Listening to care experienced children and young people 

It’s National Care Leavers week and a good point to pause and reflect on the conversations we have had with care experienced children and young people through the review. 

Soon after we launched in March 2021 we held a number of online workshops with people keen to speak to the review. The events were themed around the groups we knew were interested in the review, for example people with lived experience of children’s social care, foster carers, adopters, kinship carers and birth families. These early events were useful to start a conversation but we knew they would only be the start of our listening. 

Nowhere was this more true than in our engagement with children who are experiencing children’s social care today or who have recently left care. We know most young people in care would have no idea a review was taking place nevermind how to go about sharing their views –  young people have better things to be doing with their lives than follow government announcements! So working with groups and networks that young people already know and trust was essential to our engagement work. We’re really grateful to everyone who helped create spaces for conversations to happen and to our Experts by Experience board who advised on excellent organisations to approach. 

Today we are publishing a summary of our engagement since June with hundreds of children and young people (age 10-25) and a summary designed for young people. You can see an earlier summary of our engagement between March and June here. We are also publishing a report from Coram Voice which details the work we commissioned ‘A National Voice’ ambassadors (a group of 24 care experienced young people aged 16-25 from across England) to undertake to hear from young people through workshops with Children in Care Councils and other groups who had expressed an interest – more than 300 young people took part. 

Please read these reports – they capture what children and young people are telling us in their own words. This is a review of children’s social care and it’s important that the voice of children is not lost in what can easily become conversations about systems and processes. 

A few stand out points for me: 

There are positive stories of care: the negative stories will always gain more attention (and it’s important we hear them because we know change is needed) but we have also heard from children who tell us that being in care makes them feel safe because they have stable homes and good relationships with their carers and social workers. Hearing about people going above and beyond to deliver a positive experience and outcomes to ensure children thrive is a hopeful reminder that the system can be better for all children. 

Children too often feel stigmatised and to blame for their situation: It is upsetting and frustrating to read these accounts and drives home the importance of trauma informed work and of helping children to build a strong sense of their identity. 

Relationships, relationships, relationships: we instinctively know that relationships are at the heart of everything in care, and the pandemic brought home to most of us that relationships and connection to others is the thing that matters in life. 

We launched this review asking how we can better guarantee that children grow up with love, stability, and safety – and hearing children talk about losing a connection with the people who mattered to them (often brothers and sisters) is difficult. The system is not set up to prioritise important relationships, a sense of belonging, and identity but these are the things which matter to young people. 

These reports reflect our work with children and young people. We will produce a similar summary of our conversations with adults with lived experience of children’s social care as well as the conversations we held with over 1000 members of the children’s social care workforce. 

But that’s for another day – let’s finish with this from a young person who recently left care: 

“Being in care was life changing. Every aspect of my life is still affected by it. I don’t think there is enough time to process all the trauma before you leave care and all the stress and

headaches come back. Obviously care kept me safe and provided opportunities I would have never had, however it also separated my family and four of my siblings have been adopted with only a yearly vague letter for correspondence. I don’t understand why I get punished for my mother’s mistakes.

“I think people assume that children are getting their basic needs, it’s enough. Like you know

they’ve got food and shelter… OK, they’re better off than where they used to be, and you as a child you do have that mindset you’re like, ‘oh, I’m better than where I used to be, so it’s OK’, but that those basic needs aren’t necessarily enough.”

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