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I grew up in care – and I have two things to say to the government

Those who experience the care system are still children that need stable and loving homes

Zara Clench
Monday 23 May 2022 14:17 BST
A review is calling for a ‘radical reset’ to improve the lives of children in care and their families (Alamy/PA)
A review is calling for a ‘radical reset’ to improve the lives of children in care and their families (Alamy/PA)

The Independent Review of Children’s Social Care has been a long time coming. Change desperately needs to happen to improve experiences for children in the care system and young people leaving care, and I’m glad to see the final report with lots of recommendations out today.

I’ve grown up in care since the age of 13 when I entered the system due to problems in my home life. I’ve had the same foster carer ever since, who I’m very close to and who continues to support me through the government’s Staying Put scheme.

I can’t imagine what my life would be like if I was made to leave my home on my 18th birthday and be expected to become “independent” before I felt ready. Sadly, this is what the majority of young people leaving care experience. So it’s good to see recommendations in the report which show steps in the right direction towards ending the “care cliff”, which is what happens when support and relationships disappear overnight for young care leavers.

It’s also great to see the review recognise the importance of children having stable, loving relationships. I’ve definitely benefitted from having two of those – my foster mum, and one of my (many) social workers who both supported me in some of my lowest times. They’ve helped me become the young woman I am today.

Although I’m lucky to have a supportive home with my foster mum, that didn’t take away the trauma I’d already experienced, and I still struggle to this day. I will never forget my care experience but don’t want it to hold me back from achieving my goals. Instead, I use it to inspire me. Today, I study health and social care at university and passionately advocate for other young people.

While there are some promising parts of the review, I’m apprehensive about how successfully the recommendations will truly improve the children’s care system. In particular, I’m concerned about the proposal to end the role of the Independent Reviewing Officer (IRO).

My own IRO was a huge inspiration to me and made such a difference in my life. I could freely and openly share my wishes with her. Those meetings with my IRO really helped me as a young person feel listened to and supported, and I knew if I was ever going through a rough patch, I could message her. Care-experienced young people are often overlooked in decision-making about their own lives, so having a role that helps you express your wishes and ensures you’re heard is so important. We can’t lose this for future generations.

While I still need time to understand everything the review’s final report is saying, based on my experiences of care, I have two key recommendations to the government.

Firstly, I want them to see that stability is key to all young people – and being care-experienced shouldn’t change that. We are still children that need stable and loving homes.

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Secondly, there is still a lot of misunderstanding about care-experienced people and what it really means to grow up in care. I want to see the government properly address the stigma that we face. I often experience stigma and misunderstanding about what being a care experienced person means.

Very often people openly will ask very deep questions about my care experience and why I had to go into care. I understand people are inquisitive and want to learn but, when meeting someone for the first time, it’s wrong to expect them to open up to you unless we instigate it first and want to share with you. When I’ve shared that I grew up in foster care, people have expressed shock that I’m a university student working to improve the system for others.

These misconceptions about care-experienced people and what they can achieve can be really damaging. With the right support, care, and love, we can all succeed and flourish.  I am making it one of my goals to try and raise awareness about care-experienced people and end the stigma – and the government must do this too.

Zara Clench is a 20-year-old care leaver who works alongside Become, the national charity for children in care and young care leavers

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