Chloe Juliette: All children in care deserve to be heard
Tuesday, August 30, 2022
Imagine you were me. You grew up in care and now you’re in your early 20s, and you are, once again, standing in front of a room full of strangers who you’ll probably never see again, in the hopes of improving the care system.
Civil servants, social care practitioners and charity workers peer up at you from their cups of coffee. You notice how big the Thames is compared to the River Cole back home, as you hold your voice steady and continue with your speech.
You say: “You’re sat in the living room and your social worker takes out a big folder, bulging with scraps of crumpled coloured papers. She opens it to a particular form and asks your carers how you’ve all been getting on.
“Your carers provide animated tales of your troubling behaviours, and the social workers listen intently, nodding to show compassion and understanding. Occasionally someone glances at you with a look they intended to show sadness and empathy, but is clearly riddled with judgment and disappointment. Half an hour passes, and no one has asked you anything yet.”
As you speak these words, you wonder whether you really are this supposedly remarkable person, who speaks so eloquently about your past traumas, knowing full well that you’re hiding most of who you are because you’re still not quite sure if it’s somehow all completely your fault.
Your mind floods with memories of blazing rows, locked doors and blame games. You think about the school teachers who told you that you’re a good kid, and you’re smart and kind – that you fail to engage, but that’s understandable given the circumstances and you’d never disrupt somebody else’s education because that’s not who you are.
You are outwardly calm, passionate and speak with authority. Everyone is listening intently with plenty of solemn nods and a few sideward glances. The room is hanging on your every word.
You tell them: “I was both the only thing that mattered in the universe, while also being completely invisible. So rare was it that anyone asked me what I thought – let alone listen to the answer – that I simply could not articulate myself when anyone did.”
There’s more to the story that I told that day, but the main point of that particular talk was that we need to listen to young people in care before they turn 16 if we expect them to be independent adults by the time they turn 18.
I gained a lot from that work. It changed my life and my career path for the better.
Despite striving to be a kind person who helped others in my early 20s, I’ve really had to unpack who I am and what my motivations are, and learn to value other people in the real sense.
I’d like to live in a culture where we normalise exploring these so-called uglier parts of ourselves, acknowledging that when we’re at our lowest, we rely on coping strategies. Be that drugs or alcohol, abusive behaviour or another strategy that can make it hard to connect with ourselves and others.
I’ve worked on a few co-production projects on children’s social care, and the transformative power of putting service users and professionals in the same room to focus on a shared problem has incredible value.
The service provider comes to understand how their services really feel when they’re being used, and the service user learns to empathise with how challenging making impossible decisions really is.
However, care-experienced young people who are articulate and educated are often engaged over again, speaking at conferences and shaping the narratives about being in care at the expense of a more diverse representation of care experience. The chosen few contribute to discussions of policy and practice, and to do so we re-live our stories over again.
Chloe Juliette is a researcher and care leaver