UK Politics

Athlete Kriss Akabusi: Help teenagers leaving care

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Media captionFormer Olympic athlete Kriss Akabusi wants the government to do to more to help teenagers in care

Each week, the Daily Politics offers a platform to a famous person to make a film with their personal views on a subject, before debating them in the studio. Former Olympic athlete Kriss Akabusi, who grew up in care, wants the government to do to more to help teenagers in care.

My parents returned to Nigeria when I was four, leaving me and my younger brother alone in the UK. Over the next few years we travelled from one foster placement to another, a deeply unsettling experience.

Moving to a children's home aged eight was difficult, but I eventually felt more love than I'd ever experienced.

Having been in a secure environment, the thought of leaving care and living alone at 16 was terrifying. For me there was only one answer, swapping one institution of rules and regulations for another - the Army.

Even though growing up in care is undoubtedly different nowadays, the 70,000 children in care in the UK continue to be some of the most marginalised and disadvantaged.

These kids want the same chance as everyone else. They want education. They want to work.

They need emotional, but also practical financial support to help them achieve their dreams.

In this tough economic climate, the need to support them as they leave care is greater than ever before.

But it is about more than simply money - it is about knowing that someone cares, that someone out there is planning for your future. These kids do not have family to rely on, they have the government.

In January this year, the government scrapped Child Trust Funds, affecting the future of children in care the most.

Action for Children and Barnardo's are now calling for a savings scheme for this group of young people to fill that gap, and allow them to stand on their own two feet.

Setting up savings accounts for children in care would cost an estimated £6.7m, compared with the previous Child Trust Fund costing £500m. A small price to pay to support our most vulnerable children.

My childhood experiences shaped who I am today, no doubt.

Leaving care can lead people down very different paths.

I was lucky to have support from an army sergeant who believed in my potential, giving me the confidence to pursue my dreams and become an athlete.

Not everyone is so fortunate, but having a mentor and role model is vitally important. That is why I am backing an Action for Children scheme, training care leavers to support those currently living in the care system.

Having a positive role model to get you through the hard times is invaluable, as is being able to afford the first month's rent on your own.

Long term support, knowing someone is there for you and feeling positive about the future is what will make the difference. Every child in and leaving care deserves this.

Image caption Kriss Akabusi grew up in care after his parents abandoned him in the UK and returned to Nigeria

In my case Sergeant Ian MacKenzie introduced me to athletics and, as they say, the rest is history.

The Army's not for everyone, but what should be for all these teenagers is a sense of safety, security and well-being. They should not be disadvantaged because of their background.

Sixteen-and-a-half is such a young age to take care of yourself.

While I joined the Army, some of my contemporaries were involved in gang warfare, GBH, driving and taking away cars, a couple of girls were involved in the sex industry, drugs and even one of them died. That just can't be right.

Give me a couple of thousand pounds to take care of the basics, but unless they have got the mentoring, the monitoring and the support, it is going to be a waste of money.

Looked-after children are our children. They deserve all the love, care and attention we give our own.

If we do not take care of them, there's a danger they could fall into the wrong hands. It is really important we take their lives seriously and give them a phenomenal destiny.

Kris Akabusi will appear on BBC Two's Daily Politics at about 1240 GMT on Wednesday 9 March, and will be debating his claims with MPs Caroline Flint and Francis Maude.

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