Can you introduce yourself please?
My name is Caroline Cuckston; I’m 31 and live in Manchester.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a social worker for a youth justice service. I have an MA in Social work and a psychology degree. I enjoy paddle boarding and travelling.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
My mum has bi polar disorder. When I was 12 she became very poorly and was unable to take care of me.
I remembered watching the social worker leave out of the door and feeling sick as the door slammed.
What was it like when you first went into care?
Absolutely terrifying!! I had never met a social worker before I was taken into care. Just before home time at school, my head of year took me into a room where 2 social workers tried to explain to me that I was going into care. I remember being very upset and have no idea how they got me into the car to go to the social work office.
Within an hour I was taken to a foster placement where social workers asked me loads of questions. I remembered watching the social worker leave out of the door and feeling sick as the door slammed.
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
I was lucky as I only had 2 foster placements in the 4 years. I had a good relationship with my foster carer albeit it ended badly. I had a number of different social workers, however the ones that I had for a long period where good and really tried with me. I just wanted to be normal and the meetings and processes that are put in place reinforce that you are not normal.
What is your biggest achievement?
I am most proud of my GCSEs. I had a really tough time during my final year and then my placement broke down during my GCSEs exams. I still got my predicted grades and did very well.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
It wasn’t until very recently that I realised what an impact my early experiences and my time in care had on me. So I would say the biggest challenge I did was letting the past go, understanding it and moving on. I accessed counselling and it was the right time in my life to try and process what had happened.
The biggest challenge was letting the past go, understanding it and moving on…
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I would say both. My experiences have made things harder in that positive things don’t get handed to you, and you have to work really hard to get them. It can also cause you to make really bad choices and decisions. In a positive way, it has given me a tremendous amount of empathy and understanding and also a passion for helping people and trying to change things.
Who is your role model?
I had an excellent CAMHS worker who saw something in me that others didn’t. She treated me like a person and got me involved in participation work. The participation work was meaningful and led by me. She gave me confidence and showed me that I mattered.
I had an excellent CAMHS worker who saw something in me that others didn’t.
How much have you changed since you left care?
I am happier. I feel settled and secure. I’m still the same person, passionate, opinionated and chatty, that will never change!!
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
Yes mainly by teachers. They expected you to be naughty and to have issues. Luckily I was articulate enough to stand up for myself without getting into trouble. I have been very fortunate that the majority of people I have encountered have embraced my care leaver status rather than frowned upon it.
Did you ever feel alone?
When I went to university and moved away from York for the first time it felt like the first night of foster care. I would say the first night of foster care was the most alone I ever felt.
Did your foster parents help you?
Yes they did, I stayed with them for 4 years. I was able to talk a lot to them and they always there to listen. They tried to help me and guide me and for the majority of it I felt that someone was looking out for me.
What’s your message to children in care?
I would say take all the support you can from everyone. Know what you are entitled to and if you’re unsure speak to an advocate. Have ambition and you can be what you want to be.
take all the support you can from everyone.
How did it feel proving people wrong?
I didn’t really feel that I was proving people wrong more proving myself right. I worked in the same local authority that I was looked after for about 2 years. On the whole everyone was really supportive and accepting of me as a professional, however there were a few people who were very patronising and made me feel like I didn’t belong.
I wanted to be more successful because of those people!
What do you think about care now?
If you had asked me when I was 16 I would have said it was the worst thing that happened to me. Now I am relieved and glad that it happened. I would not have been able to achieve what I have without it. Its still been hard but much easier than if I had stayed at home.
Know what you are entitled to and if you’re unsure speak to an advocate.