I was placed in an adult hostel at 17 – and I can tell you the UK state is a terrible parent | Rebecca Pierre
HHave you ever been so hungry that you went delirious? I, when as a foster child, was placed in a hostel a few months after completing my GCSEs. I remember rummaging through old birthday cards in the vain hope of finding one.
Despite my benefits and the work I did alongside school, I couldn’t afford to buy food and electricity, let alone books, school trips or clothes. I once wrote an essay with a candle in one hand and a pen in the other. But the lack of human connection hurts the most. In my first year of sixth grade, I spent four days in the hospital before the “support” staff realized I was gone. I was 17, addicted to the IV, alone and terrified.
The state was a bad parent to me. He doesn’t look after all of his children equally – in fact, thousands of children in care in England are not entitled to care at all. Once they reach the age of 16, foster children may be placed by local authorities in houses shared with adult strangers, studio apartments and hostels without an adult guardian.
Prior to last year, children in care as young as 11 were living in ‘no-care’ environments. The Ministry of Education has introduced secondary legislation which prohibits this – but only for children aged 15 and under. This leaves more than 6,400 children in England, or a third of all 16 to 17 year olds in care, unprotected. And it threatens thousands more, allowing private companies to saturate the market when host families are scarce.
In the absence of a government that cares, our hope rests on this week’s judicial review. Article 39, a small charity, took the DfE to court on the grounds that secondary legislation discriminates against children aged 16-17. The charity is supported by over 10,700 people who have signed a #KeepCaringTo18 petition. Last week I was one of six experienced care adults who delivered it to Downing Street. The judge has now heard evidence from both sides and we await his decision.
It is arbitrary and cruel that a 15-year-old can be in a loving foster home until 11:59 p.m. the day before his 16th birthday, but once the clock strikes midnight he could find himself in a hostel with delinquents, gangs and vulnerable people. adults. No prisoner in this country is forced to give up electricity or meals – yet children in care do.
The government plans to fend off criticism by regulating this so-called ‘supported accommodation’, but its proposed standards are so pathetic they are unnecessary – for example, Ofsted would be required to inspect only a ‘sample’ of each person’s accommodation. provider, rather than each individual property.
I recently published childhood diary entries exposing the impact of such accommodation on children’s well-being. In one of them, I wrote that “life is extremely difficult day after day. Coming home to a silent apartment with no electricity. Sometimes being too scared to leave the room or being intimidated by the angry crowd outside the entrance. The loneliness is amazing. The combination of poverty and isolation made me self-destructive, anxious and depressed. I cried myself to sleep most nights.
Being a teenager is hard enough. Surviving physical and psychological changes, navigating relationships and passing exams is a challenge. But those are the least worries for teens in care. England’s statutory child protection committee has analyzed incidents where children have died or suffered serious harm while in care. He found many examples of children in care as teenagers who experienced “long-term parental abuse and neglect, with significant trauma”. These children need loving care; instead, the government suggested “well-being and maintenance“should suffice. The fact that such dehumanizing language can be used to describe children in the care system shows how little the government values them.
Private companies competed for £120million in housing contracts in 2020 – at a time when councils were running skeletal services after a decade of austerity. I know this because that year I was a frontline social worker. Things were hopeless. So were the problems faced by adolescents in care, who needed more attention and supervision, not less. They were vulnerable to county gangs, criminal and sexual exploitation, and online grooming. It goes without saying that a child living alone in a household is more at risk. But even if these threats were eliminated, physical and emotional needs still go unmet without proper care.
Twenty-two children in England aged 16 to 17 died in uncared for accommodation between 2018 and 2020. Caitlin Sharp, 17, who suffered from severe epilepsy, died after being found unconscious in a man’s home in 2019. She hadn’t collected her medicine for five months. Her family and her specialist nurse believed that she was not capable of leading an independent life. Little seems to have been learned from this tragedy. According to Ofsted advice, children in supported accommodation are still fully responsible for their own medication and medical appointments – although many are autistic, disabled or have complex needs.
If a parent or guardian failed their child so miserably, there would be criminal charges. Shame on the government for caring so little about children that a small charity has to sue them to provide the bare minimum.