23 year old Scott King has worked for Kent Children in Care Council and A National Voice’s Lilac project and is a member of the Minister’s care leaver advisory group with the Care Leavers’ Foundation. He has a passion for improving the lives of others. Scott was in care from the age of 6 months. He has also worked in residential child care and is studying to become a social worker.
You have been part of a group of care leavers meeting regularly with the Children’s Minister for two years. How did that come about and how have you found the experience?
The first meeting took place soon after the new Government came into office in 2010. We asked the Minister to come and talk to us about what support care leavers could expect from the new Government and the discussion was filmed for National Care Leavers’ Week. One of the first things Tim said to us was that he didn’t want any meetings involving young people and service users to be tokenistic. I feel that he was genuine in that respect; he valued the input we had. I have been involved in a lot of meetings where having a young person there was just paying lip service. These ones weren’t like that at all.
We are quite a small group and to have direct access to someone holding real power is a privilege. Over the two years that we met we had the opportunity to speak and be heard, we could have a genuine conversation and say what we thought. I do feel that some of the things we brought to the table changed his view of things, I hope so anyway.
You had already been working in a role that involved young people’s participation. How did this compare to your experiences working for your local authority?
I learned to understand the political viewpoint more, the bigger picture. I did find it frustrating that the Government isn’t able to just tell local authorities what to do, so if they aren’t doing a good job the Minister can’t necessarily just put that right straight away. He used to say to us in response to some of the issues we raised ‘but the local authority shouldn’t be doing x,y,z’ and I’d just be thinking ‘I know that, why do you think I am bringing it up..’ In the end I think he was just as frustrated as we were that all the local authorities can behave so differently even though they have to follow the same set of laws.
It does give you an idea of the barriers to change and why things can’t just be made better. Tim did follow up individual cases sometimes that we would bring to his attention. It was really good that he was willing to do that and we could show the care leavers whose issues we were bringing real results. It shouldn’t be like though. It shouldn’t take for a Minister to get involved to solve a simple problem over housing or funding. Most care leavers will never benefit from that kind of intervention to get their problems solved.
It is interesting to see the people who are in control and how little they know about the front line and how amazed they are to know what really goes on when you tell them. The person sitting in that top chair can’t go into the lives of every individual; they have to rely on statistics and information from their officials, but they need to know how what they do affects real people too. Tim was good that way he really wanted to learn from us and understand what our lives were like.
What did you think when the Children’s Minister was changed in the recent reshuffle?
I was very angry. I don’t see how it is right or fair the way people can just lose their jobs like that in Government even when they are doing a good job and everyone likes them. We were in the Department for Education waiting for a scheduled meeting with him when they announced the news. We just got told it was cancelled. It felt just like when you are in care. You spend two years getting to know and trust someone, building something and then just at the moment it is established it is gone. Now he is just another broken relationship. An important figure in the lives of children in care vanished overnight without explanation. We will have to start all over again with the next person.
What do you know about the new Children’s Minister?
I know Edward Timpson grew up with a lot of knowledge around care because his parents fostered children. I am looking forward to meeting him, I am hoping he will continue meeting with care leavers and that he values the group and sees that it is useful. I want him to push things that we want forward and to take proper account of our point of view, which is not just what we think but the views of all the care leavers we represent.
What do you think have been the biggest achievements of the Minister’s Care Leavers’ Group?
There were some things that just kept coming up over and over again and there never seemed to be a solution. Just the same old issues. At the start lack of aspiration on behalf of care leavers by the people that work with them was talked about a lot. What a good parent – or in our case ‘corporate parent’- should want for their child.
We talked a lot about the problems with the systems that affect care leavers. How Government isn’t joined up and the unnecessary problems that creates for care leavers. DfE deals with care leavers but there are other big Departments whose policy has a much bigger impact on their everyday lives once they have left care. Like the Department of Health if they have mental health problems, and DWP which seems to just be against care leavers that want to go back to education or be able to get a job. All their policies are based as if you are living at home with your family until you are twenty-five.
We produced a big report called Access All Areas earlier in the year with three of the other care leaver charities. It was about getting the other Departments to understand the impact their policies have on care leavers, and to make the case that they had to share responsibility across Government for people who have been brought up in care. That’s all still going on with discussions between different officials continuing.
The things we want most are for care leavers to be able to stay in education or return to education up to the age of twenty-five. For a lot of us we are going to have a couple of really difficult years when we first leave care. It is just such a big leap from care to independence. If it takes us two or three years to find our feet we should be able to go back to college and catch up, otherwise we stay behind forever with no opportunities to better ourselves.
That was the other big thing that we talked about a lot; how many of the professionals that come into our lives and have power and influence over us have very low expectations and aspirations for us. We don’t just want to be prepared for a life on benefits. We want someone to be telling us we are going to be great, and believing it. Believing in us. We want to be able to better ourselves but we need someone to inspire us to do that.
We did worry about the budget issues and the cutbacks and everyone saying there would be less services for care leavers as these were always seen as the least important when local authorities have to make cuts. But most of what we came back to was not about money and resources it was just about good social work values and the attitude we want the adults in our lives to have towards us when we are in care and when we leave care.
That’s how the idea of the Charter for Care Leavers came about. It was to be backed by Government and to make statements about the values we think it is important for social workers and leaving care workers to have. The Charter will make people think differently when they are making decisions about our lives and remind them to remember we are individuals, appreciate and have respect and consideration for who we are. I hope everyone will use it. It’s a really simple set of statements.
If we can inspire social workers to rediscover their values and believe that they can achieve more for the people they work with, they can inspire the next generation of care leavers to believe in themselves too and know that they can be someone special, that they are someone special.
The Charter for Care Leavers will be launched by Children’s Minister Edward Timpson at a reception hosted by Barnardo’s on 29th October as part of National Care Leavers’ Week.
Watch Scott’s personal interpretation of the Charter for Care Leavers’.