What is a care leaver?

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What is a care leaver? 2019-01-28T20:02:10+00:00

Many people I speak with outside of my professional realm look bemused as soon as I utter the term ‘care leaver’. My immediate thoughts as they look at me for an explanation, and wonder what on earth I am talking about is; have they lived their life in a bubble, only aware of their own experiences? Or is the language in which the term exists not universal enough outside of social care lingo?

This hinders all of us from having a free-flowing conversation, where we both start off with the same basic knowledge (which may be selfish on my part). After their initial confused expression, I immediately go into a long spiel about what the term ‘care leaver’ means, which often takes away from my initial point of explaining the work my charity does to support care leavers.

I care about the issues that affect ‘care leavers’ and I often find myself frustrated at people’s knowledge and understanding of what a ‘care leaver’ is. I know the struggles faced by ‘care leavers’ and I believe the issues they are striving to overcome should be all of society’s concern.

This led me to wonder and question: does the everyday person outside of the social care sector know what the term ‘care leaver means and if not, are we doing enough to educate them?

It also reminded me of the ‘parent and carer’ disclaimer when addressed to primary school children’s families and the confusion/dismissiveness in the ‘carer’ element (I will get to that in my next post).

My own disclaimer: As someone that has been referred to as a ‘care leaver’, I personally dislike the term/ label. I believe it allows strangers to formulate an image of my childhood (which is usually farfetched), my life and most importantly vilify my parents without knowing me or them. It also suggests that children in care or ‘care leaver’ have to ‘leave’ and stop needing care – whereas children living with their families don’t stop needing care no matter how old they are!

Although I dislike the term, there are arguably ‘care leavers’ that may not be opposed to being referred to as a ‘care leaver’. This could be because they feel it is a fitting term that describes their experiences or their stage within the social care system, or just like me they might be ok with the term because there is no alternative term to describe one’s own experience of being in care and then moving on from care. Alternatively, professionals and young people are now using the term ‘care experienced’ rather than ‘care leaver’ but this does not necessarily stop people’s assumptions about young people who have been in care.

Part of understanding the term ‘care leaver’ is also being informed about the different entries into care. I have been fortunate enough to make friends that are ‘care leavers’ and represent the views of ‘care leavers’ at a local and national political level and now run a charity for care leavers.

I desperately want those reading this to understand the reasons for being in care are variable and there is just no one scenario for a child or young person entering or remaining in the care system.

People usually jump to worst case scenarios which really irritates me. When I say I am a ‘care leaver’ I can often see people’s minds searching through all worst-case scenarios and sometimes some people are brazen enough to vocalise some of their misconceptions:

‘Do you speak to your parents now?’, ‘was you abused as a child?’ ‘did your parents severely neglect you as a child?’.

Me being a born chatterbox I dignify their ignorance with an answer ‘Yes I speak to my parents, I love my mum more than anyone in the world, she has given me the greatest life and NO I was not abused’.

Those worst-case scenarios do happen but there are more alternative scenarios than people realise.

To give context and some other examples of why a child or young person can be placed in care:

  • A parent/s get sick physically or mentally and there is no extended family available to be placed with
  • Leaving your motherland and seeking asylum in the UK (also various reasons)
  • A young person comes in to care in late teens due to disputes in the family home, absconding or rule breaking
  • Loss of a parent/s
  • Getting involved in crime or other unsafe behaviour in your teens

So, what is a care leaver?

A care leaver is a young adult or adult that has spent a short or long period away from their parents or immediate family in the care of their local authority. When this happens a child or young person may be placed in foster care or in a residential placement. Typically, although it often goes unrecognised, children or young people are frequently placed with extended family or friends with the support of their local authority (this is known as kinship or guardianship care).

A person that has been in the care of the local authority will either return to their family depending on the circumstance or remain in care and leave the care of the local authority at eighteen. Although in recent years, an initiative called Staying Put means some YP in the care of foster carers can stay with them beyond their eighteenth birthday (until they are twenty-one).

Eighteen is the age a young person transitions form a child in care/ looked after child and become a ‘care leaver’. Between eighteen to twenty-one care leavers are most likely living independently in their first flat or away at university making sense of their premature independence and the world around them. As a care leaver you can still receive support from your local authority up to twenty-five.

‘Care leaver’ is a multifaceted term depicting a young person’s experience of leaving care.

It is important to understand what a care leaver is, there are young people (care leavers) that are amongst you in your world that are struggling with working through childhood experiences, manoeuvring early independence, loneliness or even mental and emotional health difficulties yet are still striving to succeed in education or employment.

I would prefer to refer to care leavers as ‘our role models or ‘young champions’ which we do in my charity Go-Forward Youth but that would be vague.

This blog has aimed to be informative and to encourage professionals and the everyday person to show sensitivity, understanding and support when you meet someone care experienced. If this is achieved, we are one step closer to a happier version of society.