A new study commissioned by the National Lottery Community Fund today aims to explore and develop new ways of positively transforming the life chances of children and young people in care in Wales over the next 10 years. The study could also pave the way for a new £5 million investment which could dramatically improve the outcomes of children in care in Wales.
Working in partnership with experts in the field from Cardiff University’s School of Social Sciences and Swansea University, Children in Wales has been announced as the lead partner to deliver the innovative study.
Spencer Lewis, 26, from Cardiff, is among the care leavers supporting it.
Spencer’s whole childhood was spent in statutory care. He entered foster care as a baby due to his parents’ drug addictions. Over the years he experienced several foster homes and schools and was bullied because of his circumstances. He left school with very few qualifications and has suffered with depression for most of his life.
However, Spencer has since earned a range of qualifications and now works as a Development Officer for Voices from Care. He dedicates his time to supporting other children in care who are going through similar experiences. This is his story . . .
I was under a care order from when I was a baby until I was 18 years old. The first six years of my life were very stable and I lived with the same foster family for the whole period. However, I was moved around a lot after that and it had quite a negative impact on me. It was hard when my placements fell through. It felt like one rejection or knock back after another.
I think my case was really difficult because the older I got, the more understanding of my situation I had and that made things a lot harder.
The moving round, being rejected and not knowing why were really hard to take. For a long time, I used to think it was me. Also, when you’ve had a failed placement I think you were labelled as a naughty child or a child that didn’t form attachments. That label tended to stick with you even if it wasn’t true. Sometimes you would spend a weekend with a family and you would never see them again and you would never know why.
The long term damage that being moved around caused me can’t be measured. I was always asking ‘what’s wrong with me? Why don’t people like me? Why can’t I make friends? All those things go through your head and the real reason is something that’s totally out of your control.
I was described as being ‘slow’ by some people in school. But I wasn’t slow, I just had a huge amount of things on my plate that the average child in school never had to deal with.
I used to question if it was worth investing in friends if I was going to be moved on again. Was I going to be rejected by another family? These aren’t questions a young boy should be asking. To try and concentrate in school with all these things going through your mind was not an easy task. Unfortunately because I moved around a lot and because of other things that were going on in my life, I left school with one GCSE which is apparently the current expectation of someone in my situation. School was very hard, in particular the last few years because I had to start over at a new school.
As I got older, the kids got meaner and they would say really nasty things. They knew all of the buttons they could push. Some would say things like ‘no wonder your Mum didn’t want you’. In one school the bullying got so bad that it drove me to break my placement down with the carer I lived with at the time just so I could move schools. It was no surprise that I got the grades I did when I left really.
The thing I would have liked to see when I was in care was more stability with regards to where I lived. By the time I was 16 I felt like I was being punished and that I was some kind of criminal.
You grow up way too quick in care and you don’t get to have that much fun. In future I would like to see more groups for young people in care that are social based and around having fun.
Constant stability, group work and mentoring are important factors. There should be a lot more relationship Councillors involved to guide you on friendships and relationships. When you grow up in care you might need extra support with those issues. It’s also important to support children in preparation for when they leave care. I suffered with depression when I left. My depression just grew and grew and the older I got the more intense it became.
I feel a strong duty of care to the children and young people I work with, especially since I’ve been through the whole system myself.
When people talk to me, they realise I’m not just another worker. I’m somebody who has been there and I understand. It’s comforting for many of them. My whole life is now based around helping other people who are going through the same thing. I try to reassure them that they have the power to make positive changes in their life and be all they can be.
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