As someone who spent time in the care system, small talk, peppered, as it so often is, with questions about ‘home’ and ‘the family’, can feel like a minefield. It’s not like most people would think less of me if I just came out with it really, it’s just that a lot of them might be unsure how to respond. With Care Day (a celebration of children and young people with care experience) on February 16th, though, I think it’s about time that that discomfort began to fade. After all, to have a meaningful personal and political conversation about the care system, we are going to need to get over the initial awkwardness of talking about care.
Endless depressing documentaries and gloomy articles about the care system lead some to believe that care will always and inevitably be a source of pain for anyone who’s been in it, and pain makes most of us uncomfortable. It’s one of the reasons why I don’t often bring my care past up. ‘It saves on tickets home!’ I sometimes joke, or I’ll tell whoever I’m talking to that ‘It’s fine!’. Whether being in care was painful or not for the person you’re talking to, that hurt won’t be alleviated by figuring out how to comfort you about it. Politically, too, the presumption that all care-related issues are difficult and sad topics make them less likely to be talked about. A governmental reluctance to really examine the care system means grant applications and government service forms often completely fail to allow for people with unconventional families.
Inherent in the idea that the topic of care will always upset people who’ve been in care is the implication that care, to some extent, defines a person. Often, the way people from traditional families are defined by that fact is different to the way people from care backgrounds are defined by theirs. There’s an idea that children and young people who’ve been in care are different, have different personalities, different futures, and different outlooks to others because of their care experience. However, it’s important to remember that the problems of people from care aren’t all ‘care problems’, and the passions and interests of those people form something bigger than just the experience of the care system. The care system often forgets this, leading to some poorly-matched care placements.
Maybe these assumptions come from people’s unfamiliarity with those who are from the care system. There were over 6,000 children in care in 2017, and thousands of adults and young people who have left the system. Your grocer, your boss, your college friends, and even some of your favourite celebrities may have been in care. You just might never have heard about it. A sad result of the broader societal discomfort with care is that sometimes, it silences those who’ve been through it. From a governmental point of view, important issues like aftercare and regular check-ins can become neglected as people from care are dismissed as a minority.
This year’s Care Day will hopefully offer a chance for those of us who’ve been in the system to be openly and even loudly proud of ourselves. The celebration of care-experienced people across Ireland and the UK aims to unite the voices and experiences of children and young people from the care system, and it will show the diversity, potential, and range of feelings that each individual shares. The day will focus on everything that a good conversation should- the people that it’s speaking to. At best, it will encourage everyone else to begin an important conversation.