CARDIFF — How would you feel if your child, or someone you knew, was taken into care and ended up living in a B&B, hostel, or even sleeping rough?
What I’m talking about here is the “care system”, the safety net we rely on if we can’t take care of our children.
I worked on a BBC documentary which revealed teenagers are still being placed in bed and breakfasts and hostels – six years after the Welsh government said it wanted to ‘eliminate’ it.
Some stories shocked me.
With record numbers of children in care in Wales and England, I spoke to young people who have come through the care system in an hour-long documentary, filmed over nearly three years, which I helped make for the BBC.
My question is: does the child care system still “take care” of children who cannot stay with mom or dad?
‘I know for a fact that prison would have been better than where I was put,’ Niall told my BBC Wales
He says he grew up between the ages of 14 and 18 – and after a place in a children’s home broke down just when he turned 17, he was placed in a B&B.
“People who were just getting out of jail and stuff moved in there,” Niall added.
“So I got robbed a couple of times there. You saw people kicking down doors every day, there were people breaking windows, people carrying knives.”
Niall told me he was later moved to what he describes as a hostel, although his counsel insists it was supported accommodation as they try to find him a permanent place to live.
“Basically, I was woken up by a punch,” he recalled of one incident.
“So I had to start barricading my door which obviously they ended up going through. It was like they put all the troubled teenagers under one roof.”
Those in charge of Niall’s care said they had done all they could to find him elsewhere and his case was not straightforward, but Caerphilly council did not comment on the threats and violence.
Hope was taken into care at 14 but fled after her foster care failed when she was 16.
“I was a kid in a tent with an adult over 18, sleeping on the street, where no one knew where I was,” Hope, now in her early twenties, told me.
“Technically, I was a state kid. It wasn’t OK…I was in danger.”
Care managers at Hope said they could not comment on individual cases, but Wrexham Council said its services had been transformed and would use Hope’s feedback to improve matters further.
In 2016 I presented a petition to the Welsh Government to end the practice of placing children in bed and breakfasts and hostels.
Ministers have said they want to ‘eliminate’ it – but six years on it is still happening.
Research by the BBC Wales Investigates team suggests dozens of teenagers like Niall and Hope are still being placed in this position.
Freedom of Information requests to all councils in Wales showed that at least 50 young people had been placed in bed and breakfasts, hostels and budget hotels in the past financial year, including at least 285 in other accommodation not regulated by the care watchdog.
I don’t want this to come across as an attack on social workers – because it isn’t.
It’s their job to care for these young people, but they work within a system which, according to a report by social services officials last year, faces a ‘crisis’ in finding places suitable for children.
While most of the children placed in these temporary accommodations are 16 or 17 years old, our survey revealed that a small number are even younger.
One example included an 11-year-old child being housed in temporary accommodation with council staff as there was nowhere to go.
Gemma (pseudonym) felt abandoned by the system that was supposed to ensure her safety.
She says she was exploited by older men when she was young before finally being taken into care at 14 when she became addicted to heroin.
“I had moved 12 times by the time I was 15,” she said.
“I’ve never completely unpacked anywhere. No one ever keeps me around for very long anyway.”
When she was 16, social workers offered her a hostel, which she claimed had a drug dealer staying there.
“I had just spent nine months cleaning myself up,” Gemma said.
“They then put me in this hostel where he was anyway. I was there less than a week before I started doing drugs again.”
After meeting Gemma and hearing everything she had been through, I broke down because what she had been through and what she had told me was just devastating. No child should have to live this life.
My personal view is that we should not tolerate some young people disappearing and the worst things imaginable happening to them.
Children who, from the start and often without choice on their part, find themselves in circumstances that already make things more difficult for them than for anyone else.
Welfare people tell you that these are the children most likely to end up homeless, most likely to end up with mental health issues, alcohol and drug addiction issues and even be sexually abused.
The group which represents the 22 local authorities in Wales said Councils in Wales were “committed to doing their best to meet the growing demands and increasingly complex challenges in child welfare“. .
The Welsh Association of Local Authorities said it regretted that the standard of care and support it wanted to achieve had not been met in all cases, and wanted to learn from the experiences of young people.
He also believes that there is a need for additional funds to help children and families earlier, and that broader societal issues such as access to health services and ending child poverty do not are not problems that the social protection of children cannot resolve on its own.
When I challenged the Welsh deputy minister for social services over her government’s record, she told me that while the majority of children in care grow up in loving families, she accepts that a minority of children don’t don’t have the experiences she wants them to have. have.
“What we really want to do is provide as much support as possible to parents and children at an earlier age, and prevent as many people from being taken into care,” said Julie Morgan MS.
“Crises happen, placements fail, families break up…and children have to be placed somewhere…we don’t accept that this should be the situation and we’re trying to do things to stop this.”
She added that there were plans for new specialist accommodation for children with complex needs across Wales and that the government was investing more in foster care and providing support for those leaving care. .
“We have him high on our agenda here in Wales… which doesn’t mean things aren’t going badly,” Morgan added.
“Hearing these stories of young people – and that I have heard so many times – that break your heart, you wonder how this could have happened?
“I absolutely accept that, but we’re doing everything we can to make sure that every young person in Wales has, you know, a happy, fulfilling life.”
In England and Scotland, there has just been an independent review of the childcare system which has called for earlier help for families too.
Social service officials there have long been calling for a “system overhaul” to fix all sorts of problems.
The UK government has said it has already banned under-16s from staying in places that are not inspected by the watchdog and will respond with more detailed plans later this year.
But despite all the politicians are proposing, from what you’ll see if you watch my BBC documentary, I wonder if you’d be happy with the current childcare system looking after your child if you weren’t the. —BBC