Care-experienced children: ‘We are an important part of the solution!’

16 September 2021 – Following preparations with ATD Fourth World, the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child invited Kaydence Drayak, Tiegan Boyens, and Gill Main to speak during their annual Day of General Discussion on the theme of children’s rights and the “alternative care” provided when children are separated from their families. Kaydence’s speech is below, Tiegan can be heard in this video, and Gill Main’s remarks are here.

My name is Kaydence Drayak, I am 17, I am the co-founder and co-director of Teen Advocacy. I am also the eldest of eight children, this something I tell everyone I meet. It is a major part of my identity and who I am. I don’t know who I would be if I wasn’t the eldest of eight, but I wouldn’t be me.

Unfortunately this happens to many children and young people in care. They lose their families their place where they belonged — and with this who they are. Then the information about their childhood, family and experiences is kept hidden until they are deemed to be old enough to handle it.

One example from a report led by Francesca Crozier-Roche:

“I feel they just try and shelter you from a lot, but they don’t actually realise, they’re sheltering you from you at the end of the day. I’ve been trying to build myself up, based on what I know. And then out of nowhere, when you feel like a person’s old enough, then you want to say well actually, this, this, this, this and that happened. Then it’s a bit like: well, the person who I was, that’s not me then, because now you’re telling me all of this, I’m a different person.”

Feeling robbed of identity

Identity is a major issue for young people in care, Francesca spoke to many young people in Birmingham and this theme showed up repeatedly, It was also prominent in the report led by my sister Aurelia and I. One young person shared: “Family life gives us access to our identity — alternative care can rob us of that.” Where you come from and your experiences help shape who you are.  When you don’t even get to know this do you even get to know who you are?

Children and young people ask to have this information and they are ignored and overruled. This is a feature, not a bug, throughout the systematic process: we are constantly excluded from the conversations; told that they are acting in the best interests of the child without actually speaking to the child. And when we speak anyway our views are pushed aside or over written.

I have to live with the consequences!

Some children want to stay with their mothers, others with their fathers, others with a kinship carer. There is no one right solution for everyone. We are unique and we want to be listened to because we have to live our life. You don’t live my life. So, think carefully before you silence my voice. You don’t have to live with the consequences! I do!

Another important concern raised is that material wellbeing is constantly put first. Tiegan Boyens said in her report:

“We have too high standards in most Western and developed countries of what a well-cared for child is. When my sister got taken into care, one of the issues they had against my mum was that she was sleeping on the sofa. My two sisters need space because they’ve both got special needs. And they said ‘Well that’s not a proper bed’, but who’s defining a sofa as not a proper bed? There’s too much pressure on parents to buy all this fancy schmancy stuff. If they can’t afford it, but they can afford a big bean bag that their kid sleeps on, does it really matter?”

Our lives are messed about with

What is most important to us is that we are being raised in our family where people actually care about us, not whether or not we are rich.

Children and families should be included throughout the process so their voices can be heard. If you want to act in the best interest of the child you have actually listen to that individual child because every child is different. What is right for one may not be right for another so it is vital that we get a say. These are our lives that are being messed about with, support us to speak.

However, many young people get so hurt by the system they can’t speak, they can’t show up and fight for themselves. This does not mean their voices should be ignored, this means we need to support them. Whether this is through advocacy, by having a friend or relative sit there with them, we need to support young people to participate in a process that heavily affects them.

Adoptees need a voice

This includes adoptees, I was shocked to learn they are usually excluded from research and reviews about the care system. Many adoptees were removed from their family against their wishes, as well as the families. In the UK most adoptions are contested. That means the parents were actively fighting to keep their child. Adoptees live with the consequences of adoption forever. It is not simply and only a happy ever after. Adoptees need a voice. Adoptees lives have been changed by the care system.

We need the adults and organisations that work with children and families to prioritize children and families having an active and included voice in every decision about them. In every conversation. Quite a few of the organisations that Aurelia and I contacted – who say they work with or represent young people – did not get involved or empower young people to contribute to our report. Time and again we heard, “We are too busy.”

Young people and their families need to not be held back from having a say because the people getting paid to work with them are “too busy”. We don’t get paid and our whole life is on the line… Don’t sit cozy in your office, getting money to say, “Too busy.”

Which is also why we want to see more support services designed by young people and their families to help them overcome the problems they face together. Because we aren’t too busy, we want to have good, happy lives with our family and we know we are an important part of the solution!

Thanks to the End Child Poverty Coalition for supporting our preparations for this event.