The failings of Britain's care system in spotlight

THE failings of Britain’s care system have been many over the years.

Neil Morrissey in a BBC2 documentary on Britain's care system

THE failings of Britain’s care system have been many over the years. Meant as a safety net for children, social care has unarguably failed in its duty to look after children and in many cases put them in worse situations than those they were taken out of.

On Monday night these failings were illustrated excellently through the eyes of the actor Neil Morrissey who looked back at his time in a care home in the BBC documentary Neil Morrissey: Care Home Kid.

It was a compelling, human piece of television as Neil uncovered not just his own life but the lives of other children at care homes in the 70s and 80s.

Neil examined his own feelings about being in care, the fact he has virtually no memories from his time there, the emotional distance it put between him, his parents and brothers – and he came to terms with the reasons why he was sent there in the first place.

Neil discovered, horrible as it was to be taken out of home because of parental neglect and then sent to a different care home to his favourite brother Steve, he actually was lucky.

He says, “there was even love,” in his care home.

But his brother’s care home was horrific, paedophiles at work, endemic physical abuse and bullying.

He’ll never be able to find out whether his brother experienced any of that, because he died age 37, in a flat by himself in Wolverhampton. The family were isolated from each other by going through the system.

Even in his own care home in the house next door, the children lived in units and Neil was lucky with his “care mother”, a friend had to fight off the advances of a paedophile in his home.

More horrifying stories of abuse came out in the documentary, both within the care homes and in the stories behind why children were sent to care homes in the first place.

What is hugely striking is the huge gap between the intentions of social workers and the court, in taking children out of their familial homes, and the reality of where they were putting these children, often in far more traumatic and dangerous situations than their own homes.

Stuart, A Life Backwards, by Alexander Masters, a biography which also documents abuse in the care system is a must-read for anyone unconvinced by the stories of Neil’s peers. Although watching the documentary I doubt many people will be.

Thankfully the care system has been overhauled since Neil’s experiences.

Placing children in family groups through fostering is standard practice and everything is done to try and help parents and children work at staying together.

The need for a child to have a stable home and love is all-important and at least there have been moves forward in recognising that.

I’ve done a number of articles on fostering and adoption over the past year and I am thankful I’ve heard the stories of so many good people working within the care system as foster parents, adopters and in social services.

But what also came out are stories of babies being sent to stay with nine different foster parents, or more, in just a couple of years; constantly changing social workers and anger about parents being given too many chances to keep their children.

The care of a child is one of the most important things in our society and yet we have failed so spectacularly at it.

Just look at the statistics.

Twenty-three percent of the adult prison population has spent time in care, although care leavers account for less than 1% of the total population; 30% of children in prison have been in care.

And a study by the Centre for Policy Studies, found 42% per cent of young women prostitutes interviewed had been in care at some point in their lives.

A damning indictment if ever there was one.

Our care system still needs overhauling and its most vulnerable members are still failing to get the support they need.

That is the sad fact of the matter.

Page 2 - Five things to do with your family this week >>

Five things to do with your family this week

WIZARD Weekend: Visit Alnwick Castle this Saturday and Sunday to start their season off with a ‘Wizard Weekend full of Hogwartian magic. Hagrid, Dumbledore and Harry are back for lots of fun and antics. Dress up or down as witches, wizards, goblins and house elves, 01665 511100, www.alnwickcastle.com

RANGO (PG) at Gala Theatre and Cinema: This fun family animation stars Johnny Depp as Rango, a pet chameleon with a perpetual identity crisis and dreams of heroism. Having spent most of his life in a terrarium, one day he finds himself in a town called Dirt where the inhabitants are plagued by outlaws and turn to the newcomer to protect them, 0191 332 4041, www.galadurham.co.uk

STAY and Play at mima: Stay and Play at mima is a place to imagine, invent, discover, explore and create for mima visitors of all ages. Whether 10 minutes to doodle, or you’ve got all the time in the world to play, read or colour, mima’s new family-friendly space is ideal for grown-ups and children. 01642 726720, www.visitmima.com

WE’RE Going on a Bear Hunt: From Monday, join Arc Stockton’s intrepid adventurers on their quest to find a bear as they wade through the gigantic swishy swashy grass, the splishy splashy river and the thick oozy, squelchy mud! Expect catchy songs, interactive scenes and plenty of hands-on adventure. 01642 525199, www.arconline.co.uk

FREE Saturday art classes for over eights: Let your artistic talents flourish at these free art classes for children aged over eight years old. Saturday art classes will be taking place this Saturday and on the first Saturday of each month until June at Laing Art Gallery from 10.30am until 12pm, 0191 211 2104, lainglearning@twmuseums.org.uk

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