The number of young people in the United Kingdom that are looked after continues to increase; having risen steadily over the last nine years. In 2018, over 72,000 children were in care.
Young people can enter care for a number of different reasons, and remain within the system for a range of different periods of time. They face a higher risk of homelessness, unemployment and poor well-being. And just 6% of young people with experience of the care system will go on to higher education, compared with almost 50% of the population.
One of the biggest challenges that a Care Leaver will face is the acceptance of their identity. A person even discussing their experiences and saying “I’m a Care Leaver” can be a huge obstacle for some.
There is a fear instilled in young people in the care system from a young age about labels from adult figures. Education wise, children in care could be labelled as ‘Special Educational Needs,’ and in society there is a belief that you may not be accepted because of your past experiences.
There’s also a huge amount of stigma attached to the system, with young people being viewed as damaged goods or delinquents, and that they themselves played a part in their own fate.
I entered the care system at three years old. It’s something I’ve carried as part of me ever since. I used to do everything that was possible to hide my care identity, and it’s through this that can sometimes stop you from seeking the support you need.
In the UK, we’re finally beginning to start to take a look at the experiences of the care system for young people, and the many past failures in some cases that have led many individuals to feel alone and ashamed of their ‘Care Experienced’ label.
For me, the fear of labels and the fear of not being accepted, were things that I allowed to hold me back for many years. It’s only once you can start to look at your past and your experiences, and accept them, that you begin to move forward.
Many more Care Experienced People are starting to come to the same realisation that I have. On social media, users have started to create their own community using #CEP (Care Experienced Person) so that individuals can talk to others with similar experiences.
This movement is contributing to Care Leavers across the UK in coming together, and ending the loneliness that many experience. It’s why at 25, I can finally own my care identity - and accept that it isn’t something I should be ashamed of.