Over recent months the media has paid particular attention to the fact that disadvantaged working class white boys are five times less likely to go to university than those from the most advantaged backgrounds. However, few seem to acknowledge that that only 5 per cent of young care leavers went to university last year.
Moving from home to home can really affect a child's social skills, educational outcomes and employment prospects - impacting on their mental health and exacerbating any existing behavioural and emotional issues. We know first-hand the challenges these young people face, they have often experienced the worst in life, which means it can take several moves before they find the right foster carer to meet their specific needs.
What's needed is to grow the size of the sector, by design increasing the number of homes for some needs, so that members of each sub-group meeting specifically identified needs can contribute asking the same questions, wrestling with the same issues, and worrying about the same things as you are, so that they feel a little less isolated and a little more recognised.
For the last 15 years we have heard a consistent message from successive governments: no child should be left behind. Whether the slogan has been 'every child matters' or 'narrowing the gap', the intention has been the same: to improve outcomes for the most disadvantaged children. Despite there being some improvements for children, one group stands out as being almost impervious to these efforts: looked-after children.
The support that our country's most vulnerable children and young people get has been established with the best intentions, and is delivered by the huge, often selfless, efforts of professionals and carers. But when the whole system seems to miss the point, it's time for change. It's time for a care system designed to recognise the importance of emotional and mental health to the children and young people it is there for, all the way into adulthood.
Foster care would be that little bit easier if you could press a 'pause' button on your own life. What would we not give for some sort of arrangement to put everything on hold, as we work to resolve the seemingly intractable problems of the children who come into our care? But the reality is that our own lives carry on: stuff happens to us too, with no regard for the children and young people who have been entrusted to us.
One of my fondest childhood memories is of clambering over rocks along the undercliff with my grandfather one gloriously sunny day during school holidays. My family emigrated when I was still a child, so I spent too little time with him and did not know him well. He had passed away by the time I returned to the UK as a young man.
There are plenty of positive stories that happen daily in the children's homes. My recent experience has confirmed that you don't have to look hard to find the good news, it's common. Fun, smiles, caring about each other, laughter, understanding, achievement, progress, all of these things happen every day, the same as in any family anywhere. Being a created family is one way of looking at children's homes.
We need new thinking about the operating environment we currently frame as a 'marketplace'. We need a courageous, informed articulation of what is happening now, and the start of the thinking that can move us towards a method of effective working, both for quality of care and the health of our finances.
I am awed by the inspirational carers who give a home to children who have often suffered so much and find the courage and empathy to give joy to young lives. The capacity to love, sheer generosity and genuine interest in caring for children that I have seen has given me hope that there are more people out there who care about those children who have no one.