Drama Gives Voice To Young Care Leavers

A play that follows the lives of young care leavers as they grow up and branch out on their own opened in London this week. Written by David Harrower, 365 presents the stories of 14 teenagers, aged 16 – the point at which they leave care – and over.

The production, set in a “practice” flat similar to those given to care leavers to help them adapt to their new lives, captures the highs and lows of their transition, their emotions and the practicalities of learning how to budget, shop, cook and clean.

During their research for the play, Harrower and director Vicky Featherstone studied government policy about care leavers and spoke to social workers about their experiences. Care leavers were then invited to the rehearsals to speak to the cast and offer their first-hand experiences.

“The first couple of weeks were really emotional,” Featherstone says. “We had young care leavers come into the rehearsal, people who were the same age as the cast, and it was shocking for the actors. The care leavers said: ‘Why are you making us into pieces of theatre? No one’s ever wanted to tell our story before, so it’s really important that you do it properly – and thank you.’ We were thrown by it.”

According to research from the Centre for Policy Studies, of the 6,000 who leave care each year in the UK, 4,500 will have no qualifications and 3,000 will be unemployed within two years.

The play was premiered at the Edinburgh International Festival last month, and the hope is that it will help society appreciate how challenging life can be for young people in care. The producers cite a range of glowing testimonials from social work professionals.

Peter Finn, a senior social worker in Glasgow, is quoted as describing the social worker character as “accurately portrayed, warts and all”.

Beth Nolan, a project worker for Barnardo’s Scotland, praised the actors’ “ability to capture the fractured narratives of a diverse range of young care leavers, and their powerlessness within the system”. She says: “This play should be compulsory for anyone aspiring to be a social worker or interested in the challenges that care leavers face.”

· 365 from National Theatre of Scotland runs until September 27 at the Lyric Hammersmith. Details at lyric.co.uk