There are more than 92,000 children in care in the UK, according to the latest figures. They cannot be with their birth families, either because it is unsafe for them to be there, or because their parents are unable to look after them. Marked annually, Care Day – which this year falls on February 17 – is a chance to celebrate those young people, and to encourage empathy.
“I’d like people to know it can happen to anyone and you’re not alone when it happens,” says 13-year-old Henry, who’s currently being looked after by a foster carer in Kent. “It’s like, it’s not just you who’s going through it. It can be anyone, all over the country.”
Henry and his 16-year-old brother Billy have been in care for five years. For the last three years, they’ve been drawing on their personal experiences to become co-creators in an innovative new play that aims to help young people aged six to 11 (as well as those of us who are a bit older) understand the emotional impact of growing up away from your birth family. Produced by theatre company Tangled Feet and Rowan Tree Dramatherapy, Belongings opens in London on February 25 before touring theatres and schools.
“There’s some parts that are funny, there’s some parts that are quite sad, there’s anger,” Billy says of the play. “Which I guess are emotions that we’ve all gone through in our life.”
As siblings in care – and who’ve been fortunate to at least be living together – it was important for Billy and Henry to emphasise the important role that support from brothers and sisters can play when young people are dealing with the turbulence of going through the care system. A recent report by the Children’s Commissioner Dame Rachel De Souza showed not everyone is so fortunate. One in three children are separated from their siblings when they come into care.
“We help each other with all our homework. And if either of us are unhappy or need support, we talk to each other about whatever we need,” says Billy. A bit of the classic sibling teasing aside, he’s a good big brother, Henry confirms.