Misconceptions around care experience need to end

One of the issues raised in the Case for Change was the stigma and prejudice care experienced people can too often face. This is a subject that’s come up for the review team throughout the review. People have raised the negative assumptions people make about you because of your untypical start in life – that your family are mad, bad or sad. Too many young people have talked about the low expectations people have for them – no enquiries about applying to uni that a typical 18 year old would hear, just a rush to find them a home and check a box. And almost as infuriating as the assumption that care experienced people are somehow bad or dangerous is a patronising, ‘haven’t you done well despite your tough start…’ attitude, dressed up as concern but an assumption just the same.   

As a care leaver myself, I know all too well the impact of misconceptions of those currently in care and those who have left. These are not only held by members of the public, who we could argue don’t know any better, maybe having never met a child in care or care experienced person, but also by some of those that work directly with children in care and care leavers.

It’s a topic that interests me so I was keen to talk it through with some friends – you can see the film below.

I’ve experienced misconceptions and prejudice simply being a black woman – in addition, I’ve always noticed that once I’ve revealed that I am a care leaver there can be an awkward response, a forced sympathy, an assumption that I do not have parents or someone to look up to as a parental figure. 

If a physician approached all members of a minority group in exactly the same way, expecting them to have the same feelings and symptoms, this would without a doubt be deemed inappropriate; instead we are approached and examined as individuals. So, in social care, why are many children supported with meeting the most basic needs and not encouraged or expected to go beyond that?

If these responses aren’t bad enough, there are also behavioural and emotional expectations of us. It is  assumed that some of us are angry, rebellious individuals with little or no aspirations or an inability to achieve the aspirations that we do have. I once had an extended family member tell me, when I revealed at age 14 that I wanted to be a Lawyer, that there’s no point in aiming for that and that I should find employment in a retail store and work my way up. I mean no judgement regarding the retail profession, but my point here is: imagine being frequently told either directly or indirectly that you are not quite capable of achieving your aspirations simply because of who you are, the background in which you’ve come from and the so-called expectations of those within that group. 

The problem with misconceptions, prejudice and low expectations from others is that we can eventually  internalise these messages and of course this impacts our confidence and perception of ourselves. How can children in care and care leavers  set out to aim higher if we do not know or think the opportunity exists for us? It takes encouragement and for someone to consistently show that they believe in us.

Falling back on what we are familiar with.. 

Some of us normalise the negative behaviours that we grow up around. Unfortunately, if we are not encouraged from a young age to achieve more than what is a very basic checklist set out for us through the care ‘system’ – housing, level of education, life goals etc. this may go on to affect the futures of young people who have left care. Worse, it can influence the futures of the children that they may go on to be the primary caregiver for.

We know, as a society, that some perceptions of minority groups can lead to damaging and negative outcomes for some. This is exactly the same for care leavers and children in care, and should not be treated in any other way.

I’m pleased the issue was raised in the Case for Change and that I’ve been given this platform to talk about what is all too common an experience for children in care and care leavers.  I hope this review gives us an opportunity to not only challenge misconceptions of people in care but to challenge the system to aim higher and treat children in care as individuals and, most of all, to allow care experienced people the chance to escape the assumptions and low expectations being placed on them and fulfil their true potential.  

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