It is our privilege to present here the Summary Report and Research and Academic Group Report of the “Conference for Care Experienced People” (CareExpConf). Our conference began as an opportunity to give care experienced people of all ages a platform for their collective voice to be heard, but thanks to the drive and ambition of the team it became so much more, a wonderful celebration of the creative diversity of the care experienced community. The reports attempt to offer a brief glimpse of the many views and different perspectives of those who attended conference, informed by the wisdom of years as well as the freshness of recent experience. We believe they can make a significant contribution to future academic research.
Such was the need for an event of this type that the conference was heavily oversubscribed and even before the conference took place there were calls for more such opportunities to be created.
Our delegates told us in their very positive feedback that the conference was a success as a ‘stand alone’ event, but we have greater ambitions. We want it to be judged on the impact that it makes. The conference achieved significant coverage from the media and has attracted the interest of those in positions of power. Our hope is that this report will result in the greater engagement that care experienced people seek and will in time lead to change and improvement.
Conference, report, research files, vision and aims:
Vision - why a Care Experienced Conference?
The conference, “The care experience – past, present...& future?” will be a national conference for care experienced people and care leavers of all ages to enable a much-needed debate about the care system past and present, and to try to get the views of the wider care experienced community heard about how the care system can be improved in future.
For many years the key decision making about our care system - future planning, strategies etc. has been taken in Whitehall by politicians and civil servants, advised by social work professionals, academics, charities and campaigners. Consultation with those who use and have used the care system, the care experienced community of all ages, has in comparison been far more limited and at times, almost tokenistic.
Where consultation with care experienced people does take place, it tends to be restricted to those who are still the subject of duties upon local authorities imposed by legislation. These are young people from care aged between 16 and 25 years of age. Most young people leaving long term care leave between the ages of 16 and 18 years old, but many will continue to receive varying degrees of support from local authority ‘corporate parents’ up to 25 years of age. The changes in their lives between the age 18 and 21 are massive, stressful and can be traumatic. It is perfectly reasonable, commendable and indeed vital that those making and seeking to implement child care policies should consult and be guided by this age band of care experienced people.
But this age group of care experienced people probably represent a minority of those who have experienced and then left local authority care to join the adult world as independent people in the community. Most care experienced people are likely to be over 25 years of age and will rarely if ever be recognised or consulted as ‘care leavers’. This wider group, those who have ‘been there’ over many years recognise that there is more to leaving care than those often traumatic years between 16 and 25.
Care experienced people know that ‘leaving care’ is a lifetime experience. This recognition is significant. For many leaving care the period of intense change continues until the late 20’s or 30’s as people address and resolve outstanding issues from childhood and seek to grow into adulthood. For example, many care experienced people are unready to enter higher education until they are in their late 20’s compared to most young people who go at 18 years of age. This older group of care experienced people going to university are not identified in government statistics which suggest about 7% of care leavers go on to higher education at university. This statistic refers to young people moving from school or sixth form college. Far more care experienced people go to university, but many remain invisible as a result of their age. The statistic, used to advise decision makers, is inaccurate. This is but one example.
Decisions made about children in care settings can have lifelong implications. For example, the impact of separating siblings in care. We have examples of siblings being split as very young children and some not getting to meet each other again until well into adulthood. The care experience is a life time journey.
If those seeking to consult care experienced people about the experience of leaving care focus their consultations on young people between 16 and 21, this is very likely to result in incomplete and indeed, sometimes inaccurate data being received. This incomplete data might then be used as a basis for future policy.
The conference team believe that this has resulted in well intended policies to meet the needs of children in the care system and care experienced people that have not been as effective or comprehensive as they could have been, and this has contributed to the ongoing high profile of care experienced people in each year’s national disadvantage statistics.
In response, we seek a national conference for care experienced people of ALL ages. Young people still in care, young people who are leaving care and adults who may have left care years ago. People of all ages, from all walks of life, of all backgrounds and in all their diversity, united by all having experience of being in care. The conference will offer the care experienced community the opportunity to consider, discuss and offer suggestions for issues related to care amongst themselves, without pressure or influence by professionals or other agencies.
The working title for such a conference is “The care experience – past, present….and future?” The care experienced delegates will be given the opportunity to identify and discuss care related issues that are important to them. Discussions might take place either in the big group or facilitated smaller groups, to gain an overview of their views of care past and present, and suggestions for the future.
The conference will also welcome a second group of professionals, social workers, care providers, academics, campaigners, etc to meet in a different room in a similar way to discuss the same issues. Both groups will then come together to share their views and experiences and hopefully, come up with possible 'solutions' for future development. Hopefully, this conference will be able to advise and influence future planning.
Part of the strategy is to link the conference with a piece of academic qualitative research to be conducted by students and academics at the university to follow up the conference and seek the views about care, past, present and future of care experienced people of all ages. This has never been done before.
The conference will be held at Liverpool Hope University on 26th April 2019 and planning by our conference team and colleagues from Liverpool Hope University are well underway. It will not be all discussion and debate, but will include a celebration of the artistic and literary skills of care experienced people. The care experienced community is a remarkable community, a fact very evident in their creativity, imagination and energy.
At a time when our care system and the challenges facing young people leaving care are under extreme pressure, we believe that the conference could make a profound contribution in a number of key areas. For example:
It could offer a new and more effective way of consulting care experienced people which will enable much more effective decision making to be made in areas of child care policy and strategy.
It could lead to a marked change in how people who are leaving or who have left care are perceived. The idea of a ‘care leaver’, usually viewed as a young adult from 16 to 25 years of age, will be replaced by the more accurate perception of a ‘care experienced community’, a section of the population who can be of any age;
It could offer a clearer recognition of the dynamic nature of leaving care. It is not a ‘transition’ that lasts for a period of time between the age of 15 and 25, but a process that starts on the day a child is admitted into care and ceases when the adult is settled into the community at large -however long that may take.
It can result in enriched and valuable data based on detailed information that could change how care and aftercare is delivered and increase the opportunity for the care experience to be successful for more young people;
It could precipitate the care experienced community becoming more visible and empowered, thus challenging the stigma and discrimination that they have had to face for decades;
It could result in the creation of a new and positive interface between care experienced people, academia, politicians, decision makers and care providers.
It could (and hopefully will) lead to a piece of formal academic research linked to the conference to seek out and determine the views of care experienced people of all ages about the care system, past, present and future. This could benefit student learning and prove extremely useful for future planning, research and resource allocation.
In a nutshell, the learning from the conference and the research could be instrumental in radically changing the care system in England for the better. These are high aims and expectations, but without stretching, how will we ever be able to reach anything?
Aims of the Conference for Care Experienced People
to recognise that care experienced people share common heritage Irrespective of age or status. They have all experienced life in the care system, and though their experiences are highly personal and individual, they share a common history and tradition;
to reinforce that the care experience is an accident of birth and history and carries no shame or stigma. No care experienced person should endure shame, stigma or discrimination by virtue of their experience;
to demonstrate that there can be a new and more effective way of consulting care experienced people of ages and in all their diversity which will enable much more effective decision making to be made in areas of child care policy and strategy.
to lead the way to a marked change in how people who are leaving or who have left care are perceived. The idea of a ‘care leaver’, usually viewed as a young adult from 16 to 25 years of age, will be replaced by the more accurate perception of a ‘care experienced community’, a section of the population who can be of any age;
to offer a clearer recognition of the dynamic nature of leaving care. It is not a ‘transition’ that lasts for a period of time between the age of 15 and 25, but a process that starts on the day a child is admitted into care and ceases when the adult is settled into the community at large -however long that may take. Failure to recognise this is to misunderstand the reality of the impact of care;
to result in enriched and valuable data based on detailed information that could change how care and aftercare is delivered and increase the opportunity for the care experience to be successful for more young people;
to precipitate the care experienced community becoming more visible and empowered, thus challenging the stigma and discrimination that they have had to face for decades;
to result in the creation of a new and positive interface between care experienced people, academia, politicians, decision makers and care providers.