I came into care when I was nine years old and, because of the circumstances, it was an emergency removal. The police took me and my brother to wait in the police station whilst an on duty social worker tried frantically to find us a place to stay that night. When we arrived at the station it was around 10pm and I was only young so, as you may imagine, this felt like the early hours of the morning.
At the station we were taken to what looked like a big canteen. Several officers were also in the room dotted around. The room had large windows across one side, and it was pitch black outside except for street lamps and lighting from nearby houses.
The officers were ordering fish and chips and were watching Family Guy. There was a long screen at the end of the room which separated it slightly and there was a sofa on the other side. While we waited to hear what would happen, my brother and I lay down and tried to sleep.
I stayed with my brother for around three days in a ‘respite’ home. We shared a camp bed in a playroom and always remained in this room, except for meals and the one-off visit into the garden.
Eventually we went back to school and we tried to go about our normal routine. At the end of the school day we were met by a teacher in our classrooms and brought to reception to meet our social worker.
This was the first of many social worker visits at school. I’ve sat in lessons and been called out for mandatory careers meetings, from which I’ve felt no benefit and tried my hardest to avoid.
I’ve also personally felt stigmatised in situations where professionals have carelessly made assumptions about me. Children and young people should be encouraged to create their own life journey, but at times I have felt that I wasn’t given enough credit by social workers.
I have sensed their professional panic as they rush to map out a programme for me so that they can tick a box that says ‘this young person has a plan’. As a result of this unease, it can feel as though we’re being wrapped in a bubble of a false reality, hindering our progress before we’ve even had a chance to prove ourselves.
And it seems that I am not alone in feeling stigmatised. The Bright Spots Survey into stigma, carried out by the charity Coram Voice in partnership with the University of Oxford, found that 12% of 11 to 18-year-olds felt embarrassed about being in care as a result of how adults such as social workers and teachers behaved towards them. The survey also indicates that one in ten care leavers felt as though they were treated less than those who were not care experienced.
Most importantly how can we expect anyone to do well in life when we set them up to fail? Clearly, adults working with care experienced young people have the best of intentions. But when their words or actions make us feel stigmatised or they give off messages that they don’t believe in our abilities, this makes young people feel that they have already failed before they’ve reached the first hurdle.