Lifting The Cloud: My Dark Days In Foster Care
This article is pending translation
I am the product of a system.
I want to share a part of my story about being a young person in the Looked After System.
I want to share with you how it impacted my life. I’ll tell you both the good and the bad; not to offend anyone or to make any point, but just to say that I went through it, and I came out the other side, scarred, but not broken. And before you all click the Red X at the top of your screen, there IS a happy ending.
I fell into the Looked After Children system when I was 13 years old. My mother had been offered a job abroad and I encouraged her to take it. There was no point in her being miserable if she didn’t have to be. She had bipolar and all I wanted was for her to be happy again.
I had two foster placements during my 3 year sentence. One emergency and the second was long term. The change impacted me most at school. It seemed that without telling anyone about what was happening to me, everybody knew. I was lucky enough to have a very supportive teacher to confide in who helped me through my time there.
It was in school where I first began to fall off the rails. I started drinking, smoking and taking drugs as an easy way to escape what was going on at the place I was supposed to call HOME. I didn’t get along with my foster carer or her three daughters, and I was often blamed for things going missing, or when things had been suspiciously damaged. That made things worse, and I would spend as much time away from the house as I could.
That said, I was never allowed to spend time at my friends' houses overnight. Their parents hadn’t been CRB checked and it was seen as a risk. This marginalised me. It alienated me from my friends too and slowly, but surely, they started drifting away.
This removed the last remaining support structure I had, my anchor. The important people, friends, family: the very people I needed to act as my personal moral compass to guide me through the dark water ahead.
To compensate, I found different friends. Mostly new friends who were inappropriate; the unfamiliar situation had allowed me to gravitate to those in society whom I should never have been exposed to.
I couldn’t tell my social worker what was going on in my life because he was a stranger – I had been allocated so many, I couldn’t keep up. New faces would often turn up at review meetings and make it difficult for me to talk about how I felt and what was going on. An action point from one of these meetings was for me to attend counselling. This was complicated by where I lived, went to school, and my age. I couldn’t access mental health support through CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services).
18 months elapsed before help arrived, however that help quickly disappeared as she left. Her cases were never passed on and I found myself back where I started.
By this time, I was barely going to school at all, and so I had nobody to talk to. I sank lower and lower and a few times attempted suicide. I was scared and alone. I felt like nobody listened because nobody cared. Self harm was my only release.
My 16th birthday came around and I was allocated yet another worker. This worker was from Barnardo’s. She told me that she was going to help me in to independent living, and support me with the changes that were about to come with me leaving school and entering the grown up world.
I was excited, possibly because this was the first time I felt I could take control of my life instead of allowing others to dictate it. I knew that if I was going to survive, I would have to turn my life around and give up the drugs. So I made MY decision.
I got a new job at a better, more respected company and I worked hard. I was still in school, but hardly went. People knew about me there and that made me feel insecure and vulnerable. They could bully me because they knew what I tried so hard to hide. Nobody was expecting me to do well in my GCSEs.
Behind the closed door of my tiny box bedroom, I studied hard and earned myself 12 GCSEs all graded C and above. I was pleased, and happy that I was able to throw it back in everyone’s face.
But this brought new pressures to my life. Social Workers and people from other agencies wanted me to do my A-Levels and go on to University. I bargained with them, and eventually, I was given my own house a month before my 17th birthday. My foster carer said that I’d never cope. She said I would struggle with the chores and wouldn’t cope with money. I told her that before I came to her, I was supporting an alcoholic father and myself and that I would manage just fine. And I did.
But I rebelled again and turned back to the drugs because the social workers and Barnardo’s workers believed more in me than I did in myself. I wasn’t used to praise. I was old enough to look 18 and spent most weekends binge drinking in the local bars and clubs.
I didn’t want to go to university. I was happy in the job that I was in. It paid well, and I enjoyed it there. But I knew that the financial support would stop once I finished school and that thought petrified me. I’d become accustomed to a certain lifestyle which took its toll on my body, my mind, and my bank account. I’d never survive without the financial support that social services had to offer. So I pulled myself together and went back to school. I got my three A-Levels and they let me into this place.
Today, ladies and gentlemen, I stand before you having told you MY story. Yes it’s a hard story to listen to, yes it's dark, but I promised you a happy ending didn’t I?So
Today, I have a full time job in a Welsh language primary school. I passed my degree with a 2:1 and plan to return to do my PGCE, and I’m still running the LAC Rainbow group that I founded 3 years ago. To the outside view, I am a young lady possessed. My loving, long-suffering boyfriend remarks on my workload with alarm. My amazing friends worry I’m burning the candle at both ends.
But those people close to me, and now you, know my past, understand my drive and passion to make a difference. I aspire to be a driving force behind the decision making in the care system.
Those three years in foster care were the worst years of my life. I hated everyone, and made them hate me. I felt safe that way. It became normal to me. But those three years helped shape me into the person I am today. Lessons could (in fact: should) always be learnt and the support could have been offered in moderation, instead of things flying at you from all angles and bombarding your life. There were some things I was lucky with like being allowed to visit Mam by the grace of social services' pocket.
But I missed out on my adolescence and lost a lot of friends because nobody sat me down and said that it was OK to be a looked after person.
The system worked just. I also was given a fantastic opportunity to come to university. It’s something that I will always be grateful to social services for. I’ve been given so much in that sense, and it’s something that will last a lifetime. I stand before you as a product of the looked after system. My next mission is to make it better. I have met several people as passionate and capable as myself, all driving towards the common goal of a better system: to create a better result; to ultimately be proud of the products of that system. I, like many of us, have much to achieve. I will make the difference for others in the system, who are about to walk the same path I did only a few years back. My passion is to make the journey lighter as I, with others, will be holding their hands.
My mission is to change people’s perspectives of looked after children and together with the Looked After Children’s Panel, we will encourage everyone to LIFT THE CLOUD: that is, not to feel ashamed of the things they have no control over; not for them to be labelled as a deviant or feel that it’s their fault.
Thank you for allowing me to share my story with you today. Although a dark story it’s given ME the opportunity to LIFT THE CLOUD.
Image: Kevin Dooley