Can you introduce yourself please?
My name is James Crawford, I’m 21 years old and I am about to go into my third and final year of my Chemistry degree. I love Chemistry and learning all about mechanisms involved in diseases and the development of medicinal drugs. But I also love working with young people and I have done this as a care ambassador, a volunteer mentor and I am going to do this as I train to be a teacher next year. I can’t wait!!
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am originally from Hampshire where I was put into care at the age of 14. Whilst I was there, I worked at Hampshire County Council as a care ambassador where I was responsible for gathering the views of young people in care and representing them at meetings with fellow care ambassadors and at regional conferences with lots of different people from social workers and foster carers to the director of children’s services. I am now in York as a student and volunteering with the council as a mentor for young people. In my spare time, I enjoy listening to music and occasionally playing rugby too.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
Simply put, my mum couldn’t really take care of me and my brother any more. She suffered from mental health difficulties which meant that there were times I had to take care of her and my brother and do quite a lot around the house etc. I had a paper round which paid for our Sunday dinner which was nice 😊. Officially, we were placed into care due to neglect and we never returned home.
What was it like when you first went into care?
A huge mixture of feelings: Relief, fear, excitement, nervousness, apprehensiveness (the list goes on). But I also needed to be strong for my younger brother. He found moving out much more difficult – though the fact that we weren’t separated was a really good thing 😊. We went back to school the next day and the people who used to bully us no longer had anything to bully us for. Turns out going into care was a blessing in disguise.
being in care has been a positive experience. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it hadn’t been for the support I received
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
Overall, I would say that being in care has been a positive experience. I wouldn’t have been able to go to college if it hadn’t been for the support I received to do it – never mind going to university. At the time, some experiences of being in care such as not really feeling like I belong anywhere and not really having a home were hard but had it not been for the support of my foster carers and social workers I would not be where I am today and for that I will forever be grateful.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
Jumping between sofas in the living room with my brother pretending the floor was lava. The sofas weren’t against the wall so we had to hope they didn’t collapse – they did quite a few times! 😊
What is your biggest achievement?
I’d say my biggest achievement has been being able to use my experiences in a way that is useful and gives back to those who are going through the same experiences that I had. For example, when I was a care ambassador, I staffed the University of Winchester’s Spring School saw the young people who were there slowly come out of their shell. By the end of the week, they were noticeably different and it was great to see.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
For a while, I was like a carer for my mum whilst she didn’t have a partner and she was ill. I overcame this partly through ignorance but also through having my brother there and having some good friends to talk to about it. I was horrendously bullied when I was living at home with mum too but I made sure I wasn’t alone and I always told someone about it – no matter how afraid I was. One of most satisfying days of my life was when I saw someone who used to bully me several years after I left primary school. I had had my growth spurt and my voice was deeper, but he seemed to be the same person. I said hi to him and I know he knew who I was, but I did nothing else and I’m over what he did to me.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
It has the capacity to do either and it has done both in different ways. Through my experience of being in care, I have had the opportunity to get involved with so many exciting schemes such as being a care ambassador at Hampshire County Council and a volunteer mentor at York City Council. However, I hadn’t come to terms with quite a lot which happened in my past and they kept manifesting themselves in my life and affecting me in ways that I didn’t want them to. Dealing with and getting help with the issues I had enabled me to move on and make sure the only impact being in care has on my life is a positive one from now on.
Dealing with and getting help with the issues I had enabled me to move on and make sure the only impact being in care has on my life is a positive one from now on.
What has driven you?
Stubbornness. Not really! 😊 Determination, passion for my subject, and wanting more for myself than life seemed to have given me. Being told that I couldn’t do what I wanted to and wanting to prove those people wrong. I was predicted Cs across the board at GCSE level but I sure as anything wasn’t settling for that. I left school with 6 A*s, 3 As, and I B. Being in care enabled me to focus on my school work and it is a big part of why I was successful at school.
Who is your role model?
Three people really. Mrs Badesha who was my GCSE Chemistry teacher who inspired me through her passion to pursue Chemistry at higher levels. Mr. Tucker who was a great role model whilst I was in primary school going through a particularly tough time at home. And Lee Culhane, who is inspiring in everything he does and everything he has done for me – I wouldn’t be anywhere without him or these people.
What keeps you going?
I’ve found something I love doing and I’ve found a way to turn it into a career. That and having a good support base of friends who you can always turn to. Also, keeping my eye on the goal and not on the obstacles which stand in the way of it.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Everyone has felt this in one way or another. Whether it was due to bullying, the tough environment at home, or just having a bad day. There have been lots of times where I have felt like giving up. But I made sure I spoke to someone about it so they could know where I’m at too. If you don’t feel like you have someone to talk to, there are places you can go. School pastoral teams and Samaritans are there and willing to listen to your worries.
How much have you changed since you left care?
Since leaving care, I’ve become much more independent and liking that I am further away from home so that I can start my own life and make it my own. I’m also much more confident and I chase things even if people think I can’t do it. I’ve worked this hard to get where I am and I don’t want to throw it away.
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
Possibly but indirectly. I’ve been told so many times of the low attainment rates of children and young people in care and how few go to university. There exists the judgement that if you are in care, you probably won’t amount to much because of statistics like this. But they aren’t true for the individual and any child or young person can go and be whatever they want to be.
any child or young person can go and be whatever they want to be
When did you start to believe in yourself?
When I was first put into care, I was very shy and I would sit at the table listening to music and reading. I would read things and study for things relevant to my school work and my grades started to improve dramatically. This is when I started to believe in myself.
How do you become successful despite a care background?
This question is an interesting one, so it will probably be a little longer that the answers I have previously given. The easy answer that I’m sure you’ve heard hundreds of times is that being in care is no obstacle to any level of success – however we choose to measure success. Success can be anything from getting a degree to getting your dream job to finally getting your business off the ground. But none of these depend on having not been from a care background.
Had you asked me this question a year ago, I would have said something like your past has no bearing on your future. You can’t change your past, but you have full control of your future, so go get what you want! However, now I would say something slightly different. A part of maturing is dealing with things that have happened in the past and accepting them. This does not mean in any way forgiving what happened, it’s more about consolidating the thoughts in your mind and dealing through the feelings that you may have about what happened. At first, it will seem like you feel worse about it, but if you persevere you’ll start to feel a little better and begin to accept what happened. This is one way you can ensure the events of the past will not have a bearing on your future. Deal with the feeling that you have about your past so that it has only a small influence on your future – but ensure that it cannot have a large enough influence to affect your success.
Take being in care as an opportunity – you can be whoever you want to be and what used to stop you from doing this can’t affect you, unless you allow it to. It is very possible to be successful regardless of a background of care. Read the testimonies and blogs on this website. There are so many people who have had success who are from a care background: Louis Armstrong (Singer of “What a Wonderful World”), Frank Bruno and Mike Tyson (former heavyweight boxing champions), Coco Chanel (fashion designer and perfumist), Ella Fitzgerald (American singer), Marilyn Monroe (film actress), Eddie Murphy (film actor), to name a few. See a larger list here:
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
The only way for children and young people feel safe, appreciated and respected by you is if you make decisions as if they were your own child. If something isn’t good enough for your own child, why is it okay for a foster child? Make sure you do absolutely everything you can to make sure the child or young person’s voice is heard – it is the most important one in a multitude of circumstances. Don’t ever let self-fulfilling prophecies affect what the child or young person can do or achieve – believe in them and support them. Be truthful and honest – if you don’t know the answer to a question tell us; if it’s a negative answer, tell us. Love what you do and make sure the wellbeing of the child or young person is always the most important aspect.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
Giving back, in as many ways as I can, makes me proud. If I can see that I am having a positive impact on someone’s life and I am turning negatives in my life into positives, this is what makes me the proudest. That’s why I have decided to pursue teaching as a career and help young people in their education and be involved with the pastoral team in a school too.
make decisions as if they were your own child