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I was kicked out from foster care into a drug-fuelled hostel. Now it's the policy.

Why do the Tories insist on removing protections from children once they turn 16? 

December 26 2022, 19.32pm

Under normal circumstances, I do my best to ignore the 20th of December. It is the anniversary of when, as a 16-year-old in care, I was kicked out by my foster carer via a note on the kitchen table. I never really got over it. But in the wake of the shocking judgement depriving children aged 16/17 of the right to care in the "care system" (putting them at risk of being dumped in caravans, bedsits and barges), I cannot help but reflect. 

I doubt I will ever quite find the words to express the utter sense of betrayal, rejection, and abandonment I felt on that day. That act of cruelty damaged my ability to form trusting relationships for years – before I could successfully make a bond with another human being, I would end up running, always subconsciously expecting that note-on-the-kitchen-table moment. Or worse, end up being exploited by someone who took my desperate need for love and security for granted.

Shortly after being kicked to the kerb that fateful day, I ended up living in what is sometimes known as ‘unregulated accommodation’: a filthy bedsit in the red-light district area of a deprived Northern town. I was a child, and a traumatised one at that. terribly equipped to live with adults fresh out of prison.Not nearly capable of being rushed into the throes of adult life. I would come home from school to a cramped empty bedsit gutted by poverty, with no guarantee of 3-meals a day, electricity - or even the certainty of a night's sleep,  given raves until all hours. 

It was more than anyone – adults, let alone children—should have to bear. And yet, despite knowing that 29 children aged 16 and 17 died in such settings over the past 5 years, the Tory government has condemned children aged 16 and 17 to live without care in the care system. Under these proposals, children will be subject to 4 measly standards, rather than the 9 quality standards they would otherwise receive in regulated settings such as children’s homes or foster care. 

The gross inequalities faced by such children are breath-taking. How can it be that, in one of the wealthiest countries on the planet, a child can be turfed out to live in a grotty caravan park when the clock strikes 12 on their 16th birthday? Does that additional day really make them any less vulnerable to exploitation or abuse?

The risks are almost too obvious to spell out. Children with no adults who give a toss about their whereabouts are bound to be exploited at every turn by predators of all types – whether gang members on the hunt for county line runners,sexual predators, financial exploiters. 

Drugs are in ready supply in settings where children can live side-by-side with adults who have vulnerabilities themselves. I should know – the first thing anyone ever said to me upon moving in was ‘If you want any green, you know where I am’. But it is not just the presence of risk that ought to be condemned: it’s also  the absence of loving care. I was once in hospital for four days before anyone from the hostel noticed. Any parent or foster carer who did that to their own would face criminal charges. And rightly so. 

To the naysayers (mostly of the Conservative tribe) who claim these settings nurture 'independence', I ask you this. How would you feel about your daughter living in a filthy hostel during her A levels? I doubt you'd think a weekly cooking or budgeting class, open to both school-aged children, as well as adults peddling drugs in the corridors, would be a good enough foray into 'life skills’. Most children of the elite and powerful are given a rather softer landing into adolescence, through, say, a budgeting app or a cushy summer internship. Not through state-sanctioned neglect of this scale. 

Christmas is hard enough for children in care, and as I know all too well as a social worker, it is a known catalyst for placements to break down. Today I'm thinking not just of my own 20th December story, but of the many children who risk worse today due to draconian policies which put their lives at risk. Especially those from Black and minoritised backgrounds, who make up 50% of all children in care-less settings

This individual battle in the court of appeal may be lost, but we must keep fighting. If you are reading this, please continue to put pressure on your MPs, local authorities & the government to #KeepCaringto18, a movement led by the laudable Article 39.

 It should be the bare minimum in a so-called developed country.