Antser sits down with care leaver Sarah and two of her main key workers to discuss her perception of care and how core relationships in her life have helped both during and after care:
There is a considerable amount of research demonstrating how moving on from care is a period of high risk for care leavers and how positive relationships can provide essential support to ensure a successful transition to independence.
Studies have shown that safe, stable relationships greatly help young people in care to build attachment, enhance their wellbeing, develop self-confidence, esteem and resilience, in addition to helping them rebuild trust among adults.
As outlined in the recent Independent Review of Children’s Social Care – the government’s manifesto for supporting vulnerable children and young people across the UK – loving and stable relationships must be at the heart of the system. Here at Antser, we know first-hand how individuals and professionals can be the positive influence young people need to better manage and understand their own relationships.
To find about more about the power and influence of these positive relationships, Antser sat down to speak to a recent care leaver from Bristol – and one of her strongest relationships – about her experience of care and her thoughts on how we can create a system in which young people in care are able to maintain the positive relationships they build with professionals and individuals once they leave.
Sarah, Care Leaver
Sharing her care experience, Sarah* said:
“I didn’t have a bad experience of care; it was all good. I had the opportunity to travel the world to places such as Canada, Lapland, Spain, France and Greece. Every holiday was a celebration so Christmas, birthdays and even Halloween were big. Towards the end of my care experience, it was less positive but that was due to the changes I was going through in my life, not the care I was receiving.”
Entering care due to neglect and substance abuse from her birth parents, Sarah credits the relationships she formed in care with making it so positive for her.
Having joined her first carer alongside her two brothers in 2006, this relationship has been long-lasting. She shared: “My first carer was out of this world. She was pure one-to-one and looked after me and my brothers. I was with her the longest but after going through a rebellious stage, I was relocated to Devon which was a struggle for me.
“If I could change anything, I wish I had stayed with my first carer longer than I did because I feel my life would have been completely different; for example, I wouldn’t have moved to Devon and I possibly wouldn’t have hit certain bad points in my life.”
Even after all these years, Sarah remains in contact with her first carer. She said “I think the reason we have stayed in touch has largely been down to our relationship being very strong. We always had this bond, and she was the perfect carer for me and my brothers.”
The care system alone can often make it difficult for young people to form and maintain relationships due to frequent changes in the home, school, social workers and, sometimes, geographical location.
Originally living in Bristol, Sarah moved to Devon when she was around 12-13 years old, after it became difficult for her carer to keep her safe. Living in Bristol meant Sarah was near her father and would miss school to spend time with him. She also admits she went missing for a while.
She shared: “It got to a point where the only way to keep me safe was for me to move counties. Going from having regular contact with my siblings, my mum and dad to having no birth family near me was quite difficult. I’d started secondary school in Bristol but then I went into year 9 at a secondary school in Devon and that was the worst time for me. I think it was because of my accent and people didn’t really know the life I had lived but I got through it in the end. One of my carers in Devon was a schoolteacher and ex-RAF and he got me straight into Army Cadets. I did that for a number of years and it taught me a lot.”
Another core relationship for Sarah during her time in and after care has been the support of an Independent Visitor (IV). An IV’s role is to befriend a child or young person between the ages of 8-18 years, to offer sound advice and enable a child or young person who is ‘looked after’ by the local authority to have contact with someone who is independent of the Social Services Department.
As a part of an IV’s role, the minimum amount of time they can stay involved with a young person is two years, however, in this case, Sarah has maintained contact with her IV, Lucy, to the current day. Sarah said: “I got to see Lucy often during my time in Devon and she was a very strong support system for me. My time with my IV has been so important and even when I was rebelling in Devon, I always tried to see Lucy as I genuinely wanted to see her. I didn’t really see Lucy as an ally or a mentor, I saw her more as an older sister.”
Lucy, Independent Visitor
Assigned as Sarah’s IV back in 2008, Lucy* is now a Children’s Commissioning Manager at Bristol City Council. She said: “Sarah was the first and only young person I have been an IV for but, essentially, she has been in my life my entire career. I have watched her grow up even though there were times while in Devon, I didn’t get to see her as much as I wanted to. Due to this, I was technically no longer her IV, but this didn’t stop us being in touch and we have remained in contact to this day. I text her often and it is a relationship that just keeps growing.
“Sarah is so resilient and I’m so proud of her. I often think about how other children have trusted adults to give them positive reinforcement in their day to day life and Sarah doesn’t necessarily have this, so enduring relationships with people like IV’s demonstrate the importance of these relationships for children in care and care leavers.”
Having experienced a few social workers during her time in care, Sarah reflects on one social worker that has stood the test of time and remains in contact with her to this day. This social worker is Ros Wilson, who previously worked as a senior social worker (SSW) at Bristol City Council for 14 years.
“To this day I still say that Ros was the best social worker we have ever had,” Sarah says. “When I tell people the length of time Ros was our social worker, they are shocked as it is not that common. I spoke about this with my partner as he went through the same care situation, and he never had a social worker for longer than a year.”
For many children and young people who enter care, remembering core memories of their childhood can be difficult and they often rely on those who have been present in their lives to help in retrieving this information. Children and young people can apply to access their files, but many do not; for Sarah this is something she has been undergoing.
She said: “I have applied for my Subject Access Request, but I have had some mixed emotions as I could find out information I wasn’t aware of but, at the same time, I need that closure. I think moving forward, this could be something personal advisors or social workers go through with care leavers as now I will have to deal with receiving that information on my own. I think access requests should be supported whilst children are in care and therapy should be offered throughout.”
Reflecting on her core relationships, Sarah said: “To have these strong relationships for that many years has been a real asset in my life. All these relationships have worked for me; they always had my best interests at heart and maybe, at times, I didn’t realise that. When you go into care, you don’t know the full picture. I thought my birth parents were angels and felt the services were these people trying to split us up but over time, I have grown to realise that this is not the case.”
The question of whether a social worker / independent visitor should maintain their relationships with care leavers post-18 is up for debate. However, with the average age of a child leaving home being roughly 25 years old, for children in care, this drops to 18.
Leaving home is a worry for anyone, but research has shown that while those who turned 18 worried about everything from moving out to paying bills – the number one worry was loneliness. For many children and young people who have gone through care, there may have been a number of adverse experiences over the years. Having a strong support network which has been there throughout their childhoods can therefore have a huge impact on their lives moving forward, helping them to achieve the best outcomes in adulthood. Sarah’s story is testament to this and highlights the importance of ongoing, trustworthy relationships to young people.
Disclosure: The names of the care leaver and IV have been changed to protect their identity and privacy.