiple times.
Despite the volumes of research available on how to look after children, and the very obvious knowledge gaps inside the child protections system – which existed long before austerity – children are also still being left to languish on their own, separated from their siblings and moved sometimes hundreds of miles away from anything familiar to them.
The same tired themes of stability and mental health feature in this document, themes which have been clearly labelled and identified a thousand times over, in child welfare campaigns, scientific data and pioneering social work.
This report is not insightful, or trail blazing, but it is worth sharing the quotes from the children who took part in these interviews, because every one of their voices matter.
You can access all of the quotes published, here.
Below are a selection of quotes which we think broadly capture the key sentiments of the children interviewed. Please read all of them, if you can:
“[Social services] don’t do enough to guarantee the emotional wellbeing of that child, and the psychological wellbeing, it can have a big impact on kids because there’s all that stability gone. … It can have a lot of psychological damage on a kid, and you get the kids acting out, you get kids being rebellious, going off and doing drugs, and they turn down paths, and get involved with the wrong people, and I feel like, a lot of the time, that can be prevented. If they just put more measures in place to make sure kids really understand why this is happening, it’s not their fault, and I just feel like a lot more should be offered, like counselling definitely.” (Female, Care leaver)
“My behaviour got a bit uncontrollable [when moved placement to another town]. It’s because I still wasn’t given the help I want, I needed… Like I needed therapeutic help and I didn’t get it. And then when I moved to [new town following another placement move], I finally got it … It [therapy] made me get rid of all my anger … I haven’t kicked off as often as I used to.” (Female, 13)
“I probably cried myself to sleep each night, the first week.” (Male, 17)
“I was worried a lot at the time. Because it was unknown to where we would be going, how it would be like.” (Female, 16)
My social worker, I ask her so many times, what’s going to happen in my future, I’m really scared. I want to know what’s going to happen in my future and she’s just, she can’t be arsed to talk about it.” (Female, 15)
“But the more you move to different places and then the more you just get used to it … It’s just [breathes out], it’s just tiring … I don’t know how to explain it, you do literally feel tired, you hear it and it’s just like [breathes out] go back to bed.” (Female, 15)
“I think it [moving placements] just had an impact on … how I act, how I controlled my emotions. If I felt angry now, I’d just hold it in but then I would just lash out.” (Female,16)
“I was going through a lot of instability at the time… and I was making decisions that I probably wouldn’t rationally make normally, like running away from school and things like that. Yeah, they well and truly were [due to the instability], and it I guess it was a coping mechanism.” (Male, 17)
“Well they just said that he’s getting adopted to North England. That’s all I’m now allowed to know. … When she told me that he was gone, I just broke down… It was hard, I would cry every single day at school. I’d get taken out of lessons because I just couldn’t cope with it.” (Female, 18)
“I was out of school for three weeks rather than two, because the woman we was given to help me find a new school didn’t really do her job properly… I understand that she’s busy with loads of other people, but she left me and my mum on a voice message for a whole week, then a second week. We gave her a call and we actually got through to her and said, OK, we said to her, oh what’s happening, why haven’t you found a school yet, haven’t you found a school yet or are you just ignoring us, and she said, well I haven’t found a school yet, let me, just give me time. And she left us for another week.” (Male, 16)
“I didn’t meet my new social worker for quite a while, and then I met her a couple of times, and then I got another one. And it’s just like, well I only saw you three times and you’re already leaving, am I that bad? And it just makes you feel like you’re worthless, you’re not valued, and you’ve done something wrong all the time. It also makes you feel like you’re not important to them, and they don’t want to be with you, they don’t want to work with you, they’re just doing it because they have to. So it just makes a real downer on the young person, it makes them feel like, have very low self-esteem and low confidence in themselves.” (Female, 17)