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: