Leaving care can be lonely, says Rotherham youngster

Published Wednesday, 25th October 2017
Leaving care can be lonely, says Rotherham youngster
Left to right: Ian Walker, Head of Service Looked After Children with care leaver Paislie Garner and Ian Thomas, Strategic Director of Children’s Services outside The Journey.

Paislie, a student who was once in foster care has talked about how lonely it can be to leave the care system and why Rotherham is aiming to change this.

As part of this week’s National Care Leavers’ Week, Paislie Garner, aged 20, has described how when she was 18 she had to leave her foster carer behind and how lonely it was coping on her own as she embarked on her university career.

For most teenagers setting off to university is one of the most exciting times and a huge part of this excitement for new students is living away from their parents for the first time.

A few weeks into term when the excitement dies down however, many limp home to mum and dad carrying their washing with them as they seek some home comforts and cuddles.

But for Paislie there was never the option to be able to “come home”, as home no longer existed. Instead university holidays and weekends are all spent on her own in halls of residence at Birmingham University, where she is studying for a degree in Media and Communications.

“Don’t get me wrong,” says Paislie, “I am so grateful for all the love and support I got from my foster carer who has been much more of a parent to me than my own parents ever were. If it weren’t for them I would never have been able to settle down and do well at school and now be at university. I owe them so much and we do still keep in touch.

“But when you turn 18 the law says you are now an adult and you no longer need a foster family to help and guide you. I know this is now changing but the thing I missed most was being able to be with other people who understood what I was feeling and could help break the loneliness.”

Now Rotherham Council plans to change this experience with the opening of a specialist “home from home” in the centre of the town where care leavers can meet each other, make friends, hang out and even do their washing. But most importantly they will be able to experience a feeling of belonging to a wider “family” community.

The drop in facility, on Chatham Street, has been named The Journey by care leavers from Rotherham who have been the inspiration to building the much needed hangout. And this Thursday, October 26, will be the official opening of the building, where care leavers like Paislie will be on hand to celebrate.

“It is such a great idea,” said Paislie, “I really wish this had been there a few years ago when I was in college. It is just somewhere else to hang out other than street corners while you wait between lessons.

“Just knowing you have this place as a fall back will be so brilliant for care leavers. It has a real family environment to it. You can make toast in the kitchen or play pool or just relax in the living room and watch a bit of TV, just like you would in any normal home.

“And there are people there you can talk to who have walked in your shoes, who understand what you are going through and can help steer you on a good path.”

The government has recently changed the rules to allow care leavers to stay with their former foster carers until they are 21. But this doesn't always happen for all care leavers, especially those leaving residential care, where there is at present no such cushion.

There are currently 21 care leavers in total living with foster carers in Rotherham aged over 18. This is out of a total of 156 care leavers in the town under the age of 25.

In order to help all these youngsters to make the transition to adulthood, the Council has been introducing a raft of improvements in recent months including better financial support and exemption from paying council tax. Rotherham Council is just one of a handful of councils nationwide to offer this support.

And further measures are also being looked at, including building new homes for care leavers which they will be personally involved with right from the beginning.

Cllr Gordon Watson, Deputy Leader and Cabinet Member for Children and Young People’s Services at Rotherham Council said: “Young people leaving care like Paislie do have access to a social worker until they are 25 if they are still in education or training.

"But despite this it can be particularly difficult for young people reaching the age of 18 having to consider all the challenges of adult life. “That is why we have set up The Journey to give them access to things other teenagers take for granted in the hope this will lessen the impact leaving care can have.

“We have high aspirations for our care leavers and we hope to change lives for the better so people like Paislie don’t have to be lonely and feel like they are taking on adult hood on their own.”

He added the Council is also working closely with partner agencies including health, education and accommodation providers to make the transition from care to adulthood as smooth as it can be.