Whose care do care leavers leave?

In what world could the words corporate and parent ever be joined together? In the life of a child in care, that’s where.

I have spent the majority of my brief life in employment working for Social Services, with young people leaving care. The phrase ‘young people leaving care’ simply refers to young people who are no longer the responsibility of the Local Authority, known in this context as Social Services. Young people generally leave care on or around their eighteenth birthday, but in some circumstances this can happen sooner.

When a child is in care, parental responsibility is transferred from their birth-parent to their Local Authority, who become known as the child’s ‘Corporate Parent’. The phrase ‘Corporate Parent’ is symptomatic of the language of “The System”; institutionalised, distant – corporate. In what world could the words corporate and parent ever be joined together? In the life of a child in care, that’s where.

To be clear, Local Authorities do a wonderful job of protecting, promoting, encouraging, supporting and advocating for the children in their care, often on limited budgets, staff and general infrastructure. But the point is this – children weren’t created to be cared for by institutions; they were designed for family, destined for adoption by a permanent and unchanging daddy. Father God

One of the biggest challenges facing Care Leavers, and there are many, is the labels; the names, the statistics. A child growing up with a forever family will grow up being called a child. A child growing up in care will grow up being called a Looked After Child, or LAC where it’s easier and more efficient. Children in Care or Leaving Care are significantly over-represented in statistics for the prison population, mental health services, unemployment, substance misuse and much more.

This is why a healthy approach to adoption is so significant. The adoption that God offers all of his children; all of us, is a wholly more satisfying title – we become ‘children of God’, ‘heirs of God and co-heirs with Christ’. In Romans 8, Paul writes that “the creation waits in eager expectation for the children of God to be revealed”. God longs for more children!

Part of the significance of what Home for Good is doing is that children are finding their forever-families, and are becoming part of the family of God at the same time. Adoption provides a stability, a foundation and security that children who have been separated from their birth families desperately need.

In 2010, the Department for Education published documents that showed that more than one in ten Looked After Children had three or more placements before they left care. For one child this is heart breaking, but for more than one in ten it’s a tragedy. The numbers are damning enough, but I’ve worked with, cried with, stood with some of the people behind the numbers:

There was David*; his address history read more like a novel than a section on a form – ten placements in nine years before he’d turned 17, including three different children’s homes. This isn’t a film script – this is real life. There was also Sarah*; in and out of young offenders institutes and foster care, nowhere to live at 16 after dropping out of school, desperately committed to her abusive boyfriend and the promise of money and drugs.

Through the years in that job I noticed a consistent theme: the children whose earliest placements became a home for good had hugely improved life outcomes over those who ended up constantly having to adapt to new relationships and environments. Don’t get me wrong, there is a need for emergency and short-term placements, but they exist to protect children until a longer term option becomes available. Adoption or long-term foster care offers children another path for their childhood. Just as with our ‘adoption to sonship’ (Romans 8.15), knowing who we are, and whose we are gives us a rock-solid platform from which to live our lives.

The crux of the issue is this; children never leave the care of God.

The church is waking up to the groaning of creation for the children of God to be revealed (Romans 8.22). Providing a child with a home for good could not only change the trajectory for the life outcomes of children in care, it could also introduce them to the Father whose care they will never leave.

[*Names have been changed]

This article was originally published by threads on 21/10/2015.

Author:
Joe McSharry


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