Stop molly-coddling kids in care. We don’t need it

Treat Foster Children Equally

Reading an article in The Voice (18 August 2015), I agree somewhat with the notion of apprenticeships being reserved for care leavers, because without natural parental support and nepotism (think family firms), young people can be disadvantaged.

But, as a care experienced adult myself, my personal experience does not match Barnardo’s chief executive Javed Khan’s comment: ‘… too often, care leavers find the door to employment is closed.’

But why? When I left school, and began looking for work, I still lived with 2my foster parents, but during job interviews, my ‘fostered’ status never came up for discussion. I certainly didn’t wear a badge advertising the fact!

I can’t call to mind one example of having been fostered being of detriment to my career at all. If indeed I had mentioned that fact of my life, it’d be a heartless toad indeed who would refuse to hire me on those grounds (and of course, illegal now).

Some of the best career-enhancing advice I ever had was from my late foster dad (I’m old school, I know we call them ‘foster carers’ now; give it 20 years and they’ll be ‘domestic paediatric support workers’ or some other sterile, corporate title…) His words were simple, but effective, and delivered gently but with the gravitas of an army corporal:

‘Treat looking for a job as your job. Get up early. Polish your shoes! Leave the house by 9am. Spend the entire day visiting stores, offices, and everywhere else, asking for work. Have an hour for lunch. And don’t come home until after 5pm.’

I was 16 years old!

What my foster dad did was instil in me a work ethic that was so simple but powerful that in spite of my lack of any higher education, by my late twenties, I was managing teams of people in central London marketing firms who all had degrees!

My other concern is that the reservation of apprenticeships for former looked after young people draws undue attention to a history that bears dubious relevance to the course, or job, being applied for—unless, for example, they are applying to join an organisation that provides services for children and young people in care.

Such spotlighting has the potential to sap the confidence of a young person who would prefer to avoid the well-meaning pity of helpful others, and actually compete for places and jobs just like everyone else.

Playing devil’s advocate, I might ask, if apprenticeships should be reserved for care leavers, then why not have schools just for kids in care? The road to hell, as they say, is paved with good intentions.

After being rescued by a social worker in 1986, I grew up in a children’s home and a number of foster homes. My experience in care was mixed, some of it intensely cruel, but later, thankfully, a loving home with a family that accepted me as one of their own.

Through all of that, above everything, I craved normality and a sense of belonging, and after sitting through a LAC review where it was agreed that (unlike all of my friends) I should not be allowed a pair of roller boots (a fad of the late eighties) on the grounds of health and safety, lest I fall over. Heaven forbid! Tantamount to ‘languishing’ in foster care, eh?

It subsequently irked my foster parents (who I now call Mum and Dad) that I would ‘disappear’ well in advance of every further LAC review, and only turn up at home hours after I knew it would have ended.

Thankfully they understood how excruciatingly awkward those formal meetings, scrutinising all aspects of my life, made me feel, and the emotional funk it would trigger in me for two or three days afterwards. Nothing reminded me that I was ‘in care’ so much as a LAC review, let me tell you.

Had ring-fenced apprenticeships been available to me in those days, I would have avoided them quite deliberately to resist any ‘special status’ that would have marked me out as different.

Besides, having grown up living on my wits, a hyper-vigilant survivor, I suspect those personality traits alone gave me some advantage in the job market. The famous lyrics by Pink Floyd come to mind: ‘Hey! Teacher! Leave them kids alone!’

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