27 Nov 2014

Who cares? Record numbers of children in care facing poor outcomes

In care. The very phrase sounds comforting, reassuring, enveloping. The reality can be far from it.

For Alex Wheatle care meant being beaten with hairbrushes or spoons, anything the carer had to hand.

For Jasmine Jobson it meant being rubbished by all around her, left to run wild, selling drugs and street fighting. And for Jason Rock, it was being filed through a succession of foster homes, so many, and sometimes for such a short time, he can’t remember the names or faces of his “families.”

In care, but not necessarily cared for.

New figures today from the National Audit Office show the number of children in care has risen to its highest level for nearly 20 years.

We spend more each year on every child, on average around £36,500 – just a couple of thousand more than it costs to send a child to Eton. And yet what are they – we – getting for the money?

Outcomes – to use that rather cold term which is actually describing these children’s lives – remain outrageously poor for many who go through the care system.

Read more: Inside the home for sexually abused girls

Almost one third of children in care leave school with no GCSEs. Only 6 per cent of care leavers go onto university – that’s compared with 38 per cent of all young people. Almost 40 per cent of prisoners under 21 had been in care while they were growing up. The list goes on. They have a higher chance of developing mental health problems or ending up homeless. All of this for around £36,000 a year.

Then of course there is the lengthening catalogue of revelations about children who are abused while supposedly in the care of the state.

The latest court case will end today. John Allen ran a string of children’s homes in north Wales. He was found guilty of 26 charges of sexually abusing children in his care. As I write the jury is still deliberating on 12 other charges.

In this trial, as in so many others over the past few years, the jury were told how the children tried to speak out but were often ignored or disbelieved. They were not listened to.

And that is so often the thread that draws together the many and varied lives of children who go through the care system. Whether they are victims of sexual abuse or have struggled through being endlessly moved or “looked after” by people who put them down or simply didn’t care enough. They often say the same thing – that in the end, they felt they no one was listening to what they had to say.

They were on their own, alone. And that is exactly what being “in care” is not supposed to be.

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