The Detail has spoken to two young men in their 20s from Belfast – who asked not to be identified – about their experiences of living in care and being in custody.
Paul was in and out of care throughout his childhood. Running away from children’s homes was what first brought him to the attention of the police.
Kevin served time in the Juvenile Justice Centre and later in Hydebank for car crimes and other lower level offences.
Both young men – now aged in their 20s – had a disrupted education and little stability throughout their lives.
Paul said: “I hardly ever went to school and whenever I did I was always suspended or chucked out. I hated school so I did.
“I was always getting moved by foster placements or you know back into my mum’s and then back out so I was always moving school cause it was always too far to travel and I just didn’t go.
“Whenever I was in fifth year I started back again but even the principal said cause I started halfway through there was no point in me going because I had too much work to catch up on so instead I got a job.
“I only started to get into real big trouble when I was 17 or 18 but I was always known by the police for doing runners and all. Just stupid things like that.”
Kevin said: “I went to school and then I left school and then I got into this other wee thing but I was going in stoned and they just kicked me out for being that way.
“I went to Loughshore (an education service for children removed from mainstream schools) and that there was alright because I was going in and doing one to one’s.”
He got into trouble when he began hanging around with an older crowd.
“I thought it was alright with them,” he said, “But it turns out that was a mistake going with them in the first place because we were just out doing crime and stuff and then got arrested.
“I wish I’d never had a criminal record at the start. But I feel that since I was young committing the offences that I shouldn’t even have had one in the first place because I didn’t really see what I was doing back then.
“Now I am 20 I can look back and just say ‘well that wasn’t right’ but no one is going to listen to you and take your criminal record away like are they?
“The worst thing about being in Rathgael (the juvenile justice centre) was not getting out to see your family and friends and just talking to them over the phone. Some people in there would try and pick on you but I mean you just have to stand your ground.
“Hydebank’s more rougher. There are loads, loads more inmates and you’re locked in your room some times. You could even be locked in for 24 hours. Being in them wee cooped up cells, it’s not good, not good for the brain. It’s stricter up in Hydebank.”
Both young men say their lives were seriously affected by drug use.
Paul said: “I took my first drug when I was about 11. It was an E.
“I got given it by an older person who was about 18. I went out for crime to steal for money for drugs.
“In the children’s home if someone had them you took them anyway because you had nothing to do.
“I’ve always took drugs but I’m changing my life now and I’m off them. They scar you so they do. I wish I never took them in the first place because they wreck your head, make you paranoid, depressed and all that. They had a big impact on me.”
Kevin said: “Drugs had a big impact on me because once you take them they just make you want to go out and do stuff to make money.
“I shouldn’t have took them in the first place but you’re not thinking when you’re young. Now I’m older and have seen what they can do to people and have seen people dying. I know it’s not worth it in the end.”
Paul and Kevin are both now keen to move on with their lives and have taken part in employability programmes run by Include Youth. However, appropriate and stable living accommodation still remains a significant issue for them both.
Kevin said: “I’d just like to settle down in years to come and just eventually get my own place and put all this behind me and look forward to something.”
• Paul and Kevin’s real names have been changed at their request