The care review must address the human cost of care
We cannot ever forget those that didn’t make it out of the care system alive and well, writes Laura Beveridge
Laura Beveridge - Nick Grigg/Holyrood
When I was around 13 years old I was taken into residential care. I went to the children’s home for a visit before I moved in and I witnessed a 13-year-old boy – let’s call him Adam – being physically restrained by three members of staff. I watched on as Adam struggled, shouting out, screaming at the staff: “Let me go”.
I didn’t know that this was part of the children’s home’s safe holding policy or a so-called ‘CALM’ physical intervention. I just associated it with violence and I froze. I was terrified and so was Adam, who was fighting back.
Adam and I became friends, we had an incredible bond because we knew what it meant to just survive. We knew what it was like to look after our younger brothers and sisters, and we knew how it felt to be forgotten while our families appeared to move on without us. We knew we didn’t have a home but we did have each other.
The pain of being rejected by parents cuts deep and Adam and I shared that pain and we helped each other through some of the most devastating years of our lives. Every time we returned from the Children’s Panel, where our past was regurgitated in front of strangers, it only served to remind us that we weren’t wanted.
Adam and I would spend the next few years battling our way through the system, trying any way we could to take the control back. Every aspect of our lives was monitored and documented and the care process just served to fuel our ongoing continuing trauma.
Adam and I were teens full of rage and we took control back by running away, taking drugs and giving up on school. School was, to us, just another system that held us at a distance.
I am one of the lucky ones and I thank my lucky stars that my life worked out OK. It was a hard road to get to where I am today but the reason I survived was because of luck and resilience, a resilience that came from learning to survive.
Children in care are 20 times more likely to be dead by the time they are 25.
The children’s hearing decided to send Adam home six months before he reached 16. I knew he was being set up to fail but my voice didn’t matter, his voice didn’t matter, the decision had been made. There was no family support in place to help if needed, no mental health provision and no continued contact or relationship with the staff that cared for him.
Adam was alone with the family that had abused him. He died five years later – he was just 21 years old.
I found out about my friend’s death through a mutual friend a few years later. The first thing I wanted to do was go and visit his grave, or do something to remember him by. There is no gravestone and when I asked to plant a tree in the garden of the children’s home, I was told that it would be too morbid.
At 9am on Care Day I took a few moments to remember Adam, as I do every year on his birthday, but it breaks my heart that there are no photographs – our childhoods are rarely captured on film – or a gravestone to say that he was here.
One of my biggest fears has always been that I would be forgotten, that I didn’t make a mark and I have met so many care-experienced people that share this feeling because we have been left behind. Some care-experienced people I know have no photographs of themselves as babies or no photographs of their parents.
Sometimes, there are no reference points, no family or any sense of identity. This is why I, and many other care-experienced people share their stories, to give children in care a past.
Many care-experienced people go on to do incredible things, achieve their dreams and live happy, healthy lives, but we cannot ever forget those that didn’t make it out alive and well.
There are care leavers crippled with physical and mental health, those that in their desperation have turned to crime and live life behind bars and those that continue to live in isolation, alone and without the love and care they should have been given as children.
Half of us leave care with a mental health issue. When I went into care, I carried a bag of trauma. When I left, I was still carrying that bag but it was just a bit bigger.
In the last issue of Holyrood, Mandy Rhodes highlighted the tragedy of the numbers of care-experienced young people who die before their time. It is my hope that the care review finds and listens to those lost voices and takes immediate action to provide the necessary support that those children need before it is too late.
Care-experienced people are now speaking out, bravely owning their care identity, challenging stigma and asking for change at the highest levels. That takes determination and courage. We need this review to do the same, being just as bold, determined and unafraid to act. This review needs to be like no other; it needs to be the start of a revolution
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