Yesterday (29 September 2020) Coram Voice took part together with over 30 other youth organisations and charities in Catch 22’s #ConnectCareLeavers campaign, which is calling for Government to end digital poverty, so that children and young people can access opportunities such as – applying for jobs, connecting with friends, accessing online learning and more.
These are basic necessities many of us take for granted and ensuring that children and young people in or around care get the same opportunities is central to what we do at Coram Voice and why we are supporting the call to ensure care leavers are digitally connected by signing the open letter to Government.
Since the lockdown, being connected has become ever more important. Former Coram Voice A National Voice Ambassador Ty said on the importance of connections: “Connection means feeling you are with people even though you are not”.
Finding ways to keep in touch with the important people in our lives and having an internet connection and access to devices to connect with has become a necessity. Our Bright Spots surveys, developed with the University of Oxford show that many children in care see their birth family less than they would like and children in care and care leavers are less likely to report that they have a good friend than their peers in the general population.
During lock down there were also reports to our services of children in care refusing to adhere to social distancing rules and carers and providers threatening to end of placements for those who continue to leave the home to see others as a result of not being able to reach them. As an organisation, we also felt the benefits of using technology with out Always Heard and Independent Visitor services to online versions. One of Coram Voice’s Care Experienced Consultants, Shelly, recently said in in one of our #ANationalVoice conversations “WiFi is certainly now an essential, especially considering current circumstances”.
For children in care and care leavers, being connected both emotionally and technologically can be a greater challenge than for their peers, due to a lack of stability – constant churn in workers, moving around and being uprooted from home, school and social network. Even before lockdown care leavers were twice as likely to report feeling lonely often or always than young people aged 16-24 in national surveys. Bright Spots research also shows that children in care are already more likely than their peers to say they don’t have a good friend and lack of friendships was associated with low well-being in younger children (4-11 year olds).
It is therefore all the more important that the state as their corporate parent takes a lead in maintaining contact and trying to re-establish connections. In April, Gavin Williamson announced the distribution of laptops and 4G routers to care leavers, children with social workers and vulnerable pupils who will do their GCSEs next year, this is a positive step, but more could be done. As our findings from our Bright Spots research show, this is not just an issue during the current crisis, but an ongoing concern for children and young people.
Linda Briheim-Crookall, Head of Policy and Practice Development, Coram Voice said of the campaign: “It is important to recognise that for children in care as well as care leavers, connectivity is not just about accessing educational resources, but also to keep in touch with significant people in their lives.
“It increasingly enables us to actively participate in our communities. The Children in Care Councils that organised meet ups and activities online in lockdown are an example of this.
“We all need to be connected to engage in all aspects of everyday life and these days, as we stress in our joint letter, ‘digital access should be a right, not a luxury’.
“In the current situation, connection has been inextricably linked to connectivity”.