What going to McDonald's means;Looked-after children

18th June 1999 at 01:00
CARLEY Simmonds moved into foster care at 14, after her mother died of cancer, writes Steve Hook.

Since then, she has lived in a children's home, college lodgings, back at her father's house, with her aunt in Southampton, and with her boyfriend in Wales.

Now, at 18, she is homeless.

"The most important thing is stability. If we keep moving around, how can they expect us to do well at school?" she asked.

Carley was one of three 18-year-olds who gave a presentation to Education Secretary David Blunkett this week. Until they were 16, they lived at a children's home in Aldershot, Hampshire.

Carley's friend John Kohlasch said stability can also be affected by changes of social worker.

He said: "When your social worker comes and says 'let's go to McDonald's' you know what it means. It means they're going to tell you they're not going to be your social worker any more. I think I got through about six of them."

All three agree every school needs a key teacher who children in care can regard as a friend if they feel under pressure - providing the sort of support most children get at home from their parents.

John says he was the only one of the three not to get such support - and the only one to be excluded from school.

Another former resident of the Aldershot home, Bronwyn Hardy, said: "It makes a lot of difference to have someone you know. I had a very good relationship with my head of year. If I was stressed-out I knew I could go to her.

"She always listened to me, which is what you need when you don't get that sort of support from family life."

The three have already been to meet civil servants at the Department for Education and Employment and they hope having the ear of Mr Blunkett will mean future children in care will get the support they need.

John says the Government, just as much as the public, needs to lose some of its preconceptions about children in care.

He added: "The teachers know we're in care and not expected to do very well. They put so much effort in with us and think they've done enough.

"If the Government set ambitious targets for what they think we should achieve then teachers would make us work harder.

"The most important thing is that we need these things to be done now because, as every year goes by, another group of people in care will slip through the net."

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