When we asked young people what they most wanted Become to do – the resounding answer was to change the care system.
As we today launch our new strategy, that is exactly what we are committed to do.
We believe that care-experienced people should have the same chances as everyone else to live happy, fulfilled lives and to become who they want to be. Unfortunately, at present, for too many this is not the case.
We know this because this is what young people tell us. Our Care Advice Service provides a lifeline for 100s of children and young people who don’t know where else to turn. Every week we get calls from young people struggling to get by, to get the help they need from their local authority, to understand their rights, get help with their mental health, access housing, education or financial support.
This is not good enough.
As a charity we are determined to address this. Some of this is about the support we provide directly – and in the years ahead we plan to help more young people with more of the issues they face - and some of this is about improving the practice of others. There are many amazing, committed foster carers, social workers and other professionals out there. But we hear about the times when things go wrong, when young people feel they are not listened to, when they aren’t given the stability or the support they need. We want to develop our training and to work with local authorities and other partners to help them improve practice and crucially to ensure they really listen to young people’s voices and understand how they experience the care system.
But we need to go further if we are to change the system. It is simply not acceptable that so many care-experienced young people go on to face hardship in adulthood. People who are homeless, or who have been in prison, or who have poor mental health are disproportionately likely to have been in care.
This is not right nor is it inevitable. The young people I have met since starting this role have so much potential. They are smart, they are resilient and with the right support they have amazing futures ahead of them. But that support is too often not there. Instead they can find themselves pushed from pillar to post, not listened to, not feeling loved and not with the stable start they need to make the successful transition into adulthood.
The question we must always be asking of those in power is: would this be good enough for your own children?
When the state takes on “corporate parenting” responsibility it must mean that those children are provided with the same amount of support and nurture and, yes, love as any parent would want for their own children. And that can’t stop when a young person reaches 16 or 18 or 25. There needs to be ongoing access to practical support and a focus on building and nurturing relationships around that young person that can last a lifetime.
Reform is urgent. There are record numbers of children in the care system. The system is under huge financial pressure with predicted deficits in local authority budgets of £3billion by 2025. That means that even in the best local authorities there is a growing risk that decisions around children are driven with budgets in mind rather than always what’s in the child’s best interests. We know too that when children’s services are under strain, child protection will often be prioritised and whilst this is of course vitally important it can’t come at the expense of ensuring children in care and care leavers are given every possible chance to thrive.
In a week where the goings on in Westminster again dominate the news agenda, we cannot and must not allow the real issues facing people across the country to be forgotten and top of any list of priorities has to come our children and young people.
That’s why we are today launching a new strategy and why in the years ahead we will be redoubling our efforts to bring about change for and with young people. We know working with the care-experienced community must be an integral part of what we do. We know we still have a way to go in making sure we are truly representative of the care-experienced population we seek to serve. We know there are significant challenges in getting politicians to listen to and act on the voices of care-experienced young people.
But one of the values that we have as an organisation is optimism. And this to me feels so important. We must be optimistic about what we can achieve together and we must be ambitious in our hopes for the future. As Chief Executive of Become, I am determined that we will achieve change. And I can’t wait to get started.