David Akinsanya

Introduce yourself please…

My name is David Akinsanya (I’m not a Dave, only to my Essex Mates) and I’m fifty something, I’ve just become a father which is the most important thing I have ever done.

I’ve just become a father which is the most important thing I have ever done

Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?

My mother and father had split up before I was born and my mum was a working class girl from deep in the countryside. My father worked in the same hospital and was in the UK studying from Nigeria. In those days it was not OK to have a baby out of wedlock and it was certainly not ok for that child to be mixed race.

In those days it was not OK to have a baby out of wedlock and it was certainly not OK for that child to be mixed race

A whole generation of mixed race kids ended up in awful situations and many, like me, went into care. White women were seen as being bad if they loved or had a relationship with a black man. I recently met my mums sister and her husband who confessed how awful they were towards my mum, because she had me.

A whole generation of mixed race kids ended up in awful situations and many, like me, went into care

I’d been in Private Foster Care (sounds posh but it wasn’t) – my mum had met a man who told her not to pay for that “black child” anymore and she went on to marry him and have 4 children.

I was placed into the care of Essex Social Services on a full care order. My father had little say in the matter as men’s/ the fathers role was never considered.

How did you feel about going in care?

To be honest, I don’t remember the going into care bit as I was only 2. What I can say is that notes show that an attachment to the daughter of the family who fostered me would have been the biggest loss, as she had cared for me.

Whats your favourite childhood memory?

Going to see Cilla Black and others performing at the London Palladium. We were lucky as the local Fords Tractor plant had a social club who took us kids in the home on lots of trips – Holiday on Ice, Butlins, Pontins and to the seaside.

Going to see Cilla Black and others performing at the London Palladium. We were lucky as the local Fords Tractor plant had a social club who took us kids in the home on lots of trips

I remember a lot of happy times with the first ten years of being in care. I loved Spring and getting new clothes ready, hot potatoes on Fireworks night and all the events that make children happy. Harvest Festival at Sunday School, trips away with the Boys Brigade are all things that come to mind.

I remember a lot of happy times with the first ten years of being in care. I loved Spring and getting new clothes ready, hot potatoes on Fireworks night and all the events that make children happy

What is your biggest achievement?

Becoming a father 8 weeks ago.

I understand why some people have a child as they want real love having not had much as a child. I cried for two weeks after he was born. It was very emotional for me as I was abandoned and seeing my son in front of me made me question how anyone could give up their child, hurt them or not love them. I was crying for all the children who are not loved. I needed to cry to heal me so I could love him.

I understand why some people have a child as they want real love having not had much as a child. I cried for two weeks after he was born. It was very emotional for me as I was abandoned and seeing my son in front of me made me question how anyone could give up their child, hurt them or not love them

Overall, what has your care experience been like?

First ten years – Excellent. I was so lucky to be in one place with caring staff who gave me the grounding for the future. We had routine, boundaries, sanctions, good food, a motherly – actually matronly care from Aunty Betty and her small team in a family group home.

Things hit the fan when they took her away and my behaviour went off the scale. Biting teachers, lots of fighting and living with 18 teenagers and going to a mal adjusted school didn’t help. Glue sniffing and general unhappiness followed me beyond the walls of care and into custody.

Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?

I don’t want to change anything from my past. I am happy with who I am and think a lot of it is because of my journey. Being in care and seeing distressed children made me have empathy for others, a quality I cherish (even though it means I shoulder others burdens). I wish others had seen my potential and understood my pain – like most kids who have been in care, I should have had ongoing counselling to deal with the losses in my childhood. I wish I hadn’t started smoking aged 11 but apart from that – we are what our lives and experiences made us and my personality was set at an early age and I’m only that little boy grown up, same cheeky (sometimes rude) kid.

I am happy with who I am and think a lot of it is because of my journey. Being in care and seeing distressed children made me have empathy for others, a quality I cherish

What has driven you?

Wanting to make Jenni, my social worker, proud, wanting to put two fingers up to a system and people who didn’t care enough to understand me when I was a child. Not wanting to be poor or rely on others, wanting to put back and make others lives better.

image2Who is your role model?

Despite being in care I have to say it’s my dad. He came to the UK as a 19 year old with no qualifications and ended up being a Professor and respected in his field of work. It has to be said that had he taken care of me I’d big him up even more but he really was a role model. When ever he wrote or visited he always placed education high on the agenda which in turn encouraged me to go to 6th form, college and to do things go better myself on paper. Sadly, I didn’t go to University as I think I was more than capable, it just wasn’t done in my day.

my dad. He came to the UK as a 19 year old with no qualifications and ended up being a Professor

Have you ever felt like giving up?

Lots of times. The first time I can remember feeling suicidal was when I was sent to jail. Sitting in that cell thinking my life was over and I only had bad things ahead of me was grim. I  am not going to deny that I often had thoughts but I never did it because I thought about those I’d hurt, the person who finds me etc. Sometimes I felt no one would even care if I killed myself or that it would upset those who had been horrid or wicked to me – I’ll show them type of thing.

I have had some many amazing experiences as an adult that I’m glad I stuck it out and got to a place where I am now.

I have had some many amazing experiences as an adult that I’m glad I stuck it out and got to a place where I am now

What keeps you going?

My son. Getting to 50 I felt I had nothing more to give. I’d had a great career, been all over the world, met amazing people but I had no urge to do more. Now I feel revitalised and I have someone to work for and do things for. I have a life to guide into adulthood and to give the love I never had….. that is gonna see me through the years ahead.

How much have you changed since you left care?

I am the same person just in an older body. The positive qualities I have now, I had then but no-one cared enough to guide me – thank goodness my social worker and I continued to be friends, I’ve needed her as much after care as I did in care. I still feel like her charge when she prepares my favourite meal or knows I don’t like patterned towels and we don’t eat Turkey at Xmas – which we still spend together.

The positive qualities I have now, I had then but no-one cared enough to guide me

I still feel and often act like a 20 year old (some would say 15)

Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?

Yes, Just as I was for my juvenile offending but I’m not gonna let that affect me. Nowadays, I think if you can be honest about being in care, people are likely to give you a chance rather than use it against you. I remember in an early job I he a VCR went missing and even though I knew I hadn’t taken it, I still felt guilty because I HAD been in care and I HAD been in jail.

I think if you can be honest about being in care, people are likely to give you a chance rather than use it against you

When did you start to believe in yourself?

When I started to demand changes of social services as a teenager. I really came into my own when I realised people liked me and wanted to work with me and I was asked to help with this project and that one. I helped organise a conference for black kids in care and I think that was the start of me believing I could work like all other normal people and I could try to do anything I wanted.

I helped organise a conference for black kids in care and I think that was the start of me believing I could work like all other normal people

Did you ever feel alone?

Yes, until my son came along I never felt I belonged to anyone. I was cared for and have loads of family but growing up outside of the nest I always felt like the Woodpecker chick dumped into some other birds nest. Now I am making a nest for my son and I hope I can be a good father to him.

until my son came along I never felt I belonged to anyone. I was cared for and have loads of family but growing up outside of the nest I always felt like the Woodpecker chick dumped into some other birds nest

Did your foster parents help you?

I spent only short times with any foster parents before I disrupted the placement so I could return to my children’s home which was where I really called home. I was not suitable for foster homes like many of today’s kids but in my day social workers had more choices. I think I needed professional care as the family environment didn’t fool me and I knew the ones I was with didn’t care about me – except one family but even then, I was too naughty.

What’s your message to children in care?

Dream.

Dream about who and what you WANT to be not what people tell you your going to be. Who knew that little David would meet the Queen, travel the world (on expenses), foster kids, live on a boat like I always dreamed? Not those who cared for me that’s for sure!!

Dream about who and what you WANT to be not what people tell you your going to be. Who knew that little David would meet the Queen, travel the world, foster kids and live on a boat like I always dreamed?

What was it like when you first went into care?

It was a different time, when social workers visited and got away from their desks and endless form filling. I genuinely think it was better, people seemed to be happier when things were more simple with less paperwork. I think social work is a calling and many who enter these days are disappointed they spend such little time with the youngsters, really knowing them and really supporting them not ticking boxes – did I mention ticking box social work?!!!

I think social work is a calling and many who enter these days are disappointed they spend such little time with the youngsters, really knowing them and really supporting them 

If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?

Not to have started smoking

In the difficult moments what kept you going?

I haven’t always kept going and depression has stopped me in the past but now, my son and his life will keep me happy!

How did it feel proving people wrong?

If it helps them give others a chance they didn’t give me then I’m happy. Every child has potential it’s teasing it out and providing the support that counts.

Every child has potential it’s teasing it out and providing the support that counts

What do you think about the care system now?

I think it still needs a lot of improvement. It’s like a lottery, if your from one area you get ABC and another area 123. I want the government to stop fragmenting the service and to nationalise the care system. Local Authorities have failed generations of kids and I want the country to put it’s full backing into taking care of our youngsters. They should be proud of helping those who need it but instead – and figures show – on the whole we fail, and I can’t understand how this is not a total scandal.

I want the government to stop fragmenting the service and to nationalise the care system

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

The challenges were having a criminal record and convincing people I was reformed or not totally responsible for all of the trouble I got into. I did voluntary work which helped show I wanted to get on and regretted the naughty criminal things I did in my youth.

How do you become successful despite a care background?

Work hard, have goals, seek support that is long term, someone to walk alongside you.

Work hard, have goals, seek support that is long term, someone to walk alongside you

Is there something you’re most proud of?

My son

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What is your message to professionals and foster carers?

Please care more about what happens to your clients after you have gone. You’re not containing them, you should be developing them and their skills to get on in life!

Please care more about what happens to your clients after you have gone. You’re not containing them, you should be developing them and their skills to get on in life!