JfKL Campaigner's Speech at the Ministerial Board for Care Leavers

20 Feb 2023

Below is a speech by JfKL campaigner Kerrie Portman given at the Inter-Ministerial board for care leavers, which is made up of Ministers from 10 departments and chaired by the Secretary of States for Education and Department for Levelling Up and Housing.

"Hello. My name is Kerrie Portman. I am a queer autistic Care Leaver. I am also a cheerleader, a political activist, a student at Cambridge University and a proud campaigner with Just for Kids Law and Children’s Rights Alliance England. I was recently awarded 30 to Watch Politics. This award recognises us to as activists who will influence political change.

I have been made homeless three times in my life, two of which were after I left Care. Current policy states care leavers are legally entitled to housing provision and support from their Local Authority – I did not receive this legal right. And I’m not the only one, 25% of England’s homeless population is Care Experienced and a third of Care Leavers become homeless within the first two years of leaving Care. Care Experienced people are 4-5 times more likely to attempt suicide into adulthood.

This is a shame on every person who holds power in these systems that are failing young people every day. 

When I was taken into Care, I wasn’t told why. I wasn’t even told at what age I was taken into Care. Children and Young People in care are not given open, clear and transparent information about their lives.

When I was in care I experienced many levels of abuse physically, mentally and sexually. I reported this and it was not taken seriously. I was discriminated against and abused because of my disability. The lack of consistency in staff meant there was no positive relationships, no care and no accountability for the abuse I suffered. I was moved from abusive placement to abusive placement without offering me any support until I had to run away from them when I had burns and bruises on me every day. We know many young people in care run away, unaccounted for, even in statistics - left to navigate a scary world on their own. This is a complete failing of the institution set up to protect children and young people. It did not protect me. It caused more harm, trauma and neglect.  

When adequate housing provision is not offered to care leavers, they are pushed into vulnerable situations in the attempt for safety and a roof over their head – a basic need and human right. I had never been taught how to be ready for private accommodation; I was forced into it when running away from abuse. The landlord exploited me and left me in a flat covered in black mould so bad I was always in A&E and diagnosed with asthma. Being placed in unfit accommodation is a common trend for young people leaving care, it is often to the detriment of young people’s physical and mental health. The support for young people in care living independently and accessing our rights to appropriate housing is simply not there. This isn’t good enough. This lack of support creates more trauma for care leavers and pushes us into vulnerable situations.

Like many care leavers because of the poor unregulated accommodation that I was forced to stay in, my mental health and physical health was under attack. I attempted suicide because I saw no other choice and was still refused help, so I attempted it again. And again. Another common experience for young people leaving care who’s rights are not met.

One housing department actually told me I didn’t “deserve” a home. In my case both local authorities involved are perfectly aware of their neglect. This neglect is how I, and many others are treated by our ‘Corporate Parents’.  

I became homeless and received no assistance from either the local authority where I was living or the one that placed me in care, despite the fact that both had legal obligations to me.

I was told I didn’t have a Local Connection because I hadn’t been living there a year, though I moved running away from Domestic Abuse. I was told if I left the flat that was Condemned by Environmental Health then I would be Intentionally homeless. I was told I wouldn’t be a Priority Need because I was 23. 

It is good to see that the Government has accepted the Care Review’s recommendation to
remove the local connection requirement for care leavers and to remove the use of intentional homelessness for care leavers under 25. However, as a campaign group we feel that the Government need to extend priority need for care leavers beyond the age of 21 as this is crucial to better protect and support care leavers transition into their adulthood. We also feel making being Care Experienced a Protected Characteristic would also help protect us from stereotypes, discrimination and abuses.

The experiences I have shared with you today are my own life, those of my peers and the realities for many other care leavers being failed by the state every day. These experiences show the urgent need for adequate housing, training, monitoring and consequences for those abusing power and for the voices of young people with these lived experiences to be at the centre of the policy and practice which governs our lives.

I’m sharing this today on behalf of me, my peers and the hundreds of thousands of others who aren’t in this room but suffering under these oppressive systems.

I want you all to hear, recognise and realise I have been let down by these systems – this is not one staff member, not one children’s home, not one local authority – this is just one insight of the injustices many care experienced young people like myself experience every day.

I should not have experienced any of this. No child or young person should. You are my corporate parents, and your corporate children should not have to experience this. I look forward to discussing how each one of you plan to use your power to create the change which is so desperately needed to put care at the centre of the care system.

And finally, as an active member within the Care and Housing campaign, I would also like to ask for your position and plan to provide each care leaver with appropriate, adequate and supportive housing provision."