Casenote Looked After Children

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Casenote Looked After Children

  1. 1. Looked after children talking to ChildLine“I feel really upset. I have a terrible life in care. I just want a family. I just want to be loved.”(Jenny, aged 13)“I feel angry at having to be in care. I feel isolated and sad...I feel powerless. I have bottled up myemotions. I cannot trust anyone or build relationships as I am moved about so much.”(Sam, age unknown)“I moved into a care home today. I am scared to leave my room. The home is full of other girls whoscare me.” (Abigail, aged 16)“I have been in care from when I was a baby. Life has always been a problem for me. I went to live witha foster family a year ago. I am unhappy there and depressed. I cut myself.” (Adrian, aged 11)“I live with a foster family. I don’t like my foster parents. I feel scared because I used to know when myparents were going to hit me, but I don’t know when these people are going to hit me. They have neverhit me, but I expect them to because that’s what people do.” (Jackie, aged 13)“I have just moved in with a foster family. Its really nice. They are nice people; it’s a nice house. I ambeing looked after.” (Alice, age unknown)“Sometimes they [children] express that they don’t feel worthy of care. They lack trust because theycan’t understand why somebody would want to care about them.” (ChildLine counsellor)“For looked after children who receive ongoing counselling from ChildLine, ChildLine may be the onlyconstant in their lives. Everyone else can be transient and may come or go, but ChildLine would alwaysbe there.” (ChildLine counsellor) Key findings  One in 26 of all looked after children1 in the UK were counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10.2  ChildLine counselled 3,196 children and young people in 2009/10 about problems related to being looked after.1 Throughout this report, we use the terms “children in care” and “looked after children” to include all children being looked after by a localauthority. This includes children: in residential and foster care; in young offender institutions, prisons and secure units; and accommodatedin hostels by local authorities.2 In total, 3,196 looked after children called ChildLine in 2009/10. As at 31 March 2009, there were 83,356 looked after children in the UK(DCSF, 2009; DHSSPS NI, 2010; StatsWales, 2010; The Scottish Government, 2010). This equates to one in 26 looked after childrencontacting ChildLine in 2009/10.
  2. 2. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Key findings continued In 2009/10, looked after children counselled by ChildLine were five times more likely to discuss running away as children counselled by ChildLine overall. Looked after children were also twice as likely to discuss self-harm. Many looked after children counselled by ChildLine found relationships with other looked after children difficult. These relationships were sometimes characterised by bullying, intimidation and physical abuse. Relationships with residential and foster carers were fraught with tension. Many young people counselled by ChildLine felt uncared for and at times they found it hard to accept the love and care they were given. Looked after children counselled by ChildLine described the deeply unsettling nature of frequently moving placements, making it hard for them to build trusting relationships. On average, looked after children counselled by ChildLine were older than children counselled by ChildLine overall. Additionally, looked after boys counselled by ChildLine were on average older than looked after girls counselled. Looked after children often contacted ChildLine because they felt they had no other trusted adults they could turn to. Many of the looked after children told ChildLine they felt completely alone. ChildLine can be an important trusted source of support for looked after children. Looked after children are vulnerable because many of them have experienced abuse and neglect prior to being taken into care. Sadly, some children experience abuse once in care.1. Introduction The strength of this casenote is that it draws directly on the views and experiences of children. It uses the unique insight into the experiences of looked after children, as described by them to ChildLine, to help us understand their lives, and aims to reflect what looked after children feel and perceive. There are many children in care who thrive and are well looked after by dedicated carers and professionals. However, the picture of life in care that emerges from this casenote is a negative one. A ChildLine counsellor helps to put this in context: “Often they [children] only call if there is a problem. There may be young people in residential care or with foster families who do really well but they aren’t the children who are likely to contact ChildLine.”
  3. 3. Looked after children talking to ChildLine The looked after children and young people who contacted ChildLine often raised very serious issues about their experience of care. Although this may not reflect the experience of all looked after children, the ChildLine experience represents an important group of looked after children. Many of the looked after children who contacted ChildLine were extremely distressed. They felt that the world was against them and that they had nowhere to turn. Often, they were contacting ChildLine because they felt deeply alone and at crisis point. Looked after children deserve a special level of care and the ChildLine experience highlights that many are not receiving this. Sadly, many of these children had experienced a catalogue of hurt and pain. For many, relationships with their birth families were severed or extremely painful, while there was a sense for some that they would like to return to their birth families. Often, however, this was not possible. Relationships either in foster care or residential homes can be fraught with difficulty, particularly with peers and, in many cases, involve bullying and intimidation. The children counselled by ChildLine told us that they struggled with relationships with their foster carers or with carers in their residential homes. Many young people described carers as uncaring and, as a result, the young people’s lives were filled with arguments and conflict. ChildLine counsellors reflected that, even when carers offered love and support, looked after children could find it hard to accept this: many children were not used to being cared for. Foster and residential placements can be extremely transient, compounding problems that children already have in building relationships. We have reports of children moving more than 15 times during their period in care. Children make these multiple moves for a number of reasons: placement breakdown, shortage of suitable placements and lack of planning. These frequent moves for children are distressing, unsettling and traumatic. Just as they begin to trust their carers, the children may have to move placement, leading to problems trusting people and difficulty forming new attachments. Section 3 of this casenote discusses problems with attachments in greater detail. Most looked after children suffered abuse or neglect prior to becoming looked after. For 61 per cent of looked after children in England, the main reason why social services first engaged with them was abuse or neglect (Department for Children, Schools and Families, 2009). This was similar in Wales, where 54 per cent of looked after children were looked after due to abuse or neglect (National Statistics for Wales, 2009). This makes these children extremely vulnerable. The experiences of abuse they describe can then be compounded by the difficulties some children face in the care system. Devastatingly, some children contacting ChildLine told us that they continued to experience abuse once in care; this could be perpetrated by carers, peers or people in the wider community.
  4. 4. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Sadly, due to the challenges they face, some looked after children turn to self-harm and some even attempt suicide. The looked after children counselled by ChildLine were twice as likely to mention self-harm as an additional problem as children contacting ChildLine overall. Looked after children reported self-harming as a way of having control in a world where they felt they had no control, while many also ran away when life became too much to bear. Sixteen years ago, ChildLine published Time to listen: the experiences of young people in foster and residential care: a ChildLine study (Morris et al, 1994), while 13 years ago, ChildLine published Children living away from home: a ChildLine study (ChildLine, 1997). These publications gave accounts from ChildLine of the problems experienced by looked after children who phoned. Since then, methods of contact with ChildLine may now be more advanced, with some children using the ChildLine online service3, but, sadly, many of the problems expressed in these two publications are still apparent in the analysis of children counselled by ChildLine today. Striking similarities can be seen, with issues like running away, self-harm, physical and sexual abuse, bullying, frequent moves of placement and problematic relationships with carers continuing to be evident. The two publications made reference to lonely, unloved children with low self-esteem and who felt unimportant and to blame for their problems. These are still the experiences for many children contacting ChildLine in 2009/10. These pervasive problems that looked after children experience mean that the role of ChildLine is crucial. For some children, they do not feel that there is another adult in their life whom they can trust or turn to. ChildLine counsellors tell us that they sometimes experience hostility and confusion from many looked after children. However, despite this, counsellors are able to engage in meaningful relationships with these children, describing this as providing children with an experience of being cared for and valued. For some children, this would be the first time in their lives that they had experienced this. ChildLine counsellors believe that the experience of the caring relationships they offer to looked after children can be transferred to other relationships into which those children enter. This is particularly the case for looked after children who receive ongoing counselling from ChildLine. Counsellors described the relationships as a combination of counselling, mentoring and generally taking an interest in the children’s lives. This is an important lesson for the simple approach of offering looked after children the regular opportunity, time and space to talk about their feelings and to feel valued and listened to. For information about the methodology used to research this casenote, see appendix 1.3 The ChildLine online service was launched in September 2009, enabling children to contact ChildLine counsellors over the internet. The“personal inbox” service enables children to email a counsellor in private and to receive a personal response via email. The “1-2-1 chat”service enables children to receive counselling from a ChildLine counsellor via a computer connected to the internet and to receive instantresponses from a ChildLine counsellor. Through this service, typed conversations can take place between the child and the counsellor.Children counselled online are included in the overall figures for this casenote.
  5. 5. Looked after children talking to ChildLine 2. Evidence: what children tell ChildLine 2.1 Number of looked after children counselled In 2009/10, there were 1,125 children counselled about being looked after as a main problem. Furthermore, 2,071 children were counselled about being looked after as an additional problem. This is a total of 3,196 children who were counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 about being looked after. While this is just over 2 per cent of the total number of children counselled by ChildLine, it represents a significant number of looked after children. As at 31 March 2009, there were 83,356 looked after children in the UK (DCSF, 2009; Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety Northern Ireland, 2010; StatsWales, 2010; The Scottish Government, 2010). This means that one in 26 looked after children contacted ChildLine in 2009/10, emphasising the extreme vulnerability of these children and the crucial nature of ChildLine. The fact that such a high level of looked after children are contacting ChildLine demonstrates just how important ChildLine is to looked after children and of the contribution of ChildLine to addressing the vulnerabilities of this group. More generally, it is estimated that just under one in 100 of all children in the UK contacted ChildLine in 2009/104; therefore, looked after children are four times more likely to contact ChildLine compared to all children in the UK. 2.2 Gender ratio The girl to boy ratio for looked after children counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 was three girl callers to every one boy caller. This has also been the ratio for four out of the past five years, despite more boys being looked after than girls. The overall gender ratio for all children counselled by ChildLine is currently two girl callers to every one boy caller. The ChildLine casenote, What boys talk about to ChildLine (Hutchinson, 2009), explored the differences between boys and girls calling ChildLine. It found that, while there had been an increase in calls from boys, generally, boys were less likely to call ChildLine. This was linked to notions of masculinity, which made boys feel that it was “unmanly” to talk about their feelings. In the context of this casenote, those findings could also be the case for boys who are looked after.4 The Office for National Statistics (ONS) population estimate for 2009 was 14,760,000 children in the UK (ONS, 2010). In 2009/10,151,114 children were counselled by ChildLine. This equates to one in 98 children in the UK being counselled by ChildLine.
  6. 6. Looked after children talking to ChildLine2.3 Increase in children counselled by ChildLine about being looked after (as a main or an additional problem) Figure 1 4,000 In care as a main problem 3,500 Number of children counselled In care as an additional problem 3,000 In care as main or additional problem 2,500 2,000 1,500 1,000 500 0 2004/05 2005/06 2006/07 2007/08 2008/09 2009/10 Year Over the past five years, the number of children counselled by ChildLine about being looked after, either as a main problem or an additional one, has risen from 2,415 children to 3,196 children – an increase of 32 per cent. This breaks down into an increase of 37 per cent for boys (from 533 to 728 boys counselled) and 23 per cent for girls (from 1,882 to 2,320 girls counselled). As figure 1 shows, there was an increase in looked after children counselled by ChildLine between 2004/05 and 2007/08. However, there has since been a decrease, from 3,802 children counselled in 2007/08 to 3,196 children counselled in 2009/10. This decrease is despite an increase in the number of children who were looked after over this period (CAFCASS, 2010). This fall in looked after children contacting ChildLine may be linked to a fall in children contacting ChildLine overall over this period. However, there is a greater rate of decline for looked after children counselled by ChildLine as compared to children counselled by ChildLine overall.
  7. 7. Looked after children talking to ChildLine2.4 Additional problems for looked after children counselled by ChildLine Figure 2 40% Overall 35% Boys Girls Percentage of children counselled 30% 25% 20% 15% 10% 5% 0% p e y s g e hi s wa es in lt h r m us em se ns bu a lin lly a ha ab bl bu io a un Bu he lf - l o la at al R ne al Se ua pr na re l y sic Lo e nt ex io n tio ily Ph /m S c at o m io n du Em Fa s l/e r es o ep ho D Sc Additional problem The most common additional problem for looked after children counselled by ChildLine was family relationship problems (314 children counselled). This included problems both with birth families and with foster families. The high frequency of these problems demonstrates the unsettled nature of life for children in care. Many miss their birth families but are unable to return because of the maltreatment they have previously experienced. Section 4.1 on birth families and section 4.3.1 on relationships with foster carers explore these relationships in further detail. Family relationship problems were followed by physical abuse as the next most frequent additional problem, with 103 children counselled. This included physical abuse prior to coming into care and experienced while in care, and both from adults and from peers. Despite many children being taken into care to protect them from further abuse by their families, some experience physical abuse once in care. Section 4.5 of this casenote explores the sad experiences of physical abuse for looked after children. The next most frequently mentioned additional problem was running away (75 children counselled). For some of the looked after children who contacted ChildLine, life in care had become so unbearable that they ran away, rendering them even more vulnerable. Section 4.8 explores in greater detail the experiences of children running away.
  8. 8. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Loneliness (73 children counselled) and bullying (70 children counselled) were the next two most frequent additional problems discussed. Many looked after children struggled with relationships with their peers, suffered bullying and intimidation in children’s homes or struggled to fit into foster homes. This isolation was compounded when relationships with adults in the children’s lives were also strained. Relationships with peers are discussed further in section 4.2. Looked after girls were proportionately more likely to talk about family relationship problems, self-harm and sexual abuse than looked after boys. A larger proportion of calls about self-harm by looked after girls reflects research (Hawton and Harriss, 2008) that suggests that more than six girls commit self-harm for every one boy. Section 4.6 on self-harm and suicide explores these issues in greater detail. The ChildLine casenote, Children talking to ChildLine about sexual abuse (Mariathasan, 2009), explored sexual abuse to a greater extent. It found that more girls called ChildLine about sexual abuse than boys. Even though boys find it harder to report sexual abuse, figure 2 suggests that girls who are looked after are particularly vulnerable to sexual abuse. Sexual abuse is explored in greater detail in section 4.5 of this casenote. Table 1 Comparison of additional problems for looked after children and all children counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 Additional Percentage of Percentage of all Comment problem looked after children counselled children counselled who mentioned the who mentioned the additional concern additional concern Physical abuse 9% 4.7% Almost double Runaway 7% 1.4% Five times Bullying 6% 3.2% Almost double Depression 6% 3.4% Almost double Self-harm 6% 3% Double Table 1 compares the frequency of additional problems experienced by looked after children with those experienced by all children counselled by ChildLine. It shows that looked after children were almost twice as likely to talk about physical abuse, bullying and depression as an additional problem compared to ChildLine callers overall. They were also twice as likely to talk about self-harm as an additional problem and were five times as likely to talk about running away as an additional problem. This really demonstrates the higher frequency of these additional problems for looked after children and reflects the increased vulnerability of these children. It seems that looked after children experience similar problems to all children counselled by ChildLine, but to a greater extent.
  9. 9. Looked after children talking to ChildLine2.5 Age breakdown Figure 3 Figure 4 Age breakdown of calls to ChildLine in Age breakdown for overall calls to 2009/10 from looked after children ChildLine in 2009/10 8% 11 and under 11 and under 12–15 19% 12–15 31% 16–18 30% 16–18 61% 51% Figures 3 and 4 show that a higher proportion of looked after children counselled were in the 12–15 age range than for all children counselled by ChildLine. Fewer looked after children were in the 11 and under age range than for all children counselled by ChildLine. More specifically, table 2 below shows that looked after children aged 13 to 16 were most likely to contact ChildLine. The table also shows a higher percentage of looked after children counselled by ChildLine were aged 13 to 16 than for children counselled by ChildLine overall. ChildLine counsellors explained why they thought more children in this age range contacted ChildLine and why fewer younger looked after children contacted ChildLine: “They tend to phone when they are in some kind of crisis, such as leaving a foster home. It tends to be because they aren’t being consulted or aren’t being listened to. When a child reaches around 14 years old they start to feel they can make their own decisions and if they aren’t getting consulted then it can be quite upsetting.” “A younger child in care may not be able to express their feelings in the same way.” “Younger children may not have the same access to the channels of communication required in order to make contact.” “Some of them have been in the system for a while and so there can be a level of frustration that has built up.”
  10. 10. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Table 2 Comparison of ages of looked after children with all children counselled by ChildLine Age Number and Number and Percentage of all percentage of percentage of children children counselled children counselled counselled by with being looked with being looked ChildLine (where after as the main after as the main or age known) problem (where age an additional known) problem (where age known) Unknown 238 546 - 5 and under 2 (0%) 5 (0%) 1% 6 2 (0%) 4 (0%) 1% 7 6 (1%) 21 (1%) 1% 8 4 (0%) 11 (0%) 2% 9 6 (1%) 34 (1%) 4% 10 20 (2%) 52 (2%) 5% 11 33 (4%) 94 (4%) 6% 12 75 (8%) 212 (8%) 10% 13 124 (14%) 375 (14%) 12% 14 183 (21%) 516 (19%) 14% 15 158 (18%) 521 (20%) 15% 16 144 (16%) 408 (15%) 14% 17 84 (9%) 272 (10%) 11% 18 46 (5%) 124 (5%) 5% Total 1,125 3,195 100% Older children counselled about being looked after were more likely than younger children to talk about depression, mental health and self-harm as additional problems. Younger children were more likely to talk about bullying, which may have taken place in residential or foster homes, or outside of the care system. The fact that these children, already from such troubled backgrounds, also face bullying is a cause for concern.
  11. 11. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Figure 5 Figure 6 Age breakdown of male looked after children Age breakdown of female looked after counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 children counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 11 and under 9% 8% 11 and under 12–15 25% 12–15 16–18 16–18 49% 42% 67% Figures 5 and 6 show that boys counselled about being looked after were a lot older than girls, with 49 per cent of boys in the 16–18 age range compared to 25 per cent of girls. ChildLine counsellors gave their thoughts on the reasons for this difference: “The boys do tend to be around 17 and they are at the point of worrying what they will do next. They contact ChildLine at the end of their time in care.” “It could be that girls are more vocal and can get the words out at a younger age.” “Boys may think that it’s not manly to seek help, so they might hide it more until they get to an older age.” “Boys tend to have got to a more desperate point before phoning whereas girls won’t let it get to that stage.” The ChildLine casenote, What boys talk about to ChildLine (Hutchinson, 2009), discussed in greater detail the differences between boys and girls approaches to calling ChildLine. It found that boys often phoned at a later stage, waiting until they had reached crisis point before phoning.
  12. 12. Looked after children talking to ChildLine 2.6 Topics raised by looked after children counselled by ChildLine Figure 7 When looked after children contact ChildLine, the most frequently raised issues spoken of are noted and then coded by ChildLine counsellors. Figure 7 is a chart comprising a combination of “sub-codes” and “tagging codes” coded by ChildLine counsellors. Sub-codes are additional codes used by ChildLine counsellors specific to a particular main problem: in this case being “looked after”. Tagging codes are additional codes used by ChildLine counsellors that can be added to any main problem. Figure 7 shows that the most frequently coded issues for children counselled by ChildLine about being looked after as a main problem (1,125 children) were “in care (residential) at present” (540 children counselled) and “fostered at present” (345 children counselled). It is of interest to see more children coded as being in residential care than in foster care, even though the majority of looked after children in the UK are fostered.5 This may be due to the promotion of ChildLine to children in residential homes, or it may be that children in residential homes have more complex needs and are more in need of ChildLine. Children may be in residential homes because their needs cannot be met in a family environment.5 Looked after children by placement: UK data 2007/08Category England Northern Ireland Scotland WalesResidential 11% 13% 10% 5%Foster care 75% 57% 30% 75%With family 8% 26% 59% 12%Other 3% 5% 1% 9%(DHSSPS NI, 2009)
  13. 13. Looked after children talking to ChildLine The next most frequently coded issue for looked after children counselled by ChildLine was “living conditions” (141 children counselled). Living conditions are concerns relating to the actual physical place that a child inhabits. Concerns could include, for instance, problems with their bedroom, facilities where they live or the state of cleanliness or repair of their home. Living conditions were followed by “decision making” (104 children counselled). Decision making refers to decisions made about children’s lives by adults. This could include, for instance, decisions about placements and about family contact, and would include decisions made by professionals, such as carers and social workers. One ChildLine counsellor expressed their view on looked after children and the category “decision making”: “Decisions made without them [the child], even if they’re there. They go to a meeting but they feel there is no point in them even going as it won’t matter what they say. They have been through so many processes that they are tired of saying how they feel.” Decision making was followed by “violence in care” (52 children counselled). This could include being restrained or assaulted by foster or residential carers and physical bullying by peers. Physical abuse is discussed in greater detail in section 4.5. Proportionately more boys talked to ChildLine about living conditions, violence in care and sanctions. The ChildLine casenote, What boys talk about to ChildLine (Hutchinson, 2009), found that boys were less likely to talk about their problems and were more likely to conform to masculine norms of “toughness” to deal with their problems. This may be one of reasons why they were more likely to behave in ways that resulted in sanctions or in violent conflict in care. Violence in care was followed by a child’s “own behavioural problems” (44 children counselled), “cutting” (34 children counselled) and “runaway from care” (34 children counselled). The sections on self-harm and running away later in this casenote discuss these issues in further detail.3. Looked after children: findings from research and policy The experiences of children and young people contacting ChildLine about being looked after are reflected in a growing body of research that has expanded greatly in the last decade (Holland, 2009). The United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (United Nations, 1989) upholds that “the State shall ensure alternative care…[for] a child…deprived of his or her family environment…[according to] the best interests of the child” (article 20). Unfortunately, many of the looked after children counselled by ChildLine do not seem to be experiencing care that works in their best interests.
  14. 14. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Figures as at 31 March 2009 showed that there were more than 83,000 looked after children in the UK (DCSF, 2009; DHSSPS NI, 2010; StatsWales, 2010; The Scottish Government, 2010). The think tank6 Demos (Hannon et al, 2010) described how, in England and Wales over the past 30 years, the number of looked after children in absolute terms had gradually fallen and that between 1994 and 2004 there was a slight rise in the number of looked after children; this was due to fewer children entering care but those who did enter tending to stay for longer. CAFCASS (2010) reported that, linked to the case of Baby Peter Connolly, there was an increase in applications for care orders in 2009 in England compared to the previous year. There was also a surge in the number of care and supervision orders in Wales in the second half of 2008/09, and that increase has continued into 2009/10. Between 2008 and 2009, there was a 4.4 per cent increase in the number of looked after children in the UK (Holmes and Soper, 2010). With this potential increase in children entering care, the insights of looked after children counselled by ChildLine are of particular importance. Many of the looked after children who contacted ChildLine spoke of negative experiences of being looked after, with one of the biggest problems talked about being frequent placement moves – this is discussed further in section 4.4. The children spoke of the negative emotional effects of these moves. A great deal of literature highlights the importance of stability for looked after children. Emphasis is placed on the importance of continuity, being able to sustain meaningful relationships and form secure attachments, and of having a warm and secure family life with stable reliable bonds (Hannon et al, 2010; Happer et al, 2006; House of Commons Children Schools and Families Committee, 2009). Looked after children and young people: we can and must do better (Scottish Executive, 2007) highlighted the vital importance of stability and continuity within education and care settings for looked after children in Scotland. Care matters: time for change (Department for Education and Skills, 2007) highlighted how a good corporate parent must offer everything that a good parent would, including stability. Similar arguments were made in Wales in a guide to corporate parenting, entitled If this were my child...A councillor’s guide to being a good corporate parent to children in care and care leavers, which was jointly issued in 2009 by the Welsh Assembly Government and the Welsh Local Government Association. In 2009, the Children, Schools and Families Committee in the House of Commons suggested placement breakdowns should be treated with as much concern as the prospect of a child being removed from their birth family in the first place (House of Commons Children Schools and Families Committee, 2009). Also emphasised was the effect that frequent moves of placement, often resulting in school moves, had on educational outcomes and mental health. Hannon et al (2010) described how, in 2009 in England and Wales, 10.7 per cent of looked after children had three or more placement moves in a year. The looked after children counselled by ChildLine also demonstrated the traumatic nature of these moves.6 A body of experts providing advice and ideas on specific political or economic problems (Oxford English Dictionary)
  15. 15. Looked after children talking to ChildLine The Fostering Network (2003) found that in Wales, 20 per cent of foster carers had had a placement breakdown within that last year. Over half of these placement breakdowns were thought by the carer to have been possibly or definitely preventable. However, as highlighted by the National Assembly for Wales (2010), placing children and young people with foster carers is a complex process. Many children and young people placed with carers are vulnerable and have substantial needs that make caring for them challenging. Berridge (2006) highlighted the importance of attachment theory in relation to looked after children. Attachment theory focuses on the quality of relationships with parents and carers, and on the importance of a secure base and the influence of this on a child’s development. Looked after children counselled by ChildLine often had problematic relationships with parents and carers and lacked this secure base, demonstrating the problems they experienced in forming attachments with adults. Positive attempts have been made to provide secure relationships for looked after children. Toner et al (2010), for instance, described the role of independent visitors in Northern Ireland for looked after children. Their report emphasised how looked after children felt that independent visitors were considerably more constant than other professionals involved in their lives, facilitating the building of trust and the development of attachment. Independent visitors helped provide stability and continuity in the young people’s lives; a fact also recognised by the social workers and care professionals who supported the young people. Similarly, the Social Work Inspection Agency (2006) found in Scotland that relationships with skilled adults could help looked after children and young people to develop successfully. Many children who called ChildLine talked about missing their birth families and about wanting to return home. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) highlighted (Biehal, 2006) that many children returned home quite quickly after entering a care placement, but that the probability of return declined sharply once six months had passed. Interestingly, JRF noted how children placed in care due to behavioural problems were more likely to return home than those placed due to abuse, neglect or parental problems. They described a variety of factors related to the length of time that children remained looked after, including the characteristics and attitudes of parents and children, reasons for placements and the characteristics of the services, and suggested that between a third and a half of children who returned home might subsequently re-enter care. Farmer et al (2008) found in a study of 180 looked after children that 46 per cent were abused or neglected after returning home. This may explain why it is difficult for children who are counselled by ChildLine to return home even though they are desperate to do so. According to the think tank Demos (Hannon et al, 2010), evidence suggested that a large proportion of looked after children experienced at least one failed return to their family. Significantly, Demos also described that, following a failed reunification, children would rarely, if ever, be able to return to their former foster family, thus creating further instability.
  16. 16. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Looked after children who were counselled by ChildLine spoke of abuse, experienced both prior to coming into care and while in care. Care matters: time for change (DfES, 2007) also described the terrible abuse and neglect experienced by children before entering the state care system. Overall, in England and Wales, the main reason why social services first engaged with these looked after children was because of abuse or neglect (61 per cent for England and 54 per cent for Wales), with the DCSF describing that this percentage had changed little over the past five years (DCSF, 2009; National Statistics for Wales, 2009). Once again, we can see how fragile and vulnerable looked after children are. The Joseph Rowntree Foundation (JRF) described (Stuart and Baines, 2004) that the main groups of children living away from home seemed better safeguarded now than they had been previously; they did, however, highlight the vulnerability of some children, such as those in private foster care and prisons. JRF highlighted that progress had been made in dealing with sexual abuse in care, including increased awareness of the risk. However, gaps still remained in the information available to the public, parents, carers and children, and in children recognising abusive behaviour and knowing where they could get help. JRF also suggested that there had been little progress in providing adequate help and treatment for sexually abused children in the care system. In 2009, Ofsted published Life in children’s homes: a report of children’s experience by the Children’s Rights Director for England. From the report findings, it is encouraging that the best thing that young people highlighted was the staff, describing that they were “kind and caring”, “they listened to you” and that they “helped you with problems”. However, the most common negative things highlighted by the young people about children’s homes were: “missing their family”, “living with people you don’t get on with” and “problems with the staff”. For the looked after children who contacted ChildLine in 2009/10, relationships with people around them were also a central issue. Many looked after children phoning ChildLine described deliberate self-harm. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) (2005) found that a principal factor associated with increased use of self-harm among children and adolescents was living in care or in secure institutions. SCIE found that going into care could also be a trigger for self-harm. They cited a study (Hurry and Storey, 1998) that found that 10 per cent of children presenting to accident and emergency departments with self-harm were looked after, even though just 1 per cent of children were looked after nationally. Looked after children are also more likely to experience mental health problems than the general child population and mental health problems are a risk factor associated with self-harm. Children contacting ChildLine also mentioned going missing from care. A recent survey of local authorities by the Care Leavers’ Association (2009) reported that more than 100 looked after children went missing without a trace every year.
  17. 17. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Some children who contacted ChildLine also talked about pregnancy. The Social Care Institute for Excellence (SCIE) (2004) found that looked after children and young people were at greater risk of early pregnancy than other groups. They described looked after children as having less access to good quality, consistent sources of sex and relationship education, and of looked after children becoming sexually active earlier than other groups of children. SCIE also reported that looked after children were 2.5 times more likely to become pregnant as teenagers than other teenagers, and that it is estimated that one in four young women leaving care are either pregnant or already mothers and almost half of female care leavers become mothers between the ages of 18 and 24. The think tank Demos highlighted (Hannon et al, 2010) how “the failure to provide looked after children with a high quality, stable experience of care will not only result in a less positive care journey for them, but can also lead to escalating costs to children’s services”. Similarly, the Scottish Institute for Residential Social Care (Elsley, 2006) argued that Scottish society would reap the benefits if it invested in young people who were looked after away from home.4. Issues for looked after children counselled by ChildLine4.1 Birth families In the qualitative analysis of the records of 800 looked after children counselled by ChildLine (using computer software NVivo), one in eight children described missing their birth family or wanting to return home. The sense of loss and loneliness the young people felt was powerful. Jessica, aged six, cried to the ChildLine counsellor on the phone, saying: “It is my birthday. I am calling from a care home. I am sitting at the window. I want my mummy and daddy. I am really upset.” Despite the fact that many of the looked after children who called ChildLine had been placed in care for their own safety and had often been mistreated by their birth family (see section 4.5 on abuse and neglect), there was still a strong sense from many of them of missing their families and wanting to go back home. Emily, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I don’t want to go back to my foster parents. I want to stay with my dad. I want to be with my real dad. I know I can help him get better. I just need people to trust him. They don’t because of all the bad things he’s done, but everyone in the world has done bad things. I trust him 100 per cent. I’m going to stay with my dad. If I’m not here, who’s going to look after him?”
  18. 18. Looked after children talking to ChildLine One ChildLine counsellor explained their experience: “There is a lot of mixed emotion with looked after children who have been removed from their family. They are very loyal and loving and sometimes do actually want to be with people who harm them. They can’t turn off their emotions.” Another ChildLine counsellor said: “The mistreatment can be potentially normal to them, so can be a huge amount of conflicting emotions when they are taken from the family environment.” In this situation, counsellors told of acknowledging children’s mixed emotions and of helping them to understand that there was nothing wrong with having those conflicting feelings. Some children also described missing the siblings from whom they were separated. For children who were separated from their parents, keeping in contact with their siblings was very important to them. Being separated from them could be extremely painful and distressing. Abigail, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I want to live with my sister.” Tyrone, aged 12, told ChildLine: “I have been living in care for over a year. My brother is 18 and I don’t see him much.” John, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I live in a care home. I have lots of brothers and sisters, none of whom live with our mother. We are all split up around the country.” As well as being separated, some children were prevented from seeing their siblings. Wesley, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I live in a care home. I am no longer allowed out at weekends. I want to go home for the weekend to see my sister. My social worker has told me I’m not allowed to go.” For some children contacting ChildLine who had been separated from their siblings, the situation was made worse by the fact that their siblings were able to stay at home with their parents while they themselves had been removed. Ricky, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I live in a children’s home. I would like to go and live back with my mum. My older brother and younger brother live with her.”
  19. 19. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Niall, aged 15, told ChildLine: “My stepmum has been abusing me and social services took me out of my home. I lived with my dad, stepmum, brother and sister. They don’t get abused.”4.2 Not getting on with other looked after children A particularly hard part of being looked after for many of the children who contacted ChildLine was the relationship with the other children with whom they were living. Many children fell out with other looked after children, while others experienced bullying, intimidation or even physical abuse from their peers (see section 4.5 on abuse and neglect). For those children, many of whom were already lacking confidence and had low self- esteem, getting on with other children could be a difficult and sometimes frightening experience. For those who lacked support from their birth families and did not get on with their foster or residential carers (see section 4.3 on relationships with adults), not getting on with peers could be an especially painful and isolating experience. Minal, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I moved into a care home today. I am scared to leave my room. The care home is full of other girls who scare me.” A ChildLine counsellor explained: “Sometimes children and young people can be very cruel to each other, whether they mean to or not. Things that young people say to each other can be very hurtful and stay with them for a long time. There is the added complexity of them being in care and therefore often being very vulnerable.”4.3 Relationships with adults4.3.1 Relationships with foster carers Of the 1,125 children counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 about being looked after as a main problem, 345 of them told ChildLine they were living with foster parents. Foster carers do a valuable and important job that is vital to the wellbeing of many looked after children. However, many children counselled by ChildLine had problems relating to their foster carers. Even though the foster carers should be, and frequently are, one of the primary sources of care, love and support for children in foster homes, for many of those who contacted ChildLine this was not the case and instead the relationships were filled with conflict, hurt and pain. Children described rows, arguments, being shouted at and being told they were not wanted. Some children believed that their foster parents were fostering for the financial rewards and not because they cared.
  20. 20. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Some children in foster care thought that birth children were favoured by the foster parents. Conversely, when foster carers were supportive, it was sometimes hard for fostered children to adapt to a loving environment as some were not used to being cared for. Sarah, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I am in foster care. The foster carers keep telling me they don’t want me. I hate it.” Jane, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I feel that my foster parents dont really want to foster. They feed me OK, but get angry and shout at me. I don’t know why. Or they just ignore me. They don’t shout at my foster sisters. I have been in this foster home for a few months. This is my 10th foster home.” One child, who did not give identifying information, told ChildLine via the online personal inbox service: “I am in foster care and my foster mum always shouts at me for no reason. I need her to stop.” ChildLine counsellors explained how some of the looked after children who called ChildLine felt: “Sometimes they feel that the parents love their own children but do not love them as they are the foster child. With the foster-care situation, often a lot of it has to do with going into a group that is already formed. Being the outsider can be very hard.” “Sometimes they express that they don’t feel worthy of care. They lack trust because they can’t understand why somebody would want to care about them.” “In some cases they want to test if the people will really love them regardless of what they do and how they behave.” More positively, some looked after children contacting ChildLine did describe a good experience of foster homes. Alice, who did not give her age, told ChildLine: “I have just moved in with a foster family. It’s really nice. They are nice people; it’s a nice house. I am being looked after.” Janet, aged 18, told ChildLine: “I have lived with a foster family for the last two years. I get on really well with them and I am happy.”
  21. 21. Looked after children talking to ChildLine One ChildLine counsellor said: “There are many positive calls about foster carers. Many young people really admire the generosity and love that the foster parents give them.”4.3.2 Relationships with residential carers Of the 1,125 children counselled by ChildLine in 2009/10 about being looked after as a main problem, 540 children told ChildLine that they were living in a residential home. Although many residential workers do a valuable and important job, often in challenging circumstances, relationships with residential carers were often difficult for children in care homes. The frequently changing staff, discipline issues, use of restraint and hostile arguments meant relationships with residential carers were frequently fraught with tension. Children described residential carers as not caring about their feelings, making fun of them, and being threatening or critical. Many children found it hard to trust and get close to their carers. Elspeth, who did not give her age, told ChildLine: “I am upset by how I am treated by the carers in the residential home. They intimidate me and shout at me. They aren’t interested in me. They don’t care and they’re rude. They are only doing the job for the money.” One ChildLine counsellor explained: “Children in residential homes sometimes rebel against authority figures in the home. They can find it difficult living under that kind of authority all the time; particularly if they have come from an environment without rules and boundaries.” Another ChildLine counsellor said: “In some cases they also don’t feel heard or listened to. The children can feel that the staff in care homes are only there because they are getting paid.” “People who work in the residential homes work in shifts and there can be a high staff turnover. There can be no continuity so sometimes they [children] feel that they cannot trust anybody or get fond of somebody as they will just move on. It can take a while for those barriers to be broken down.” By contrast, some children contacting ChildLine had a positive experience of residential care. William, aged 15, told ChildLine: “The home I am in now is nice. I like the people in the care home and I also like the staff.”
  22. 22. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Anna, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I like the home I am in; I think of it like my family.”4.3.3 Relationships with social workers and key workers A large number of looked after children who contacted ChildLine talked about their relationship with their social worker or key worker. These relationships were particularly important due to the lack of support from elsewhere that many of these children felt. Several children saw their social worker or key worker as a last resort when other relationships were failing. While they were sometimes seen as a source of support, at other times they could be hard to contact, unavailable or the young people felt they were not supporting them. Some young people found it hard to trust and put faith in their social worker. When they were not getting on with their social worker, this could really add to the sense that the world was against them. Sanjita, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I am really sad. Girls at school have been nasty to me when they found out I am in foster care. Nobody wants to know me when they find out. I feel like no one cares. My social worker is lovely but I won’t talk to her because I hate people getting close to me.” The importance of ChildLine as a trusted source of support was paramount for those looked after children who were not getting on with the carers and professionals in their life, and who had no family support. One ChildLine counsellor explained how children who contacted ChildLine felt: “Their relationships with social workers and key workers can sometimes be quite negative. Sometimes they don’t feel their social workers and key workers are listening to them. There can sometimes also be a trust issue because they can feel that, if they tell the social or key workers something, they will then tell somebody else. There are some calls where looked after children cannot get hold of their social or key workers. There can be a lot of frustration when things aren’t happening that the young people want to happen.” Another ChildLine counsellor commented: “Young people in care can have relationships with lots of people who make the decisions about their lives, such as social workers. There is an irony about them having so many people in their lives but sometimes feeling that nobody cares about them.”
  23. 23. Looked after children talking to ChildLine4.4 Moving placements In the qualitative analysis (using computer software NVivo) of the records of 800 looked after children counselled by ChildLine, a sixth of children described problems relating to moving placements. Many children described being moved several times in a year, while some children talked about being moved up to 15 times. The young people counselled by ChildLine found these moves devastating. For many they were deeply unsettling, extremely stressful and added to their sense of being lonely and isolated. Children talked about desperately not wanting to move. The frequent moves of placement compounded the difficulties children had in trusting and relating to people, often leaving them feeling that nobody wanted them and blaming themselves for moves of placement. Young people talked about how moving placement meant leaving behind friends and carers whom they had become close to. Mark, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I am in a care home and my social worker told me I am moving to a new care home. I am really stressed out by this. I want to stay where I am. I have been in this care home for three years and have lots of friends there. I feel I have no control over things.” Sam, who did not give his or her gender or age, told ChildLine over the online 1-2-1 chat service: “I have been moved between different care homes. I feel angry at having to be in care. I feel isolated and sad due to changes in placement. I feel powerless. I have bottled up my emotions. I cannot trust anyone or build relationships as I am moved about so much.” Anil, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I am angry and upset. I feel nobody wants me. In two months, I have been with six foster carers. Next week I am moving again. I came into care because my mum and dad don’t want me. When an adult comes too close to me, I lash out to protect myself, so that it doesn’t hurt too much.” ChildLine counsellors commented: “Sometimes, initially they [children] will be placed with a temporary foster family until a more permanent place is found for them. The first placement can be one in which they can find some healing and peace. This can be a really powerful time for them because they’re coming out of a scary and abusive situation into a place where they are safe. They are feeling nurtured for the first time in their life and then sometimes they get ripped out of that situation. Something can break in them.” “Often they don’t want to move again and they’ve just had enough. Sometimes they are taken far away from their school and friends and don’t know anyone at all, and they can be incredibly lonely.”
  24. 24. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Other ChildLine counsellors described: “In some cases they don’t stick around in one place long enough to learn how to deal with situations or develop relationships. There can be no continuity. They are not able to find their true identity because their environment is constantly changing.” “They can blame themselves for being moved around. It can be easy for them to think that they are the common factor and they must be doing something wrong.” “They can refuse to form attachments or invest any energy into forming relationships because they never know how long they are going to be in one place.”4.5 Abuse and neglect Table 3 Frequency of abuse and neglect for looked after children Type of abuse Number of children counselled about being looked after (as a main or an additional problem), categorised by type of abuse experienced Physical abuse 283 Sexual abuse 248 Emotional abuse 75 Neglect 72 Table 3 gives the figures for the looked after children counselled by ChildLine who experienced abuse, both prior to coming into care and while in care. The figures show the amount of children and young people who contacted ChildLine to speak about being looked after, either as a main or an additional concern, and who also spoke about experiencing abuse.4.5.1 Abuse and neglect prior to being looked after Many young people who contacted ChildLine talked about abuse prior to going into care. This included sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. One ChildLine counsellor explained: “If the child has been taken out of the family for abuse, it can compound the belief that it is their fault and they’re the one that is being punished.” a) Sexual abuse Children who were sexually abused talked of the horror of the abuse and also the strain placed on their family when the abuse was revealed. Sometimes this consisted of the child not being believed or relationships continuing between the abuser and their family.
  25. 25. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Jessica, who did not give her age, told ChildLine: “I have been in foster care for a few weeks. I would like to go home again but no one is listening to me. I was raped by an uncle; I regret going to the police. My family have told me if I’d kept quiet I could have stayed in my family.” Experiences of sexual abuse prior to coming into care could make children wary and untrusting of adults once in care. Kathleen, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I am in a care home. I was sexually abused at home. I had a row with my friend and a man at the care home tried to restrain me. He pushed me onto the sofa and got on top of me. I didn’t like it as it reminded me of the sexual abuse at home.” Two ChildLine counsellors explained: “Often they [children] think that nobody believes them. Sometimes one of the parents wants to carry on the relationship with the abuser, for example, if the mother’s boyfriend was the abuser. The child may feel the other person may have been chosen over them.” “There have been callers who were sexually abused before they went into care who have then found it very difficult to build relationships. They can have very low self- esteem and not respect themselves. Sometimes they can become promiscuous themselves. Sometimes girls can allow boys to use them sexually. Alternatively, they can be frightened to let anyone come near them.” b) Physical abuse Many children talked about physical abuse. They described the hurt inflicted on them by their family. Even though some of these children did not like being in care, many were pleased to be safe from the physical abuse. Rachael, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I have been living with fosters carers for four months. I used to live with my mum who was an alcoholic and violent towards me. A worker turned up one day and just said I was going into foster care for a while. I think foster care is safer than being at home but I don’t want to live in either of the places.” Physical abuse experienced prior to coming into care could make young people fearful that their new carers may abuse them. Jackie, aged 13, told ChildLine: “I live with a foster family. I don’t like my foster parents. I find it weird as they cook me dinners and make me lunch, which my parents didn’t do. I feel scared because I used to know when my parents were going to hit me, but I don’t know when these people are going to hit me. They have never hit me, but I expect them to because that’s what people do.”
  26. 26. Looked after children talking to ChildLine c) Emotional abuse and neglect Some of the looked after children who contacted ChildLine talked about experiencing neglect prior to going into care. This included a lack of food, care and material possessions. Emma, aged 13, told ChildLine: “I have just moved in with a foster family a few days ago. My parents had been arrested for drug possession and neglect. The house was a mess, there was no food, my clothes were all dirty and there were needles all over the house.” Others talked about emotional abuse, including being mistreated by family or blamed for things that went wrong. Ellie, who did not give her age, told ChildLine: “I wanted to die when I was at home. But now I’m in a care home, I feel better. My stepdad blamed me for everything. If he had a bad day, he’d blame everything on me.” A few children also talked about going to court to prosecute a relative who had been abusive.4.5.2 Abuse and neglect while being looked after Many young people who contacted ChildLine talked about abuse experienced while in care. This included sexual abuse, physical abuse, emotional abuse and neglect. a) Sexual abuse Unfortunately, for some children counselled by ChildLine, the abuse continued once in care. Some were sexually abused by care workers or adults outside the care system. Others described being touched inappropriately by carers, staff or other children in the care home. Sexual exploitation by older men in the community was also an issue. However, overall, sexual abuse for looked after children counselled by ChildLine was not a commonly cited issue. Jeremy, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I had sex with a key worker at my care home. The key worker has been sacked.” Jenny, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I had sex with my care worker’s husband in the last care home a year ago.” It is particularly sad when a child who has been sexually abused previously comes into care and experiences sexual abuse within the care system. Sarah, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I am in care because I was sexually abused by my stepdad. My carer has hit me and touched me inappropriately. I have reported this, but as there were no witnesses they are not taking my accusation seriously.”
  27. 27. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Natalie, aged 17, told ChildLine: “I have been living in this hotel. The council found it for me because I was living on the streets. It used to be OK, but recently the boss of the hotel has changed. The boss tried to make me have sex with a man in the hotel. I have been sexually abused in the past.” One ChildLine counsellor explained: “The sexual abuse can be inappropriate touching from staff or inappropriate contact between peers. This can include peers and staff walking in on them [the children] in the shower.” Other ChildLine counsellors commented: “What ChildLine may perceive as sexual abuse, the young person in care may not, especially with young women who are seeing older men. When it’s an older man and it’s more like a boyfriend scenario, sometimes they won’t accept that the older person should know better and it is actually sexual abuse.” “Their ability to engage in appropriate relationships may become very skewed because of their past experience and they may not know what’s right and wrong.” “They can see it as some kind of escape from an aspect of their life that they don’t like.” b) Physical abuse Other children counselled by ChildLine experienced physical abuse while being looked after; sometimes this was by their peers. Children talked about being “punched” and “hit” by peers, often as part of bullying and especially by children older than them. James, aged 12, told ChildLine: “I have been in and out of care all my life. I have been in various foster placements, but no one wants me. I am now living in a care home where there is lots of bullying between the lads who live there. I am one of the younger ones and so get punched lots. The staff ignore it.” Sometimes, the physical abuse was by staff, with children talking of being assaulted by foster carers and residential staff. Mathew, who did not give his age, told ChildLine: “I am in care. I am not happy in my placement. My foster carer is violent with me. I have told my social worker and the police, but they don’t believe me.”
  28. 28. Looked after children talking to ChildLine c) Emotional abuse Some children talked about experiencing emotional abuse while being looked after. This included staff being aggressive and threatening. Huan, who did not give his age, told ChildLine: “Jason is our foster father. He threatens me and calls me thick. I am really sad because I’m not with my mum and I miss her.” One ChildLine counsellor described the forms of emotional abuse experienced: “Name calling, being judged and young people feeling that their carers don’t care about them.” d) Neglect Some children talked about experiencing neglect while being looked after. This included not being fed properly or living in unhygienic accommodation with vermin. Andrew, who did not give his age, told ChildLine: “I live in temporary accommodation that is not safe or hygienic. There are rats, mice and bugs. I’ve been here for months.”4.6 Suicide and self-harm For some of the looked after children counselled by ChildLine, the experience had become too much to bear, with some resorting to suicide attempts or to self-harm. Children talked of “just wanting to give up”, being “sick of life”, “wanting to die”, “finding it hard to cope” and “using cutting to cope” as “a form of control”. Self-harm by looked after children must be taken seriously, not least because it is a significant risk factor for suicide. One young person described self-harming and then being watched by staff as she cleaned with an antiseptic wipe. It is unclear whether the carer was being unsympathetic to the self-harming or was following clinical advice on the safe management of self-harming. In 2009/10, 191 looked after children talked about suicide and 206 talked about self-harm as either a main or an additional problem. Looked after children were twice as likely to talk about self-harm as an additional problem when compared to children counselled by ChildLine overall. Yasmin, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I have been living with foster carers for four months. Emotionally, I feel like I am at two out of 10, with one being the lowest. I can’t remember feeling any better. I self-harm with a knife; usually every day. I harm myself when I am upset. I get upset when I think about my mum.”
  29. 29. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Adrian, aged 11, told ChildLine over the online 1-2-1 chat service: “I have been in care from when I was a baby. Life has always been a problem for me. I went to live with a foster family a year ago. I am unhappy there and depressed. I cut myself.” Maria, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I have been in foster care for three months because my mother is back in a relationship with her ex-boyfriend, who abused me. I am angry because my mum has chosen her boyfriend over me and moved him back into the house. I feel lonely because I have never known my dad. I am self-harming to cope with my feelings.” A ChildLine counsellor explained: “ChildLine can hear two sides; first where the young person in care self-harms because they don’t feel anything and they would like to feel something. Alternatively, they feel so intense and pent up that they need a release. In care, the young people can feel like they are not in control of their lives and the self-harm can be a form of control. It can also be related to abuse they have experienced.”4.7 Secure units A small proportion of looked after children counselled by ChildLine lived in secure units. Children in secure units had a particularly difficult time and there was a strong emphasis on wanting to leave. Children mentioned suicide attempts, feeling down and depressed, and experiencing sanctions for their behaviour. Reasons described for being in secure units included mental health problems and violence; one example included “assault and arson”. Nicky, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I live in a secure children’s home. I went in because I had kidnapped someone.” Marian, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I am schizophrenic and my psychiatrist placed me in a secure unit. I will be here for three months. I am on loads of medication. I was quite aggressive and violent when I was brought in.” A ChildLine counsellor commented: “There are lots of calls from children in institutions, such as secure units, about self- harm; either they are calling from there or saying they are being taken there.”4.8 Running away Many children told ChildLine counsellors that they had run away because their life in care had become too much to bear or that they had reached crisis point. There are a lot of risks associated with running away, such as sexual exploitation and becoming victims of violence, but some of the children calling ChildLine were unaware of them.
  30. 30. Looked after children talking to ChildLine In 2009/10, 245 looked after children talked to ChildLine about running away as a main or additional problem. This is of particular concern as, in 2009, the Care Leavers’ Association (CLA) found that 145 children went missing from care and did not return (CLA, 2009). Looked after children were five times as likely to talk about running away as an additional problem when compared to children counselled by ChildLine overall. Sasha, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I’m scared. I ran off last night and stayed in the park by myself all night. I am scared to tell the staff at the children’s home and the police where I’ve been all night.” James, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I’ve been in a care home for a while and I hate it. I want to run away and meet my boyfriend. He is a lot older than me. My carers will be angry but I don’t care. I will get drugs if I go there.” One ChildLine counsellor commented: “There are calls from young people who have run away from care; some are living on the streets and avoiding the police.” Other ChildLine counsellors explained the reasons why children might run away: “Nobody is listening to them. They want to have control of their own life. They feel that nobody knows what they want.” “In some cases they may run away back to their previous placement where they felt cared for. They can be at a point of crisis. Sometimes they’ve just had a huge row with a carer and they’ve run away and they don’t want to go back.” “Some young people feel that running away is the only option; rather than seeking support, they just literally run away and go onto the street.” ChildLine counsellors also explained the risk of running away. They suggested that young people who ran away from care could be at risk of sexual exploitation and be vulnerable to alcohol and drug problems. A ChildLine counsellor commented: “One girl who ran away was pregnant. The previous night she had gone home with a guy she met on the street and had been drinking. There were a lot of risks but she felt she was worthless.”
  31. 31. Looked after children talking to ChildLine4.9 Pregnancy In 2009/10, 97 looked after children talked to ChildLine about pregnancy as either a main or an additional problem. Some talked about being pregnant, having children or about their girlfriend having a child; in some instances, the pregnancy was the result of an abusive relationship. For some, the baby was taken into care, thus continuing the cycle of being brought up in care. Abigail, aged 14, told ChildLine: “I was nicked [arrested by the police] last night for fighting with two staff in the home. I hate living in the home. I have been in the home for a few months because my stepfather raped me. I think I may be pregnant and my key worker is looking to get me a pregnancy test.” Anita, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I am annoyed with my foster parents. I have lived with them for a year and I don’t get on with them. I am being moved soon as they can’t stand my temper. I had a baby a few months ago but it got put in care as I had post-natal depression and put it at risk.” ChildLine counsellors explained: “They may want something – a baby – that is theirs, to treat how they haven’t been treated.” “They may feel that if they have a baby, it will take them away from their problems. Sadly, they sometimes don’t see the big picture. They may be holding onto the dream that they have always had of a happy family.” “They can also talk about love and how they can love the baby and it will love them back and it is unconditional love.”4.10 Disability Some of the looked after children counselled by ChildLine reported having a disability. The most frequent disabilities were learning difficulties and behavioural problems, while other disabilities mentioned included autism, Down’s syndrome and physical disabilities. Many looked after children with disabilities were in residential homes especially for disabled children. Children with disabilities who contacted ChildLine often received additional support for their disabilities. However, a small number felt their needs were not being met or feared they would not be met in the future. Tom, who did not give his age, told ChildLine: “I have learning difficulties. I am living in a residential home. My needs are not being met.”
  32. 32. Looked after children talking to ChildLine Peter, aged 16, told ChildLine: “I have ADHD and emotional issues. I am moving placements. I am worried that the staff will not know how to deal with my problems.”4.11 Positive experiences of care Some children counselled by ChildLine talked positively of care. They talked of liking the staff and the other children living with them. Some talked about their care home being “nice”. They described experiencing love and care and “what a family should be”, and of feeling “safe”. Others described “being a lot happier now”. One child described living with a foster family for the last two years and of “getting on really well with them; I am happy”. It should be borne in mind that children are unlikely to contact ChildLine specifically to talk about positive experiences of care. However, they may discuss positive aspects of care while discussing another problem. Aakash, aged 18, told ChildLine: “I live in a semi-independent unit. It’s like a care home. I’m in my house. I am safe.” For some children, this happiness was fleeting as they got moved on to the next placement. Jacob, aged 15, told ChildLine: “I am not feeling good because I am going to get chucked out from my care home. I don’t want to move because the care home I am in is nice. I like people in the care home and I like the staff.”4.12 The role of ChildLine Some looked after children are advised by their carers to contact ChildLine when they are experiencing difficulties. It is good practice that looked after children are being encouraged to use ChildLine in this way. William, aged 13, told ChildLine: “I would like to move care homes. I have spoken to someone at my care home and they suggested calling ChildLine.” Some looked after children contacted ChildLine when they found out they were going to be placed in care. That fact that children see ChildLine as someone to turn to at such pivotal times is very encouraging and clearly demonstrates the value of ChildLine to these children in their times of need.
  33. 33. Looked after children talking to ChildLine One child, aged 15, who did not give their gender, told ChildLine over the online 1-2-1 chat service: “I have just been put into care. I don’t know what to do. I don’t feel very good about it at the moment. I don’t know what is going to happen. Speaking to ChildLine really helps.” A ChildLine counsellor commented: “So many of our phone calls are made at a point of crisis.” ChildLine counsellors can also offer practical solutions to young people’s problems: “There is often a child protection element in calls with children in care. If the child is talking about abuse in care, counsellors can help keep the child safe. ChildLine can refer the child to a social worker or refer them to the Care Commission to investigate their circumstances. ChildLine also can speak to staff members at the home to pass on messages if a young person feels they are not being heard.” ChildLine counsellors talked about the relationship between the counsellor and the looked after child: “The same way as there is often a difficult relationship between the young person and the carers, often we experience very similar things as counsellors. Sometimes you have to work quite hard to get through a lot of anger and confusion.” “We are trying to engage with them and demonstrate caring but the whole concept can be alien to them. They sometimes ask why we care and we have to try and get through the hostility.” “In some ways, with many children in care, you have to start from the very beginning in helping them to find out what a parental or caring relationship is.” “With children in care there can be the opportunity to build a relationship with somebody in care and build the trust. They are learning to talk about their lives and have a sense about who they are as a person. You can go on a journey with them. It can be a combination of counselling, mentoring and taking an interest. It can give them the opportunity to build a trusting relationship with an adult and this trust can be transferred to other relationships in their life.” “It is a lifeline to them. Very often they don’t have anybody they trust to talk to or tell how they feel.”
  34. 34. Looked after children talking to ChildLine5. Conclusions ChildLine is a vital resource for looked after children. It can give them a lifeline when they feel the world is against them and they have no one to turn to. The relationship with ChildLine counsellors can help them understand what it is to be cared for, to be valued and to trust. Due to a combination of factors, including abuse and neglect, difficult relationships with peers and carers, and frequent traumatic moves of placement, many looked after children who contact ChildLine have learnt not to trust people. Sadly, this means that even when they are offered love and support, they may find it hard to accept. Young looked after children need love, attachment, stability and care. Frequently, looked after children contacting ChildLine are surrounded by professionals but many still seem to feel uncared for. For some looked after children, life has become intolerable. This can result in them attempting suicide or being more likely to be counselled about self-harm or running away than children counselled by ChildLine overall. Life in care for some looked after children who contact ChildLine can be unbearable. They are left with conflicting emotions about birth families. Many want to return to them to escape care and have a “normal family”, but are aware of the maltreatment and abuse that often makes returning to their birth families impossible.6. Recommendations The policy context The experience of all children and young people placed in the care system in the UK should be positive and of good quality, and the system must be able to meet their individual needs. We should have the same high aspirations for children within the care system as for those outside it. The high-level public policy framework for children in care in the UK is provided by the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child (UNCRC) (United Nations, 1989), ratified by the UK government in 1991. This requires all children to be protected: “…from all forms of physical, or mental violence, injury or abuse, neglect or negligent treatment or exploitation, including sexual abuse, while in the care of parent(s), legal guardian(s) or any other person who has the care of the child.” (UNCRC, article 19) “A child temporarily or permanently deprived of his or her family environment, or in whose own best interests cannot be allowed to remain in that environment, shall be entitled to special protection and assistance provided by the State.” (UNCRC, article 20)

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