Like many care leavers, mental health has always been a dark shadow that has followed me throughout my life. As a child, I received support from CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services). However, childhood trauma can still haunt you as an adult.
The challenges of leaving foster care
You undergo many changes when transitioning from foster child to care leaver when you turn 18. Social workers turn into PAs (Personal Advisors). You are expected to rely on the welfare state if not in employment or student loans and grants if you are at university. You also grow up extremely quickly. By the age of 19, I had my own flat and was living alone.
It was shortly after moving in that I had my first mental health breakdown. Due to moving ‘out of borough’, the therapies that I had waited a year to access were stopped at my most vulnerable point. Since I was a new patient in that area, it meant that I had to join the back of the queue for help all over again.
It wasn’t until I became very ill that I was offered emergency access to therapy. It was because of those services that I started to make a slow recovery to become what I am today : a full-time midwife, and campaigner in my spare time. Though the sessions were limited, they allowed me to understand the effects of trauma and having been in the care system.
As a result of accessing these services, I was able to go back to university and complete my degree in midwifery. I consider myself to be one of the lucky ones who were able to access mental health services due to having such acute symptoms. Despite having a mental health condition, I was able to get my life back on track. But this isn’t always the case for other care leavers.
A common experience: lack of adequate services
I joined Drive Forward in January 2020. In doing so, I met other care leavers and found that lack of mental health support was a common issue faced by those who’ve been through the care system. Many share the same sentiments as I do and feel that adult mental health services are unfit for purpose in meeting the specific needs of care leavers. For example, the limited amount of sessions that is usually offered cannot adequately deal with issues such as abandonment, trauma from the care system, transitioning into independence at a premature age, and the manifestations of childhood trauma in adulthood.
Not long after coming to Drive Forward, I joined their Policy Forum: a group made up of care leavers that work together to bridge the disconnect between policy makers and care leavers. In the summer, we were asked to come up with suggestions of what our next key campaign should be. My personal experiences, as well as listening to my peers, inspired me to come up with a campaign proposal to provide specialised mental health support to care leavers. My proposal won the vote and the group is now actively campaigning to achieve this ambitious goal.
What needs to change
We believe that offering these mental health services at local authority level will make a large positive difference to the lives of care-experienced people across the nation.
- Providing specialist services in-house will enable care leavers to access mental health service directly, rather than having to compete for them with the general population;
- Care leavers face a specific set of challenges that can cause a variety of mental health issues. A care-focused approach will allow care leavers to address them more effectively and increase their chances of healing;
- The Covid-19 pandemic hit care-experienced people disproportionately hard, aggravating pre-existing issues. Direct access to specialist mental health services will give young care leavers a better chance at recovering from the crisis in the long-term.
There are already specialised services for care leavers such as access to housing and personal advisers, and it is time we matched this with specialised mental health services too.