Can you introduce yourself please…
My name is Katie Smaldon. I’m a 20-year-old LLB Law student, currently in my first year at the university of Exeter.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
Well, what to say? I’m currently doing a law degree in the hope of becoming a lawyer, specializing in criminal/family law – more specifically domestic violence. I’m a Table Tennis nerd working towards my coaching qualification, a guitar player and a big tea drinker!
Despite being in care and having a very difficult background, I eventually found my home with a teacher and their family … amazing, right? The most common phrase that is said to me daily is ‘you just couldn’t write your life’ … therefore, when I find some time, a book is most certainly on the agenda!
What was it like when you first went into care?
I had several emotions when I first went into care. Relief and fear were the most prominent. The weight of the world seemed to fall off my shoulders the moment I was being driven away from my home for the last time, although with that came the fear of the unknown. Who were the people I was about to meet? Would they be nice? Would they like me? Would they harm me too?
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
Before I answer this question, I would like to state that I do not put all social workers in the same bracket, and I believe that the biggest failure is the system – not necessarily the social workers themselves. However, honestly? There was no consistency during my time with Social Services.
I felt like a doll – pushed and pulled in all directions, with no real mouth to speak and be listened to. It was full of professional’s ‘intentions’ and empty promises, with nobody explaining to me what or why certain things were happening. By the time I was put into my first foster placement, a lot of damage had already been done. I was then subject to abuse in foster care, introduced to drugs and was exposed to a new nightmare. That continued for three years, with social workers visiting less as their job was seemingly ‘done’ … However, I was left constantly questioning how thoroughly foster placements were being checked and how these people were managing to fool the care system.
I felt like a doll – pushed and pulled in all directions, with no real mouth to speak and be listened to
What is your biggest achievement?
One of my biggest achievements had to be reaching the top 20 under 18 Table Tennis players in England at a very young age. Even now, I feel in my element when I am coaching others to become good at something – It’s immensely rewarding.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenges I faced were very personal ones. I had a long battle with Anorexia and Self-harm which nearly took my life. Growing up subject to abuse, I sometimes felt like I had no control over what was done to my body. So, for me, these were ways of expressing my emotions and gaining some control over my life. The problem with these types of coping strategies, however, is by trying to gain control, you lose it to the illness itself. I reached a point in life where I knew that to get real control, I had to put all my emotion into making a positive future for myself, to accept help and to CHOOSE to let go.
I had to put all my emotion into making a positive future for myself, to accept help and to CHOOSE to let go.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
My past has certainly had a positive effect on my future. I see every experience as a ‘tool’ for life, and something that can hopefully help and inspire others. I have developed a huge strength from my experiences as well as a deep appreciation for the little moments in life – never underestimate the power of a hug, an encouraging word, or a good laugh over a cup of coffee.
What has driven you?
I think my main drive has been my deep, quiet stubbornness to make it through to the other side. I had this seemingly ‘radical’ hope growing up that it might be different one day … This small, subtle but immensely strong hope drove me to push through every day.
Who is your role model?
This was one of the most difficult questions to answer for me, as I have been influenced by a handful of very special people during my journey. These specific individuals have all fulfilled different needs of mine at any given time, and have all acted as the most important and only role models I had. These people were the last people I ever expected to care – consisting of previous teachers, a police officer, a woman who later became my Godmother and friends that have gone above and beyond to make sure I experience life as ‘normal’ as possible. Not only have these people invested their time, support, thoughts and love into me … they took on roles that they never had to, becoming a real family to me and welcoming me in theirs. If I could turn out to be half the person these individuals are, I would be more than happy. I am very blessed to have the network I have.
Not only have these people invested their time, support, thoughts and love into me … they took on roles that they never had to, becoming a real family to me and welcoming me in theirs.
What keeps you going?
The incredible people I’ve met; having the best friends I could ever ask for; the need to tell other children that one day it will be okay; the realization that I am important to people and I’m needed. I became an important family member to the children of the teacher I eventually found my home with and ever since then, every football match, every cuddle on the sofa, every Christmas list they write me keeps me going … It’s the joy of watching them grow up and knowing that It’s now a responsibility of mine to be there for it.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
I felt like giving up every day. Having to fight a system to be heard was an exhausting task. I was constantly being told what I couldn’t do, what I couldn’t achieve, and I couldn’t see a way out of the life I was being subjected to.
Having to fight a system to be heard was an exhausting task.
How much have you changed since you left care?
I have grown immensely as a person since leaving care. I have had time to reflect and start to let go of the experiences I had growing up, and begin to live my life for me.
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
Lots of memories come to mind when reading this question. One of the most personal to me was a friend’s mother, who told my friend I was a ‘delinquent’ due to not living at home and who my parents were. These preconceptions continued throughout my adolescence, leading to my withdrawal of A-Levels at my College, due to the head of year stating that ‘statistically I was guaranteed to fail my exams’.
Did you ever feel alone?
Loneliness was an immense battle for me growing up. Being in the care system and interacting with many different professionals can have this effect. It was a process of being ‘passed’ around, along with constantly listening to people telling me ‘it will be okay’ – yet the actions never followed fast enough. Every day I felt those people would go back to their own lives, their own families, and I was left alone to battle mine.
Every day I felt those people would go back to their own lives, their own families, and I was left alone to battle mine.
What’s your message to children in care?
My message to children in care is that you are no less intelligent, loved or worthy than anybody else around you – and you are wholly deserving of a life of your choice. Your past doesn’t have to hold you destructively, instead it can be a stepping stone for you to flourish. Don’t you ever give up – life surprises you, I promise.
you are no less intelligent, loved or worthy than anybody else around you – and you are wholly deserving of a life of your choice.
How did it feel proving people wrong?
Proving people wrong was a bittersweet feeling. The empowerment I felt being able to say ‘I did it’ was a feeling I will never forget. However, the very act of having to prove people wrong in the first place brought me a lot of anger. Why did people have lower expectations of me just because of my environment?
What do you think about care now?
I think the care system now unfortunately fails more children than it helps. It has become less individual, being governed by money – limiting how many children can be given the right support and limiting how effectively social workers can deal with cases. I believe that the home is still a ‘touchy’ subject within most places, especially educational institutions and
the procedure put in place after concerns are raised is time consuming and detrimental to children physically and mentally.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
I’m most proud of getting to where I am today. I grew up with a very destructive mindset towards myself and others, believing that nobody was ever genuine and that eventually I would get hurt. Therefore, I adapted the behavior of potentially ruining everything I had first before I gave others the opportunity to hurt me. This consisted of relationships, my body, my health, and generally just pressing a self – destruct button. Over time, however, I have learned that not everybody will leave me, and I have built up many relationships that have flourished due to me believing this. I have also accepted the love that others have for me, and have tried to use the same compassion on myself. Overall, I am proud that I managed to win the fight against myself, which was inevitably my biggest hurdle.
I am proud that I managed to win the fight against myself, which was inevitably my biggest hurdle.