Guest post: Homeless at 16 - "The law must change to protect children like me"
Cash Carraway had nowhere safe to go when her mother threw her out at 16. She recounts a lost decade.
The Comeback Mum
Posted on: Tue 29-Sep-15 15:10:09
(15 comments )
I wasn't expecting my Mum to throw me out on my 16th birthday. She did not sing Happy Birthday. She did not organise a party. But she did say a few words about how I was an adult now and it was time to go.
I had known there would be no card or present or even one of those Forever Friends mini cakes. But despite our broken-since-birth relationship, I still didn't see it coming.
When I play back that day it's always in slow motion; she asks for my door keys and I hand them over. She says she'll pack my belongings into bin-liners and leave them on the step awaiting my collection. There is some pleading, lots of questions, an argument, an explanation.
In reality - it happened quickly. It was a sucker-punch of a moment; pragmatic, mildly haunting, without drama. She delivered her line and I made my exit.
Life-changing moments often take a while to make an impact, for that sneaky assault to inflict its pain – that will come later. That will emerge in your lost decade; in the strip clubs you will work, those nights you drink to excess. In the drugs you will use to self-medicate and the abusive relationships you are drawn to as you desperately search to be taken care of. You will feel it in the police cells you will wake up in and the refuges into which you flee.
For me, this all came later.
Because on that day I left for school, as usual.
My 16th birthday was spent begging for help at my local council. They told me to go home. A wasted couple of hours in the Jobcentre, they told me to go home. When I eventually made it into school later my teacher said the same thing. Go home. But by the end of my birthday I wasn't really sure where that was.
My life became a constant search for a new bed, a new start. And in that search I found myself prey to ruthless men offering new starts and beds to girls like me for a physical (and highly emotional) price.
I was on my own now.
If a law had been in place to protect me on the day I turned 16 then my journey into adulthood may have been very different.
Instead, 'home' became my grandma's flat, it became friend's floors, and it became my much older boyfriend's student halls. Sometimes mum would let me 'home' for a few months but the violence was getting worse. My life became a constant search for a new bed, a new start. And in that search I found myself prey to ruthless men offering new starts and beds to girls like me for a physical (and highly emotional) price.
And so headfirst into my lost decade I went…
At 17 I found myself standing on the stage in nothing but a thong auditioning at a Hostess Club. The only skills required were having just enough hustle to make men drink copious amounts of champagne. They do expect to have sex with you. Refuse too many times and you'll be looking for a new club. You have a choice; integrity or rent? Expose yourself and you are exposed to the elements of the seedy underground; drink, drugs and exploitation. I embraced them all, they embraced me. And, in hindsight, I can see that I didn't really have a choice in the matter.
It was only when I was 29 and my daughter was born that I started to recover.
Recent research from The Children's Society shows that vulnerable 16 and 17-year-olds who present as homeless are often left to fall through the cracks – caught between childhood and adulthood with no laws to protect them, nobody really knows what to do with them. As part of their Seriously Awkward campaign the organisation has launched a petition and is calling for a law change to ensure these teenagers are given the same protection as younger children. This will mean they will not be left to fend for themselves, will be placed under social services and into suitable accommodation with other children.
Last year, in one of those rare moments where life allows you to go full circle, I found myself working as a housing officer at my local council. I spent each day meeting girls and boys like me, aged 16 and retelling my sad story. They sat in front of me terrified and tough and begging for help. They were just children, forced to navigate a very adult world; they were placed into emergency accommodation with convicts, addicts, sex workers and over-exposed to the cruelty of life. Almost 20 years on from my uncelebrated 16th birthday, the law had remained the same. It left me powerless to help.
My story is not a one-off. Unfortunately family relationships will break down and those 16-year-olds may find themselves without a home and without a family. But we should be able to help them, to provide safe accommodation and support.
The law needs to change to protect these children. I know what life can be like without it.
By Cash Carraway
This happened to me! I ended up in one of those halfway houses and it was terrifying. School were useless and social services acted as though it was my fault. I'm going to read through your links later.
Thankyou for sharing your experience. A young friend of mine was made homeless in this way last year. Luckily he was placed in a decent sheltered hostel with people to keep an eye on him but it's still a horrific experience for a child. It worries me that even at 18 these young people have no support and nowhere to go.
I was 16 and living in bed and breakfasts with drug addicts, I then moved into a young people's homeless hostel. I had already had a bit of a drug problem in my teens so surrounded by addicts wasn't the best environment. I loved living in the young homeless hostel though, first place I had to call home for years (care leaver) and we partied everynight, shoplifted food and generally had a shit but at the same time great time. I got pregnant around my 17th birthday and moved onto a council flat.
There needs to be more put into place to help teens not throw their life's down the drain like I did.
Similar experience. Told to go to the local homeless shelter that night after being told I couldn't return by my children's home. The day before I wasn't allowed in the kitchen unsupervised (safeguarding apparently) the day after essentially thrown out and no life skills either - well done social services
Glad it's such a distant memory now but no doubt it's still happening
Thanks for posting this. As a mother of a 16 year old I cannot imagine her having to go through what you did. My church is currently raising money to build special accommodation for care leavers aged 16, with key workers in place to help young people without homes to get education and work. Thanks for the links and the I just hope we can create a different story. Could you post a link to the petition - couldn't find it and happy to share it.
Horrendous. Those poor children. You poor child. Its clearly not right, and I really hope it changes, though tbh under this government, I'm not sure it will. Hit 16 and you become one of the worthless scum thieving money from 'good honest workkng folk'. I bloody hope I'm being pessimistic though. They are children and they need care.
Here's advice from Shelter about homeless 16 and 17 year olds, it says accommodation should be provided by social services, I believe in foster placements or YMCA type young people's hostels. So sad that so many didn't get the support you needed.
Petition is tricky to find but I think this is the one www.childrenssociety.org.uk/what-you-can-do/campaign-for-change/seriously-awkward-protect-16-17-year-olds-older-teenagers
Yes caker social services offered to pay for my stay in the homeless shelter and somehow got away with that as 'providing accommodation' after a massive kick up fuss in their office I was placed (dumped) in the Nanford guest house which has recently been in the news with the Oxford sex abuse scandal so you can imagine the hell I was living in yet a social worker approved it!
Reading that brings back some awful memories. I didn't want to come on and give my life story (it's lengthy) but yes I too found myself with nobody and nowhere to go at 15. I've been looking after myself ever since. I had to learn really quickly too.
The sad thing about my siuation was that social services had been aware of what was happening at home before that but because we seemed so middle class and normal they were convinced by my mum that there wasn't any reason to intervene further.
I was in the same position at 16 - on the day of my birthday I found my belongings in a bonfire in the garden. I don't have anything from my childhood and this is why.
Social services wouldn't help unless they had a letter from a parent saying that they wouldn't let me live there. My mother refused any contact due to her own problems at the time, so I couldn't get one. I wasn't eligible for any benefits due to my age.
Liverpool St train station was my saviour. Lots of people waiting for the Stansted Express used to sleep there, and it had a carpet in the ticket office at the time. I also used the loos at college and stayed over at friends sometimes. I also had much older boyfriends and stayed at their places a lot.
Turning 18 was something I looked forward to in a different way to most people: it meant I could sign on and get housing benefit and live somewhere rather than carrying everything in that denim bag that had big holes in.
In the meantime I used friends' addresses to continue my education and get crappy jobs and did get the normal number of A-levels at 18, but not at the grades I might have got had I not had to work long hours and sleep in train stations. I did go to uni, to work, get post-grad qualifications and a professional job, but I think that is more difficult these days with fees and lower employment rates.
16-17 is a horrible no-man's land where nobody is obliged to look after you and it's very difficult for you to look after yourself.
And now that children of that age are obliged to be in education or training there really should be more obligation on parents and social services to treat those kids the same way as they do under-16s. If the govt is going to treat 16-17-year-olds as children then it should apply all round.
I could never imagine kicking out my DD at any age. I was so lucky to have such supportive parents and PIL. They were worried but so supportive when they found out I was pregnant at 19.
What you went through sounds awful and it worries me that so many seem to have been in a similar situation and that no one was there to help you. A real flaw in our country and the legal system!
I work for a small YMCA. We have so many 16 and 17 year olds coming in, and really we need more space. I actually went to work for them some years after being a tenant there.
We're quite lucky though, in that we have self contained units to offer our young people - we're not a hostel - so our tenants each have their own front door, and their own safe space, with assured tenancies. 16-17 year olds need a trustee for those, and so many end up with a just-turned-18 boyfriend or girlfriend signing them because they have no other adult to ask. Some of them are at college and still have permission slips that need completing for various trips because they're not adults, yet they are managing a home by themselves and juggling coursework with budgeting for food, gas, electricity and rent.
We have a team of amazing support staff who help develop life skills and tenancy management so that our tenants can manage the transition to independent living. Cuts are making it harder though, and the services we use to help support our young people (council services, CAMHS/MH teams etc) are already stretched - and in some areas the funding that pays for services like ours is totally gone. Madness.
Thank you for sharing your story. I am the opposite story I threw my daughter out at 19 (diagnosed alcoholic who attacked me). We did pay for a room for her for 6 months as despite what she had done we as parents would never have seen her homeless. It's a scandal that there is so little help for vulnerable young people.
I joined just to post on here. Had to leave at 16 and the council were no help, v shocked recently to learn I was not considered under the right legislation. Ended up in a squat while trying to do sixth form. I didn't know about any help and no one told me.
I have a postgraduate degree now and work therapeutically with looked after children. I am very sick of people telling me it's all worth it as I made it into something positive, not for anyone else to decide frankly.
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