Tim Hotham’s account of abuse is but one of the harrowing testimonies we have collected in “Trauma: the long-term impact”. This is the second part of the CSJ report on “Safely Reducing the Number of Children Going Into Care”, and our response to the Government’s review of the children’s care system, out now.
In powerful and honest words, survivors share their stories, exposing the state’s failure to look after the children in its care. Abuse and neglect shaped these children’s early years, triggering in many cases horrific trauma — comparable, according to neuroscientists, to that suffered by our war veterans with PTSD. But while we support soldiers with specialist treatment, we expect traumatised children to survive with untrained strangers and in unfamiliar establishments (often far from home).
Professionals who deal with children affected by trauma point to early prevention as key in overcoming risk factors such as domestic abuse and mental health issues that are exacerbated by poverty. Far too often, however, if and when a programme of prevention is delivered depends on a child’s postcode, as Will Millard (page 18) writes. Our exclusive poll of more than 8000 teachers (page 15) shows that they are all too conscious of the failure of the present system. This is not surprising: the looked after child who struggles for acceptance and achievement can disrupt classes and threaten, or incite, classmates. The pandemic has increased anxiety among the young: one in six young people now are affected by a recognised mental health disorder. Teachers like Angela Dickinson (page 16) recognise that to meet increased demands they need to engage with parents, as well as services, as never before. Our poll finds teachers in the Northwest far more critical of government support for looked after children; their experience points to lack of multi-agency collaboration as well as resources. The levelling up agenda needs to start here, with the most vulnerable.
Neuroscience confirms that by failing to address the needs of children affected by trauma we are storing up long term problems. Prof Eamon McCrory of UCL, a member of the CSJ’s Commission on Safely Reducing the Number of Children in Care, writes in the Foreword about the “social thinning” that occurs among children who survive in a chaotic home by adapting their behaviour – only to discover that this same survival strategy alienates classmates, teachers and other outsiders. As a result, exclusion, a spell in care or in a young offenders’ institution loom. The cost to society of such interventions is huge; as our recent report on safely keeping children from care calculated, a young person with ten years’ care experience will cost the taxpayer £800,000. Enlightened self-interest as well as compassion, therefore, should prompt an urgent reform of children’s care.
Head of the Family Policy Unit
Centre for Social Justice