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  • Writer's pictureBen Westwood

A deeper look into how care leavers can experience phenomenal levels of exploitation and stigma.

It's nice for once not to feel like the only person in the room banging on about it, and finally more research out there has caught up with the concept and more people are starting to accept what many young people leaving care will be up against.

Heck, I didn't even realise it fully myself for most of my life, but it was certainly there affecting not only many of my outcomes but also peoples responses, decisions and their views of how those with no obvious support framework should settle for lesser treatments than others around in many given situations. In turn it leads to the detrimental affects to the self-confidence and the mental health of many of those experiencing it.

For me, well like many in my younger years I was just me, and perhaps there's a lot of truth to the saying 'Ignorance is bliss'. From my later teens to early twenties I'd spent much time growing up with squatters and busking both in London and around the country. Despite being aware that to some people it makes me look like I must of been a ketamine head that was peeing up walls and begging people for spare change whilst playing a half-baked tune on an Argos guitar with a can of alcohol in front of me, to those that don't really know me I can feel alone in feeling proud that my experience was very much far from that. That's no disrespect to the more rag-tag among us, but I'd always tried hard to avoid that image whilst not knowing that to only hearing about it that it was at times unavoidable anyway.

I suppose I never did do a good job of keeping my head down and blending in though considering I'd been both a squatter and a busker with the odd bit of work for a few months here and there. Trying to turn from someone who may of being deemed 'one of those hostel kids' to someone trying to make something of their lives wasn't always an easy task.

Finding accommodation had often been a battle, especially when it came to having a guarantor, and anywhere I did eventually find where I could get around those barriers I'd been extremely lucky to find after long bouts of struggling with it.

Not that I haven't been extremely fortunate enough to have found my places of peace and beauty, but exploitative landlords are aware of these struggles all too well in which what start off for a lot of people as rays of initial hope quickly turn into the realisation that the power and control has fully corrupted some people which take it upon themselves to decide that they can pretty much do what they want. I think when we speak of abuse and exploitation happening to people we can look at it as this big obvious event and wonder how people can be the perpetrators of it. But what often is spoken about enough is it's real working of how it comes to be, and that despite manipulation often needing intelligence and a sense of planning ahead what actually happens many times for it to manifest is also the concept of delusion and a deeply-woven all-round acceptance of the reality by one or more people.

It can result in whole communities, towns and cultures being in an absolute complete denial of not only it's abusive and exploitative elements but also it's denial of reality for those feeling a little somewhat pushed to the side lines. Often for some of the injustices faced to be spoken about and acknowledged alone can be a miracle when such things happen not always on the obviously shocking levels but can slowly chip away at a person once they realise what art times is actual happening.

It's a situation that affects many people from different walks of life, but one thing that makes people such as care leavers more vulnerable to it all is that there are many people out there that know all too well that many of them will often feel they have no place to turn to, and if there's anybody around that they can really trust at all not to exploit those vulnerabilities.

Sometimes even people we actually quite like don't even realise that they're starting to do it, but we see it quite clearly indeed. The more people realise how out on their own a person can be the more temptation for them to exploit it there is, a concept that might be a little difficult to grasp for those having not going through it. It doesn't mean you have to become a victim of it all either, but it can result in battle after battle in which leads many into more severe hardship at times.

There really are many people out there being constantly told that settling for a lesser treatment than others is better than no treatment at all. "If it wasn't for us you'd have nothing" some people even delude themselves into thinking, without realising they'd just come across us during a difficult part of our lives.

That's to no discredit to some of the great people out there that actually do treat people with that common respect or show simple love or even support them, but still it's an experience that is valid and one that more people need to start being willing to recognise. Many simply think I'm a bit mental, I'm starting to get cool with that I think. It's actually quite refreshing to be able to reflect on my history of exploitative landlords without it being a current complaint, in which these days I've been extremely lucky to have finally found somewhere I feel at peace in and with no drama. For many more out there though, they're trying to find somewhere, anywhere and with the limited funds that they can. Some will be going into shared houses where crime runs rampant and nobody really cares about who's moving in and out or what's happening inside of the house as long as the money's coming in. Young and impressionable women from care that may have already been victims of traumatic exploitation will move into HMO's only to be further exploited by even more people, from men that lead them on and pretend they care for sex - to other women 'friends' that are using them for financial gain. Very few of us see it when we're young because let's face it, who'd want to? Who'd want to admit that they were being completely exploited and failed to spot it or do anything about it? Sometimes it's not until you're older that you're fully ready to accept that you'd been had over.

Accepting it can wrongly make a person feel like a pushover when deep down exploitation can and does happen to everybody around, but often young people at the time are likely to feel shame in admitting such a situation hence why many may simply shrug it off as merely a standard life experience.

The issue of needing somewhere to live doesn't just mean the physicality's of living in a substandard environment though. In fact, even if things can appear quite pleasant they can still have much more detrimental effects on a persons mental health or even their future.

That's simply what can come from having to settle with accepting the only place that you can find in some situations, and whether a young person is aware or not of certain criminalities that might be happening around them it can have severe impacts on a young persons future.

Whether people want to admit it or not, having nobody can make you easily influenced and impressionable. It's not cool to say I know, but for some people that grew up not even aware that they were searching for a place to belong I think it's true. And such people get used, a lot, and with an ethos that 'heck they've not got anybody but us so it's alright for us to do as we please to them.' Is a million more times prevalent than currently accepted.

Many of us want to believe that it's just your Fred West types with straw's hanging out of their mouths that would do this, but really what's actually happening is is that we're completely denying how prevalent such attitudes have been in our history. Plenty out there will say I'm playing the victim with that one, but let them, we know this game so well that we know the denial is simply an excuse for it all. If that's what they want to feel then let them, but when it comes to important life outcomes perhaps it might be wiser for people that think in such a way to start expecting some resistance because this is peoples lives we're talking about here.

I think the awareness of a lack of support is the main thing that causes it.. "Where are they going to go? They've got nowhere" is what they say. Some situations are easier than others to get out of, I've usually taken a little pride in the fact that I felt for many years I could leave on impulse and literally face the storms in some of those types of situations, but I found both the older I got and the more I'd tried to have everything in place for a so-called 'regular' life it was a lot harder to escape from.

Sometimes that's exactly what it was, an escape. I'd been aware that certain people had made sure I was in a position that benefitted themselves over me. Those people did all that they could to ensure it was difficult for me to get out of that situation in which one case more recently comes to mind of having not only constant conflict with using basic amenities for keeping myself clean but even having any sense of security with the locks on the doors with my then landlord actively resisting any efforts to change the situation. In other places I'd even been giving warnings from landlords for reasonably trying to sort out where all of the missing stuff from the kitchen was. It didn't matter that there were no utensils to cook, too many people seem to think that because people like me have had less at times in our life that we constantly deserve to expect it as our standards, a concept which I come across in one way or another quite regularly. A massive stigma with care leavers voicing this type of exploitation though is that for many it can become a constant drama. Like I've mentioned in my last posts the anxiety of being the drama queen, the troublemaker and the conflict-seeker will no doubt play on the mind of many people going through all of this. It's all too easy to become that person that people say are full of s**t, but even I can find myself being judgemental of a person that seems to always attract such issues.

Eventually trust issues can become a major problem for many of us. Some of us learn how deep things can get when despite having some great experiences people know that you've largely been fighting everything alone. Unfortunately you see some unpleasant affects from that in which even the most seemingly respectful people can seem to give themselves the excuse that you're worthy of being the one to witness their more uglier sides and sadistic temptations.

I know my claims of how many people are at it won't be popular but I'm thirty-seven years old now and have lived it long enough to validate it to myself at least.

It's certainly not the cause of all of my problems in which at times my own mental health or even foolish decisions in life can come to play, but I think despite gaining some wisdom along the way the older you get the harder it gets, especially when you're doing all that you can to try and break the false perception of choosing to be a drop-out it can all bring.

For those most beat down from it all, I guess you've just got to try to show them some love and help make their day a little brighter. Some of us could do with it believe me.

Acknowledging that I'm not the only person going through this is a major saving grace not only to myself but to the many young people out there that will be going through some of this.

The results and outcomes from such situations will vary. Whilst some will come out of the the care system as proud successes some may feel completely beat down, whilst others will find themselves putting up an impulsive resistance and may even choose crime to not be in such an exploited situation. Others will go on the internet searching for answers as to what the heck is going on with their lives and why their reality seems to be different from other peoples.

It can be baffling to grasp that brainwashing and psychological manipulation seems to be an everyday part of life in society in today's day and age. Those in the exploited demographic groups struggling to understand it all may find themselves on the internet or even in cults searching for answers with the results and outcomes being so frequent that they convince themselves that something seriously un-natural is going on, and on some level they are certainly right.

But the confusion comes when thinking about the concept of such outcomes being 'organised' by groups which the irony is in the whole situation is that they are both wrong and right. On the obvious level of people consciously plotting against a person I think people in most cases are usually well off the mark, but still on a much deeper unconscious level these things do play out in a way that results in people not even thinking about it and creating much bigger patterns on the fractal that have a significant effect causing the illusion of organised discrimination.

We're obviously going into the more 'out there' territory now, but these are real outcomes and mental health journeys for those that have been through it. Some people might not care and that's their right to, but I do because I know what it's like to feel that confusion about it all as well as spend years of my life on a quest for answers to it all.

The best thing to solve this situation for not only care leavers but also other people and groups going through it is to make it known loudly that they're not out on their own. Perhaps a much firmer resistance is needed to in which a message is sent with love that such exploitation won't be tolerated and those perpetrating it will in one way or another face the consequences.

That message is already there and being broadcast by a few good souls with decent followings, but there's a big difference between respecting love and embracing it.

Standing up for one another when we see it is the key. I think anybody that can't look back and remember a time when they were an unintentional bystander is likely fooling themselves, we've all done and I think learning from hindsight is the way forward in regards to changing what we can tolerate and accept without fully thinking about it. I'm likely as guilty of it as everybody else and seriously wished that I lived in a world where if I was unintentionally by standing then somebody would pull me up about it, but that's rarely how the world works in which most cases people remain completely silent, perhaps even in some sense of wisdom because standing out and raising your voice doesn't always result in the desired outcome.

On many levels it's a spiritual battle. Who do we really want to be as a community, a nation or a planet? Those that stand by and let the injustice and the exploitation grow and spread whilst eating away our remaining depth and spirit? Or those that stand side-to-side with those we see facing injustices and tell them that we are with them?

Some will say I'm aiming for a utopia as usual, that I should accept that we're simply medieval monkeys destined to fight, destroy and exploit each other and that it's not worth challenging because 'it is what it is'. It's understandable they believe that when you start looking at the proof in the pudding of how deep it all goes. The foster carers that slip through the net to financially, psychically or even sexually abuse those they said they were supporting and caring for. In that regards I was one of the many fortunate ones but I find in todays world injustice is too often silenced by peoples more positive outcomes. "I'm alright Jack". Something for me to appreciate I guess. Let's be honest about big business here too, and despite much of the great work done to help, support and protect vulnerable young people across the country maybe it's important to remember that there's a whole industry around it in which it's been more than documented about how children in care can be seen as peoples financial futures and investments.

Helping a person like myself build that trust again may be an important part of the healing process. Perhaps finding someone who's intentions are completely pure is a difficult task for anybody let alone a care-leaver in a world based on so much materialism and ,control of each other, but still , knowing that there are more people in the world with an iron fist to the mentality of exploitation can be a saving grace for people like myself, but we can't do that until we fully accept it for what it is when we see it. Maybe it's one of the ill side-effects of capitalism that's caused all of this, always needing a person to deem lesser-than to provide the self-validation to exploit and treat lesser than - otherwise this whole show comes crashing down. Who knows? Peace.

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