From care to where?
That is the response you will get if you ask young people in the care sector about their future.
I started on my own uncertain pathway in 1996 when I found myself in a bedsit on Christmas Day, with nothing but a measly Pot Noodle to keep me alive. I would fill the pot with hot water from the kettle so that once I had devoured all of the noodles, I could enjoy the residue soup and cherish every little bit.
It became very apparent to me early on that the only person responsible for me was me. The care sector was an ominous dark cloud with no light at the end of the tunnel. Fast forward 28 years, and I am here again. This time with a lifetime of experience behind me, waving my political sword and shield at a system that still allows the most vulnerable young people in our society to fail, or fall victim to the criminal gangs who dominate our streets.
It has inevitably become a recruitment haven for predators because of the flaws in our policies, and no-one suffers more than those living that reality. In 2022, the RSPCA provides better care for stray dogs. That's something to think about.
In 2017 I started campaigning with my first book Damaged.
I needed to get out there and tell the world just how bad things were. Most of the time it felt like I was speaking another language, especially when speaking to Government officials.
"Children are dying because of systematic abuse."
"Think about it logically," I'd say. "If a child fails and ends up in jail, we the taxpayer will pay regardless."
It's all about return on investment for politicians so put the prevention package in place now and save millions in the future. But more importantly, let's stop children and young people in care becoming victims of crime, because that's where the biggest problems lie. Nearly half the prison population have come through the care system.
A wise man once told me that if you shout about something long enough people will start to listen. That might be true in other sectors but not the care sector for children and young people. The silence is deafening.
In 2021 The Independent Care Review for England was published, with a long list of recommendations that will guarantee better outcomes for the care sector. As a member of the Expert by Experience Board, I was able to use my life experience to drive that message through to those sat around the table, playing chess with young people's lives.
There is no time to waste.
More and more young people are being forced into homelessness, county lines is on the rise, more young people are falling victim to suicide and those living in semi-independent houses are prime suspects for predatorial gangs.
In a report published on the government website it states that children born in the academic year ending 1994, who attended school in England had a criminal conviction by the age of 24 years compared with 13% of children who had not been in care.
Let that sink in.
I was once a child in care, and I have suffered immensely for years because of a broken system. I made a conscious decision to go back into the care sector 28 years later but this time as a professional. The mistakes of the past are very much present in the future. If we do not act soon, then we will lose a generation of children and young people who desperately need our support.
The recommendations of the review finished off by saying that we can fix the overall problem with £5.8 billon over ten years. That might be so, but we need urgent action now.
There is no definite solution to end poverty and deprivation. Education is a key element in prevention but there is a steep hill to climb.
The Care Review recommendations need to be implemented with urgency, or the future of care for young people will be very dark and cold and filled with uncertainty.
Chris Wild was a care-experienced member of the Independent Care Review Experts by Experience Board. He is a former residential house manager for semi-independent care homes for young people and has also worked in children's homes. He is a care sector professional, campaigner, and is the author of the memoir 'Damaged'.