Being care experienced is a superpower
Being care experienced is, for me, a superpower. It has shown me that I am adaptable, empathetic to others who have gone through similar circumstances and resilient in the face of challenges. Put it this way, you won’t find me stressing over a broken nail. But all superheroes have one thing in common - they have their weakness, their kryptonite. For so many young people in care, this is bullying.
Lots of different people face discrimination every day. It could be because of their age, disability, race, religion or sexual orientation. These are known as protected characteristics and, thankfully, people in these groups have legal protection from discrimination, harassment and victimisation under the Equality Act 2010. For those of us who are care experienced, however, there is no such protection.
As a young person in care, it has been assumed that I am unintelligent or won't want to work hard at school. It has been assumed that I will have commitment issues and, therefore, shouldn't be hired for a job because they don't know if I will stick it out for the long run or if I'll "even be living in the area soon". It has been assumed that I have done something wrong, which is why my "poor parents" lost me. No one ever stopped to take a minute to think about the fact that I was a normal kid who was removed from my home and that I moved schools multiple times as I moved foster placements.
The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care, led by Josh MacAlister, recommended that the government make care experienced a protected characteristic; meaning it would be against the law to discriminate against someone either because they are, or have been, in care. If this were to happen, it would mean that more organisations would be responsible for supporting and protecting children in care and care leavers.
Characteristics identify us as ourselves, but some cannot be helped. I didn't choose to be born when I was, making me this particular age. I didn't choose to be on the autistic spectrum, providing me with this label and stigma about my disability. Similarly, I’ve had no choice about being in care. If the government can prevent me from being discriminated against due to my age and disability, why not my experience in care?
When a child comes into care, the council and government become their Corporate Parents, meaning they are responsible for providing the best possible care and safeguarding for the children they look after. An essential element of this care should be preventing discrimination, but it has yet to be addressed.
To do something about this, I have become active in the sector as a Chair of the Children in Care Council in my local authority, a Care Experienced Consultant for the children's charity Coram Voice, and a representative for the National Children's Bureau. They all strive and fight for care experienced young people to have their rights respected. And part of that is freedom from discrimination.
Think about your children. Would you want them to be turned away from people's houses due to the possible "bad influence" on their children? To face bullying, or to be dropped from opportunities. I was from an acting agency just because where I would be living was deemed unreliable.
No matter our age, we will always carry the label of being care experienced. We can make it a positive one and help young people to feel proud to be in care. Let’s make care experience a protected characteristic and truly protect the young people of this country who, through no fault of their own, have not been able to grow up with their parents. I am one of 82,000 children and young people in the care system, and we deserve to be treated the same as all other young people.
Treat them like you would treat the children in your family, as you never know what might happen someday. One day, maybe your own children, a friend of yours, or a relative will find themselves in care, and if that day comes, then I hope you will be able to find someone willing to help you, just as I hope I will find someone willing to help me. Will that person be you, or will I have to wait until the 82,000 children in care in England alone finally get the treatment we were promised when we entered the system?
As of September 2023, 55 councils have passed the motion to make being care experienced a protected characteristic. If you are interested in helping with the campaign, reach out to Care Leaver Local Offer for information and advice on what to do next in your area.
Claire Wilden, Care Experienced Consultant, Coram Voice.