Can you introduce yourself please?
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am the Child Looked After and Care Leaver Specialist in Leeds. I have worked for Leeds Youth Justice Service since starting as a volunteer in 2007.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
I went into care because my mother struggled to keep 5 children safe. My mother was in care herself and faced lots of adversity which she clearly struggled to overcome. There were various reason we were all taken into care which included sexual, physical abuse and neglect.
What was it like when you first went into care?
I hated being taken into care and so did my siblings. Our first carer struggled to understand how it felt for us being taken from mum. Her children always said nasty things to us such as ‘your mother doesn’t want you’. We would often fight and then me and my brother were always made to feel bad but we didn’t know how to deal with being in such a difficult situation.
Our first carer struggled to understand how it felt for us being taken from mum
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
I would describe it as confusing. I was separated from my siblings and placed in my own foster placement which was difficult as I felt alone. However I did like my second foster carer. I felt safe and always knew food was in the cupboards and the house always had gas and electric. When the professionals would ask me where I wanted to live, I would say ‘with mum’ because I felt I had to say that and I love my mum.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Being taken to Silverdale in Yorkshire with other disadvantaged children and singing a song about being from Leeds.
What is your biggest achievement?
Having a child that will never experience a childhood like mine. My daughter is 3 and my wife is not from a background like mine. My daughter has a stable and nurturing environment to grow up in. I see families in my job that pass their traumatic and chaotic childhoods onto their children and so I am extremely proud that this will not be the case for me and my family.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I was born to a mother who had just left a residential home and she was 16. I entered care aged just 7 and excluded from school aged 15. I was addicted to drugs and exploited into crime aged 16 and sent to a young offender’s institution aged just 17. I then spent almost 4 years in custody between the ages of 17 and 23. I believe I have faced lots of challenges and yet still achieved a great deal in life. No matter how hard things seem at the time, our childhoods don’t have to dictate our futures.
I believe I have faced lots of challenges and yet still achieved a great deal in life
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
Both. My family still struggle every day and I have a responsibility to be a positive role model and have to balance that with keeping my own little family stable which is very difficult. Having said that, I do the job I do now because I have had a hard start in life and it helps me build balanced relationships with the young people I work with.
What has driven you?
I have always felt that I deserve to have a successful life. I knew it was difficult in the beginning and I made some bad mistakes, however I never gave up believing in myself.
Who is your role model?
I can’t think of one person but many people have offered me support from Leeds Youth Justice Service.
What keeps you going?
The idea that I can play a part in helping other people to have better futures.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
I don’t feel like giving up but I have bad days.
How much have you changed since you left care?
I want to improve everyday which is a challenge I give myself so yes, I have educated myself and changed my entire life.
Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?
I was made to feel that I should be thankful that I had been given somewhere to stay by my first carer. Other young people often made me feel bad about not living with my mum as children can be mean.
When did you start to believe in yourself?
When a girlfriend asked me why I don’t get a better job. No one had ever believed in me before and she wasn’t getting paid to say that to me.
Did you ever feel alone?
I felt alone when I moved into my second care placement and I also felt alone when I ended up in prison aged 17. That was one of the scariest moments of my life.
Did your foster parents help you?
The first one made me feel like I should be thankful for her having me and my siblings but the second one was warm and kind. The second one knew how difficult a time I was going through and always wanted to know how I was feeling. I felt like she understood me.
If someone would have told me when I was in care or prison that I would get a degree or write a book, I wouldn’t have believed them
What’s your message to children in care?
Do not let your circumstances or other people’s opinions define you. You are a unique individual that’s faced extremely difficult circumstances. If someone would have told me when I was in care or prison that I would get a degree or write a book, I wouldn’t have believed them. Never give up believing in yourself and what you can achieve. It’s a chapter in your life and every chapter changes.
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
I am confused about this because I do regret some things that I have done in the past, however if I changed them, I wouldn’t be who I am. I am very proud of what I have achieved against the odds so I wouldn’t change it, but still regret my actions.
What do you think about care now?
I think care is positive in the main. I do see that it could be improved and I believe words like assessment, plans and risk management are used less and love, compassion and affection used more. We don’t use these words enough unless a child is long term fostered or adopted. I also don’t understand why those that spend most time with children in care are always least paid. Surely if it was paid more, it would not be a stepping stone for the most effective, qualified and able people. Money is a driver for lots of people so we need to keep them doing face to face work. It’s a disincentive for people to see face to face work as the most important career path.
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
Understand the fact that we are part of the solution and we can at times be part of the problem. We are not always right and we can make lots of assumptions that are wrong. When I accessed my care files, I saw this first hand. I understand that the professionals made assumptions for my best interest but never assume because you think something that it is true.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
Having had my life experiences, I have achieved lots of different things which I am proud of. Taking my mum to my graduation when I qualified in Youth Justice. Telling mum that while she played a part in some of my failures in life, she also played a part in my success is something I felt proud of.