Video: Ian Dickson @IDickson258 & Dr Cat Hugman's @notjustanumber Speech @ #GMCareLeavers Conference
#CareExpConf #teamies Ian Dickson @IDickson258 & Dr Cat Hugman speak at the Doing Things Differently for Care Leavers event last Friday 1st Novc - here is their fantastic speech in video format! And the text in full below.
I’m Ian Dickson, Chair of the Conference for Care Experienced People.
This is my colleague Dr Catriona Hugman – Cat to her friends. Cat and I are the Little and Large, the Laurel and Hardy of the Conference team.
We want to speak to you for a few moments about our conference for care experienced people, and about the messages that emerged from it and what they might mean to you.
Firstly, may I say what a pleasure it is to be back in Manchester.
As a tiny boy, I was taken into care by the old Manchester Children’s Department. My family lived in Ancoats, here in Manchester. Obviously, that was before Ancoats went up market and poor folk couldn’t afford to live there anymore!
For most of my childhood I was in care here in Manchester in children’s homes and foster care across this city.
I truanted from school here in Manchester, and me and my mates used to go drinking in a pub in Manchester city centre we knew who served underage drinkers. To us, it was Tib Street in Town – Nowadays it is exotically called “The Northern Quarter”!
For a while as a teenager I was homeless here in Manchester - Manchester was not so attractive then.
It was here in Manchester where I became a social worker, at the old Area 1 office on Mosley Street in the city centre. For many years I was the only care experienced person I knew of in social work and it was a lonely isolated existence, like living in a foreign country without being able to speak the language.
Years later, I learned that the Director of the Manchester Children’s Department when I was in care - Dr Ian Brown – was himself care experienced. How I wish I had known that as a young social worker!
To have had a kindred spirit, a role model to look up to would have been such a comfort.
It was here in Manchester where 11 years after I left school, I went to University – this university – and started my journey into the wonders of higher education. Manchester will always be a very special place for me.
Life has been good to me since. You see before you a fat old bald bloke, utterly unremarkable in appearance. I am a retired professional, a family man, university educated. Some may even mistakenly describe me as “middle class”.
Cat might stand out in a crowd more than I do, but like me, she is just an ordinary person.
But there is that “me”, that both of us, that you cannot see. We are care leavers. There are a lot of us about - and we look just like you.
Yet to Society today, we care leavers are an invisible minority. To the care system that I grew up in we disappear at 25, or 18, 16, or even younger- the state does not recognise that the care-experience continues even long after we left “care”.
Yet still we exist, and our collective experiences span decades, but nobody ever seeks our views or our expertise on what “works” and what doesn’t work about the care system. Care experienced people are experts whose voices have been excluded from conversations and consultations about care systems.
The outcomes of care-leavers are measured, quantified and used to predict our outcomes in the future (education + mental health). Yet, despite all this there is very little research or knowledge in wider society about what really happens to care-leavers as they enter adulthood.
Assumptions are made. Even this year we have seen examples of how this can play out in areas where petitions have been mounted by NIMBYs to prevent the opening of children’s homes citing crime, anti social behaviour and noise.
To the media, we care leavers are negative stereotypes.
Research highlights time and time again how care-experienced people fill the prisons, are homeless, NEET, are over represented in the sex worker population.
Public attitudes and research combine to create this view that we care-leavers are workshy, feckless and untrustworthy.
That we will amount to nothing in our lives.
That we will grow up to abuse our own kids.
This is not true. Such generalisations, if there is any truth in them, are based on research and public knowledge about only a small proportion of the estimated 400,000 care-experienced people in UK society.
Although we care leavers are overrepresented in the national disadvantage statistics, most of us like me and Ian are utterly unremarkable.
We move through the statistics unnoticed and disappear quietly into adult life. From my own experience and research a young person who is deemed to not be thriving during the formative young adult years may on the surface appear to be evidence that the statistics are valid representations of care-leavers.
But this current evidence is problematic in two ways:
Firstly, How the context of these ‘poor’ outcomes hide the trauma, instability and challenges young people face on a day to day basis. E.g. in my research, I never forget how one woman told me all about her life at the age of 16- she was living independently for the first time, struggling emotionally, experiencing poverty-these are things we would not expect our own children to do successfully- yet because this woman didn’t achieve academically she was not deemed to have done OK.
Secondly, what is lost is how people with care-experience do not live their lives as static statistics and the life course does provide opportunities to grow and flourish.
How many adults with care-experience return to education when their lives are more stable, when they have a roof over their head and a loving partner?
How many care-leavers choose to become social workers to help inspire, encourage and support other young people in care?
How many adults with care-experience are determined, and succeed, and not reproducing the challenging childhoods they themselves experienced.
Most of us lead ordinary lives. Indeed, some of us lead extraordinary lives. Most of us make our way in life without fuss, often in spite of being in care, and not because of it. Care experienced people are well represented in all branches of the arts, sciences, professions and trades. We are to be found wherever ordinary people like you are to be found. We care leavers as a community are creative, compassionate, resourceful and deeply experienced in life.
To care experienced people, coping with care and after can be a daunting task. So many issues that need to be addressed, so many questions we want to ask …and yet nobody seems to be listening. It seems that nothing ever changes. Thankfully, that’s not true.
Care has improved radically since I was in it of course. When I was a kid in care, physical abuse was commonplace and an accepted disciplinary tool. Like most kids, I took my share of beatings as an occupational hazard. Some I earned, some I didn’t. Being beaten by a housefather when I passed my 11+ and his son didn’t is one of my clearest memories.
I never knew hugs or kind words as a kid in care, but I could see punches coming at 20 yards and knew when to run very quickly! Thank God, those terrible days have gone and physical abuse in care has been largely eradicated.
Institutional abuse was also commonplace back then. Being made to stand in front of a staff in only underwear to ensure that I had washed properly before bed was another childhood memory. Or being made to sit alone in a room all evening away from the group if I had irritated an adult. Ah! The joys of childhood life in care in the 50’s and 60’s! Those abuses have gone.
And who remembers when children in care had their clothes bought for them on town hall order books? Or when children were not permitted to attend their own reviews? Or when a girl could be taken into care because she was considered to be “in moral danger”?
Who remembers when there were no complaints procedures? Or independent advocacy? Or access to files? Those battles have been won, those awful days long gone, and they have gone within my time around the care system. Good, decent, caring people worked very hard to make those changes and we owe so much to them.
There is so much to be thankful for – and yet? I left care to become homeless at 18. I was lonely and isolated. I was emotionally, practically, educationally and socially unready to cope on my own and there was no real support to cushion me into adulthood safely. Decisions were made about me, without me, to move me about in care.
In my 40 odd years as a social worker I kept seeing the same things happening to other kids and it disturbed me. How can kids be moved about without their consent, or be discharged from care when they were unready, and be offered so little support for so short a time? Half a century after I left care, some of those same issues that affected me are still happening! That clearly can’t be right!
Some years ago, a group of us felt it was time to challenge the negative stereotypes of care experienced people and seek to get their voices heard. We were optimists, and we knew the appetite for change was there. We hoped that if we could bring the voice of the care experienced community to those who make decisions and deliver services, they would listen.
We spent two years raising money and support, and arranged a conference at Liverpool Hope University that brought care experienced people from all social backgrounds, of all ages from across the UK and Ireland together as one. We even had careleavers from Australia sharing our day. In April this year, the care family came together as one big community in all our glorious diversity.
It was important to us that care experienced people of ALL ages attended, because one of the strongest lessons we’ve learned over decades is that care does NOT end at 18, or 21, or 25, just because statutory support does. It is a continuous lifetime experience.
There is no single truth about growing up in care. Every individual experience is unique, and can vary based on age and changes in life experience. If you asked me about care at 10, and again at 18, and again at 30 years of age, you would have got very different answers. If you want to know what growing up in care is like, you need to ask all of us – or as near to all of us as you can manage.
Care experienced people aged from 14 to 82 attended our conference, over 150 of us. It was a happy, optimistic affair. The day included wonderful exhibitions of art, music and literature by care experienced people. We had workshops where the care family shared their thoughts, feelings and experiences of being in care. We had feared that the day would be “triggering” for many of us, but it was a positive, loving and cathartic experience. Some of those there described it as “life changing”. For the first time ever, they felt they could be free to be themselves, amongst others who, for all their differences, shared that common fellowship of care experience. They said that they felt safe to speak of their care experience and share their views about what needed to change, some for the first time in their lives...
And share their views they did! We listened, and promised to get what they said “out there” so that others could hear, and having heard, make changes.
Alongside those workshops, a group of academic colleagues including sociologists, historians, criminologists and social policy academics, many of them care experienced, ran parallel workshops, engaging in discussions to guide future research that might be co-produced with care experienced people to improve how children are cared for.
The conference management team has kept its word. From the wisdom and experience shared in the general workshops and the academic stream, the team produced two conference reports about what happened on that day. Those reports have now been published and presented to the Secretary of State so that those with power to make changes know what was said. They are a gift from the care experienced family, given to you freely so that you can make care better.
The conference team were not a pressure group – we existed only to give the care experienced family a voice. However, some of the messages from the day were SO powerful we needed to share them. Some were SO urgent we needed to ask for immediate action.
There was so much care experienced people shared with us to share with you…
People from care backgrounds wanted to feel like other kids do. They wanted to feel wanted, to feel loved, to get hugs, to be shown and know genuine affection. Was that too much? Delegates shared with us that their basic human need to be loved, understood and engaged with compassionately was often forgotten.
People from care wanted to be seen and respected as other people are, as individuals with feelings, strengths and weaknesses. They wanted to feel valued.
Parts of practice need to be reflected on: what is the symbolism, the messages we are sending to children and young people about their worth? We were told that greater attention must be given to the symbolism of care system practices like bin bags that send negative messages to young people that affect their sense of their worth.