Christmas day is the day when care leavers are reminded they don’t have a family
Being a care leaver is often difficult and can be fraught with challenges as the quote below evidences.
“When, like me, you live by yourself, it's more hurtful when you realise you're no longer in the care system and you really don't have a family. When you leave care, that's when you realise life is only going to get scarier. And Christmas is the day when you're reminded you don't have a family”.
Growing up, and living independently, can place young care leavers under immense pressure, and Christmas Day can often be a time when this pressure comes to a head. Memories and emotions compound, and the Christmas image belies the reality.
“At this time of year it’s hard being away from your family... especially if you know your friends are going to have a Christmas at home with their families. It makes you think about all the problems in your life and can leave you feeling like there is no hope. All we want at Christmas is to know that people really do care.”
Isolation can be a huge problem for young people who have been in care, particularly for those who have not continued in education and therefore find they have had limited choice once being ejected from the care system at 18. Looked after children come from backgrounds where they may have been abused or neglected, and having found care, comfort and stability in the environment of a foster family, they can suddenly, once again, find that they don't have a family structure to fall back on.
The experience of leaving care is very likely to reawaken the feelings that young people experienced when first entering care. For many it is a time of significant change and trauma, and some young people may even find that leaving care can trigger psychiatric disorders such as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder. All these additional anxieties at a time when they also need to cope with the 'normal' stresses of becoming an adult, pursuing training, finding work, and developing new relationships.
It is good to be able to report that years of campaigning have led to the plight of young care leavers being increasingly acknowledged, and since April 2015 The Social Services and Well-being Act (Wales), in a document called “When I’m ready” gives all fostered young people in Wales the right to stay with their foster carers after their 18th birthday whilst a similar policy in England called “Staying Put” represents the biggest change to foster care for a generation. As long as these new policies are properly funded, they will make real and positive difference for young people in foster care who would previously have faced the prospect of living alone before they are really ready. It is important that all foster carers, prospective foster carers and young people are made aware of what the new legislation will mean for them, so that they are best placed to make an informed decision about staying put when the time comes.
Going forward we hope that care leavers will no longer have to face isolation and the prospect of Christmas alone.