Did you know up to 70% of sex workers in the UK are young women that have aged out of the foster care system?
I didn’t either.
But once you learn something, you cannot unlearn it.
Every 22 minutes a child goes into the UK foster care system.
Every. 22. minutes.
Just think about that for a moment.
60% of these children end up staying in foster care and only age out once they turn 18.
Worse than that, although care leavers make up just 1% of the UK population: 25% of the homeless population and 50% of the under-25 male prison population are, yep you guessed it, care leavers.
What does this tell you?
Something is very wrong with the care system in the UK.
“The care system is not working. The care system shouldn’t be a hospice where children’s futures and dreams go to die.”
I attended my first TEDx event in Oxford on March 4th 2018 and it was absolutely fascinating. My favourite talk of the day was a talk by Dr Krish Kandiah called “Can Hospitality Change The World?” I highly recommend it: watch it here.
“Dr Krish Kandiah is an activist, broadcaster and author. He is the founding director of Home for Good, a young charity seeking to make a real difference in the lives of vulnerable children.”
From the moment Dr Kandiah began to speak, I was captivated. He spoke with the softest, most wonderfully story-telling voice as his words shocked me to the core with the above facts about the foster care system. I sat listening to him intently, knowing already that this moment was a force for change.
To be honest, my morning had already started with a wake-up call and this speech was the final nail.
Just a few hours earlier, while queueing up for the event, a homeless couple lay sleeping in the shelter provided by the little cove on the side of the building. I had watched with sadness as the security guards nudged this couple with their feet, ordering them to move along.
What really wrenched my stomach was realising this couple was a man and a woman, curled up together, cuddling each other as they slept. This image literally brought me to tears. As I swallowed it down, determined not to start a nice day-out with tears, I felt this horrific knot forming in my stomach. I held on tighter to Paul’s hand and walked through the doors of the nice warm building.
I am tired of turning away and hoping someone else will sort these problems out.
It’s time to do something.
Kandiah talks about how a child’s history should not determine their destiny. He is a firm believer that hospitality can eradicate hostility.
He talks about children going into the care system and only checking out at 18, with no prospects for a better future; yet, in between the facts laid out about this dark reality, he speaks with hope and determination for change. Kandiah stands on the stage, his voice gentle but commanding, asking the audience to think about a society that works for everybody, led by those who have experienced the depths of despair and risen from it stronger.
So, please, take a moment. Think about the difference it could make if care leavers held positions of power within society?
“… biter… that’s an inadequate description of a human person, isn’t it? Because you and I are more than the worst thing we’ve ever done or the worst thing that’s ever been done to us.”
So, how can we help?
The first thing that really struck me about this talk was how I never really thought about the journey of those children in the foster care system. I never really thought about the long-term impact that this disruption would have on their lives and I certainly never considered the involvement I could have in being part of the solution.
I have been researching various organisations that promote the need for life coaches for these young adults and each one passionately advocates that not-for-profit coaches not only provide essential support throughout adolescence and their transition into adulthood, but a strong mentor or coach can fill the parental gap for 18-year-olds exiting the foster care system. A strong mentor can be the difference between a child becoming a foster care statistic or a high-performing member of society.
My main concern is that most of the organisations I have found online, that provide this type of guidance and support, are based in America. Therefore, this year, my focus will be to find a way, through a UK-based non-profit organisation, to help these children and young adults not only avoid the fate of statistics, but to thrive and utilise their past struggles as future strengths.
So, moving forward, I ask you to always be aware of the young adults around you that are most vulnerable in society. Learn everything you can about the lives of those at-risk and move towards this knowledge that makes you feel uncomfortable. The things I have learnt over the last month have completely altered my mindset. I refuse to be part of the problem anymore and I refuse to cast uneducated judgements on the homeless or look down on those women in the sex industry, because, more often than not, they haven’t failed society – society has failed them.
This is my request for you to do the same.
You may have been lucky to have had a wonderful home growing up – or you may have experienced some awfully difficult times; either way, you have a responsibility to open your eyes and learn. Learn about the lives of those around you and learn how you can help to make those lives a little bit easier, because you never know the impact that one moment can have on another persons’ life.
Call to Action
What do you think about this?
Post a comment below and let me know if you have any ideas on how we can help improve the lives of care leavers.
Sign up now to be notified first of all future blog posts on A Life Remastered.