Lives in Care: Stories of Resilience

Available 7th,14th & 21st June

Mindhouse Productions, the makers of the award-winning radio series and podcast Grounded With Louis Theroux, is teaming up with BBC Radio 4 and Drive Forward Foundation’s Trustee, Tony Simpson to explore life in the British care system.    

Lives In Care: Stories Of Resilience is an insightful, emotional and deeply personal three-part documentary series told only by those who have experienced life in care. The series comes at a time when the care system has been labelled as under “extreme stress” by the Independent Review of Children’s Social Care.    

In the series, Tony will revisit his own time in the system, re-tracing his childhood steps to explore the lasting legacy of life in care, as well as the positive and negative effects he feels the experience has had on him.          

Along the way, Tony will meet a handful of others who have more recently been through the very same system, hearing stories of the trauma of entering care, the resilience of surviving it, and the jolt of leaving.    

"Throughout my recent work with various charities, I could see the raw talent and ambition of young care leavers, grappling to understand themselves, trying to make sense of what had happened to them. I wanted to show them how they might use their own ‘super powers’ in order to live happy, loving and productive lives. The making of this programme, was painful, deeply moving, hilarious and heart breaking in equal measures, as is the life of a care leaver."
Tony Simpson
Drive Forward Trustee
Picture of  Paul Kobrak

Paul Kobrak

I've known Tony for more than quarter of a century - first as a neighbour and then as a friend - and I was always struck by the force of his personality and his success in his line of work. However, it was only in the last few years I found out he had been brought up in care. When I left the BBC, we talked about retracing his early life and revisiting the places he grew up in. We had no grand plans for the project - it just seemed a good story to tell, even if only for his family (and indeed for himself). 

6 Part Podcast Series

Before too long (like everything else we were hindered by Covid-19), this pet project turned into a 6-part podcast series hosted on the Barnardo’s website. In it we visited the very building that Tony was born in (then a Salvation Army Mother & Baby Unit, now a Thai Buddhist Temple), the former stately home in rural Oxfordshire (that had been donated to Barnardo’s) in which he spent the first six years of his life, and the much smaller community based group home in Solihull (also run by Barnardo’s) where he spent the rest of his youth whilst in care. We also traced his transition away from care and into the world of work and looked back on the legacy that care had left in him (and what impact it had had on his family).  

In the end it turned into a very powerful series (still available on the Barnardo’s website which we both felt would be of interest to a much wider audience. 

Past and Present Experiences of Care

Past and Present Tony

“Having grown up in the 60’s and 70’s within the UK Care system, where I lived minute to minute and hour to hour, I wanted share with others how I overcame this crippling mental challenge, eventually bringing to the fore the resilience, interpersonal skills and EQ I had developed to survive it."

We took it to BBC Radio 4 who partly agreed but wisely said we should also talk to care experienced people who had been looked after away from home much more recently. This is where Drive Forward Foundation came up trumps – helping us find five young interviewees, now all in their 20s, who are at different stages of coming to terms with their experiences of care. 

We felt it was important that, apart from the occasional question from myself, the only voices we would feature in the series would come from people who had been looked after away from home. And so, there are no academics or experts, no policy or law makers and no service providers in any of the programmes.

This is not a series on how the care system should be provided or the difficulties that those administering care services are facing. The aim is not to judge, to apportion blame, or even to provide answers - rather it is simply to state what it is like to be looked after away from home.

Sharing their Stories and their Experiences of Care

In talking to the five young people that the Drive Forward Foundation helped find, we were both struck not just by their generosity in the time they gave us, but also their willingness to share their stories and their experiences… and to do so with such openness and honesty. And their stories were shocking – not just because of some of the extreme experiences they endured, but also because the feelings of isolation, guilt, self-doubt, uncertainty and a neverending fear that at any moment things will be taken away, were always with them (and in many cases still are).   

Recording the podcast felt like a release, a positive release. I was asked questions I haven’t really put much thought into which opened up my eyes to my inner feelings I often suppress. Since lockdown I feel it’s been harder for me to gain the confidence to publicly speak about my life experiences. I believe podcasts are my happy medium. For as long as I remember I’ve wanted to use my voice to hopefully help others and I feel so blessed for the opportunity.

The Superpower of being Care-experienced

As someone who is not care experienced, my conversations with Tony taught me that some who have been looked after away from home can develop a sort of superpower (we called it resilience) to tackle whatever is thrown at them. Growing up in an environment where the only person you can rely on unconditionally is yourself, can create a sense of self that few young people growing up in families don’t learn until much later. Sadly, not everyone in care is able to develop that resilience, but all five of our interviewees have done so (or seem to be doing so). Although honest enough to also talk about their vulnerabilities, I was struck by both the strength of character and determination they show, as well as their willingness to share their experiences in the hope that others might learn from them… and that the system might be improved.  

"What I would like to highlight is that having care experience is different for everyone. We all have different stories that come with different thoughts and feelings that lives with us forever."
DFF Young Person

I feel honoured that

Our five interviewees (and indeed Tony too) felt able to spend time with me and share their life stories with such honesty and bravery. I only hope that with this series we have done those life stories justice.

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