ATD Contributes to United Nations Dialogue on Family Separation

Above: Francesca Crozier-Roche helped coordinate consultations with young people who have been in care.

Article adapted from “Our Rights, Our Say”, 28 July 2021, ATD-UK website

“Sometimes it feels like adults just don’t get children’s rights. […] For some of us, being in care was where we were abused – not home with our families.”

Young person contributing to ATD consultation for United Nations

This comment was part of input ATD Fourth World gave the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child last September. In their meeting on “Children’s Rights and Alternative Care”, the committee addressed unnecessary separation of children from their families. In particular, they examined what to do when separation is, in fact, unavoidable.

To provide the committee a first hand account of experiences in care, ATD collected input from children and young people in the UK and Canada.*

For 19-year-old Tiegan from North Yorkshire, family separation began at birth. Her mother was incarcerated at the time and social services placed Tiegan in foster care. Later, a family adopted her. Even today, Tiegan’s younger sisters remain in care. In her interview, Tiegan said she is frustrated because social workers never gave her parents much support.

  • “When my sister got taken into care, one of the issues they had against my mum was that she was sleeping on the sofa and they said, ‘That isn’t a proper bed’. But who’s defining a sofa as not a proper bed? […]
  • There wasn’t any support for my father or anyone reaching out to him…. Professionals stress weaknesses. Even things I would count as strengths, social workers saw as weaknesses for some reason.”

You don’t know who you are

In the West Midlands, a group of 19 and 20-year-olds described how being in care affected their sense of identity. Growing up they never had much information about their family background. Having no family of their own, they said, was disorienting. “We needed to please so many people. And different people wanted different things from us”.

One young person felt it was wrong that she was not allowed to see her mother even though her brother and sister, who were also in care, were allowed to. “My mum ended up passing away in 2019” she said, regretfully.

  • “For so long the court told me I wasn’t allowed to see her. Now I actually can’t see her. They 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.”

In another case, social workers withheld information about a young woman’s family until she turned 20. “I only found out about all this crap on my twentieth birthday, near enough”, she said bitterly. “I’d rather have been told sooner, rather than having to deal with it now.”

One young man felt that social workers sent him to activities just to tick off boxes they needed to take care of. Nobody asked him what he wanted. “I’d said I didn’t want to do karate and I got completely ignored”, he said, describing how social workers dismissed his own interests. “It got to the point where I’d walk around the same area for an hour, so I could skip karate. Forcing children is ruining their identity.”

Cut adrift

When the same young man aged out of the care system at 18, he felt abruptly cut adrift. Without support from any family who really knew or cared about him, he suddenly had to figure out by himself how to cope as a grown up.

“Four weeks is all I got to find a job. My foster mother just went: ‘You’re leaving in four weeks’. Since I left, I haven’t received one text from her to say, ‘Are you ok?’ No more nothing. That’s why I’m afraid to text her.”

Teen Advocacy

In Orkney, Scotland, Kaydence, 16, and Aurelia Drayak, 15, are sisters and co-directors of Teen Advocacy. The organization offers support to young offenders, young carers, teens with disabilities, and others experiencing complicated family dynamics.  Together, the sisters interviewed 22 children, aged 9 to 18, who have been in care. Some live in Scotland; others are Canadian First Nations youth from Manitoba, Canada. The children described how care undermined any experience of family:

  • Being placed in alternative care has torn our families apart and ruined relationships.”
    “This takes away our trust and our hope.”
    “Taking us out of our communities harms everyone and harms our culture.”
    “We want you to listen to our families too — they want what is best for us.”

Secrecy and trust

Another person who helped children speak out was Francesca Crozier-Roche, a JNC Youth and Community Practitioner who experienced care in as a child. Describing how the care system harms children, she said:

  • “Quite a few of the young people I work with all have a common denominator about their own identity: all the secrecy about their past. No one’s being honest with them and they grow up with massive trust issues. I want to carry their voices into this conversation.”

The children and young people we have spoken to have important insights into their own situations and those of their peers. They deserve to be trusted and taken seriously as partners so that their lived experience can guide policymakers toward a culture change in social care, away from damaging child protection practices and toward supporting families in adversity, parents and children together.

A summary of key points expressed by the children and young people in the UK can be found here.

ATD’s submission on experiences in care in Europe and Canada, lessons learned, examples of effective practice, and recommendations

To download the full texts of ATD Fourth World’s contributions to the UN Committee on the Rights of the Child, please click here.

*Consultations in the UK were carried out by ATD Fourth World together with Dr. Gill Main, Francesca Crozier-Roche, and Teen Advocacy, with support from Dee Smalley, Zia Maxwell, Eliott Sistac, and the Coalition to End Child Poverty.

0 comments Leave a comment

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *