Belonging and Identity

Identity is formed by outside experiences, but also family history, culture, religion and race. Being in care will also form part of a looked after child’s identity, but understanding their past, their birth family and culture, religion and race will all be crucial to help looked after children develop their own sense of identity.

Living with birth parents gives children a chance to discuss their past and family history with people who can help them to understand where they’ve come from. For children who are not living with or in contact with their birth parents, understanding their past can be difficult and there may be lots of gaps in their knowledge. Without this understanding of their own story, children can sometimes blame themselves for having been placed in care.

Positive relationships are really important to help children understand who they are, and feel like they fit in. However, being in care creates barriers that can make it harder for children in care to feel like they belong. Moving lots of times, living with different carers and possibly in different parts of the country can all shake a young person’s sense of identity and belonging. For some children, living with carers that have different religious, ethnic or cultural backgrounds may make them feel like an outsider. For those with strong ties to their birth family, who may wish that they were still living with them, it can be hard to feel at home while in care.

 

Life story work and other record keeping

When children move about a lot, visual records of memories or presents can get lost. Life story work is usually done with a child and their social worker or carer. It is a way to record memories and help the child make sense of their own past, present and future. Sometimes foster carers make memory books or boxes with the children they look after so that if a child moves on, they will be able to take their memories with them.

 

Relationships in the future and as adults

In order to form healthy relationship in the future, children in care must experience positive relationships while they are in care. If they have experienced lots of broken relationships, or times when they haven’t been able to trust the adults who care for them or work with them, they will find it hard to trust other people in their lives. Where they have experienced poor relationships or lots of broken relationships, perhaps through lots of placement moves or placement breakdowns, it is likely to compound any emotional harm that they experienced when they were younger.

Having good, strong relationships is really important as a care leaver. Leaving care, living independently and taking on employment or further study can bring real challenges. It’s really important that care leavers feel they have a good support network, which could be made up of friends, former carers and maybe members of their birth family, to help them out when they have a problem. Being moved away from the area where friends and old carers live can be damaging, making care leavers feel that isolated with no one to turn to for advice and support.