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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18 reader comments

  1. Lace-Chantelle Rogers says:

    I am so so glad channel 4 are highlighting the experience of people leaving care, I myself went through the care system and I am so glad fellow care leavers are being given a platform to voice their experiences as the more we can highlight the way the care system doesn’t always work and leave very young teenagers in a position having to look after themselves.

    Every kid deserves a great opportunity in life and this includes those going through the care systems, and the more we voice experiences and highlight the journey through care both the positive and the issues which need to be sorted

  2. jack says:

    this care system is designed to fail children and young and incapacitated adults

    if you were to design a system from scratch is this one in the Uk the care system you would come up with

    40 cases per social worker who burn out or get immune to the hard and uncared lives these unfortunate people get

  3. Paul Bayliss says:

    What a tremendous piece of journalism care and it’s failings as told by those that know and as the participants in the show quite rightly highlight those in suits haven’t got a clue. My child hood was tough and I knew lots of kids in similar situations and as one of the commentators stated your child hood memories stay with you forever. When I was outdoors life was fun but in the home life was tough.

  4. Lee Corbishley says:

    No interest in foriegners with hard luck stories. Go back to where you originate if it’s so bad here!!

  5. Feyishola Dougan says:

    Ok the system is not perfect but can we for once talk about the positive changes that have happened. For one the support age has been raised to 25 if at university which has enabled a lot of care leavers like me (yes I’ve been in care for 11 years) to be able to go to university. All this negativity is only affecting children in care because we are all judged the same but we are not. I’m currently at Kingston University studying Social Work how about the media doing a piece about how more care leavers are attending university now more than ever!?

  6. c how says:

    I was in care during the late eighties, what it meant for me was getting to school on time, with clean clothes, well fed and looked after. All things that didn’t happen at home. I was devastated when I was placed back with my mother, the only time the care system let me down was when they sent me home. I’m not belittling these people’s stories, but it’s important to acknowledge that not all children’s homes were or indeed are run in the way in which they experienced.

  7. Jo says:

    Well done Channel 4 for using this opportunity to present the voices of those who have survived ‘care’.

    How to promote the resilience of children and young people who are often everyone’s responsibility but no-one’s priority should be at the very top of the government’s agenda and relates directly to the United Nations Convention on the Rights of the Child. It was disappointing that ‘craving affection’ was positioned by the MP as the catalyst for much of the abuse of children in the care system and on a separate point that a flippant comment by the same MP presented them all as having become ‘hardened’ by their experiences.

    Children and young people in care are not a homogeneous group and yet their experiences of the ‘system’ appear to echo the same patterns of discrimination (often in the form of labelling and stereotyping), negative attitudes and unaccommodating practises and policies. What does unite children and young people with experience of being in care is their right to justice, proper care / education and protection. To its shame, society and government continue to fail these children. Giving them hope and a future will require ensuring they are prioritised.

  8. Philip Edwards says:


    A very moving and much-needed report. Thank you.

    When I see this sort of journalism it gives me hope that not all journalists have succumbed to the disgusting depths of the Daily Mail, the Sun and Rupert Murdoch cultural corruption. Not yet anyway.

    All those young lives and hopes at bay is yet one more reason for holding the British establishment and its apologists in complete contempt.

    What courage and determination the youngsters (and not so young) have shown in the face of seemingly insuperable odds! It may be small consolation, but they can take a lot of personal pride at their survival.

    But what kind of miserable, selfish society allows this kind of thing to exist in the first place?

  9. Peter Hudson says:

    What an inspiring group of young people on your programme last night. Eloquent, angry, and hungry for change. I would bet if you put THEM in charge of the care home system they would soon have it sorted out. So how about it then, Graham Stuart – are you going to give them a real voice and influence over fixing the system that has failed them so badly?

  10. Dr Clare Hawtin says:

    So pleased to see these issues being unearthed and so proud if these young people for sharing their stories! Thanks to social workers at Northampton County Council for their good decisions and for always listening to me as a looked after child. Thanks to them I eventually settled with good carers. My heart goes out to all my fellow care leavers who have been failed time and time again. The best form of revenge is survival and these young people are a true survivors and have strength many will never know. Speak up and shame those in authority who have turned the other cheek Xx

  11. Portia says:

    A one girl said when leaving “care”.

    Care is the one place where you can legally abuse a child and get paid for it”

    Very well written article on the above.


    When did children in England ever have a voice? Not in 5,000 years as they were and are seen as chattels of the patriarchal system.

    I have met so many children from the care system and all report the same- no love allowed . Only trauma when torn from loving homes.

    Real abused children are of little use and most people do not understand the reasoning.

    Children are “warehoused” like cattle – because in ancient law they were cattle and their mothers mere vessels from which the next slave was berthed through Her waters and no longer a living breathing human being but a person.

    Remember the Victorian view of children?

    Remember the various church teachings re children and women – Eve ill beings who need to suffer to become as evolved as men.

    Until we look at all this in our collective we go no where.

    We need people like Charles Pragnell, who is able to really intuit children.

    We need to take the profit out of the equation- why does a foster carer get so much more than natural parents to parent the same child?

    Why is there so much money to be made in the fostering and adoption business? resulting in children being the commodity for the business?

    Follow the money and see where it is still using children for profit- like the old days selling the children off as slaves. The British have done this in every country they went in to save.Its all there in his story, but never taught in schools.

  12. Maggie Tuttle says:

    The children have always been screaming to be heard and are the silent witnesses and here lies the truth, we hear from families throughout this country and of the abuse of the children, if kids were listened to there would be a war.

    For those who want truth please look at the research on the web page

    Maggie Tutle

  13. Edmond Dantes says:

    The problem is that for a government to pretend to have a true caring for families and decency in family life, they have to create an illusion of a problem, and an illusion that they are the best way of getting there.
    You easily create, manipulate and maintain illusions by ‘tick the box’ management with self fulfilling statistics. It’s a huge sham, a con. The nadty side is, that it all confounds the reality of the situation.
    How could we know the reality ? Ask the customers.
    How far would Tesco get if they treated customers the way the government interferes with families to meet it’s own set quotas of children removed from families ? Answer – it would simply lose all of it’s customers.
    UK’s social services, a disaster for it’s customers.

  14. marie says:

    I am sorry but in life you are not born a winner or loser you are born a choser. Some of these kids chose to stop going to school, they made a choice!!
    Also there are people who were not brought up in the care system who have been abused / raped by family members but you don’t see them telling the world life owes them a favour and how hard done by they are. Inside all of us there is an inner child dying to be loved / hugged. Some of us grew up with parents who did their best but it was not good enough.
    Jason chose not to go to school and get qualifications, and that girl chose to have two babies when she could not afford to bring them into the world. Im sorry kids but stand up on your own to feet and play the card god felt you, because somewhere in it all you made choices- start looking at them. and play your cards it with conviction. There is nothing more unattractive than a victim, take personal responsibility for your choices. Because you all made choices!

    1. Ann Bierd says:

      Just one comment full of judgment and misunderstanding.

      These are children whose opportunities for succes were marred by being brought into the world into families who some reason could not or would not love and protect them. This has a major impact on these children whether they leave at six months or sixteen years old.

      It is very hard to imagine being taken out of your abusive or non coping home and taken into strangers home let alone moved from one to the other. The effects on the mental health self esteem and behaviour is not surprising.

      Those young people who were speaking up were eloquent and articulate despite this start in life and it seems to me that the young woman who has two young children is doing a fantastic. Does the person making negative comments think that people who are not rich should not have children?
      Thankyou for an insightful and truthful look into this National disgrace into how we do not ‘care’ enough for our chilfdren in ‘care’.

  15. Ell says:

    I have recently turned 18,and i was placed into care when i was 13. It was the most life changing experience for me but all for the better. If i hadn’t of been placed into care i dread to think where i would be now,i don’t even think i would be alive.
    So every day i am so thankful to my teachers and amazing friends who helped me get away and start a new life for myself. Along with the amazing support i had from which become my careers.
    I know some people have such negative thoughts about the care system and yes i agree to an extent. As i had the worst possible social workers bar one. I didn’t get the help that i was crying out for when i needed it by them. But not every residential support worker/care worker/care home is the same,they are not all bad. I lived in two amazing children’s home. That did really help me and become a strong young women. They helped me changed my life,they made me a fighter and made me realise that every day you should wake up happy no matter whats happened.
    I love seeing things like this on the telly,because i think it should be shared more as so many don’t actually understand what its about. Should be shown more often!

    1. Dr Clare Hawtin says:

      What a lovely story Ell, I’m so glad you have such a positive outlook and you can see how your life has changed for the better. Make the most of life’s opportunities everyday! Just shows that social workers and carers do get it right for us who have been through the care system but we rarely hear the positive stories!

  16. Robert Parkhouse says:

    I have been in care myself and was well look after plus we had much better time there than we had at home as they had table tennie moter bikes and we would have days where we go to the pitures and have a pizza then go back.
    l car, nt say that care homes are bad as it all depends on the Childs circumstances where they belong there as befor l went in the family sat down to review my situation.
    I thought the meeting where good as we would have a meeting every day and talking about the negative and positive side of things and we learn about doing up old wardrobe.
    That my review on children’s home

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