Can you introduce yourself please?
I am Kirsty Marie McCairns
Tell us a little bit about yourself…
I am 25 years old and I have five sisters and two children, both boys; one is 5 and the other is 2 and has disabilities. I also foster my little sister who is 8. I am engaged to Dave who I have been with for 10 years. I love dogs, think I may have a few too many! I did hairdressing at collage for 2 years, it wasn’t my thing so I went into working with the elderly in a care home which I did for several years.
What is your biggest achievement?
Fostering my younger sister. Becoming a mummy. Going to college and completing my NVQ level 1&2 in hairdressing. Passing my driving test – I worked my ass of to pay for all my driving lessons, I did my test four times but passed!. I didn’t let anyone knock me down, I kept going.
“I didn’t let anyone knock me down, I kept going”
Who is your role model?
I don’t have a role model. I lost my Dad at age 7, I lost my Grandad and Nana, I lost my Mum 4 years ago. I am my own role model.
How do you become successful despite a care background?
You are the only one who can become successful. Be positive. Believe in your self. What ever gets thrown at you, you WILL overcome it. Don’t let anyone put you down. What has driven me is wanting to be the opposite of my parents, wanting the best for my kids. I use to have a barrier up, I had to, and since having kids it came down. I had to develop a harsh exterior to survive. Since having kids I have for the first time allowed myself to feel emotion, you have to when you’ve got children. It’s a positive that I can now feel those emotions (even though its scary sometimes) but I think it was necessary at the time and has made me the strong person I am today. If I hadn’t maybe it would have been a different story.
“I use to have a barrier up, I had to, and since having kids it came down. I had to develop a harsh exterior to survive”
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
I came into care with my two sisters when I was 6 years old. We were living in Bradford with my Mum and Dad and saw things children should not have to see. My parents were doing drugs and drinking all the time, which meant we saw fighting and were neglected, wearing clothes that didn’t fit us. Our parents would forget to pick us up from school because they would be on drugs, not knowing what was going on. I remember trying to wake them up so many times. On one occasion, when I was about 2 years old, I was left at the side of the road on my own. Some stranger picked me up and took me to safety. But as a child we always thought this was all normal. My Mum rang social services asking for help and we got taken away, initially for 3 weeks, but then my Mum and Dad had another fight. There was quite a lot of domestic violence between my Mum and Dad which led to all of us coming into care.
“My Mum rang social services asking for help and we got taken away”
What was it like when you first went into care?
I remember this day like it was yesterday; sitting on my Mum’s knee with all the adults talking around me and my sisters. I was so scared and confused as to what was going to happen to us. When my Mum stood up to leave I just remember me and my sisters crying, wanting her to come back, not to leave us there. I just remember thinking why is she leaving, what have we done? Why are we here? What’s going to happen to us? We all were so petrified.
“I just remember thinking why is she leaving, what have we done? Why are we here? What’s going to happen to us?”
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
Mostly horrible, with some awful foster carers but there were some nice ones. There is always a honeymoon period when you move, it takes about 6moth until you really get to know one another.
My first carers weren’t nice people – I remember wetting the bed when I was 6 and they made me sleep in wet bedding and PJs. If me or my sisters misbehaved as punishment they wouldn’t allow us to go to contact or wouldn’t allow us to have food. We spoke up but weren’t listened to by our social worker, she was really close to the foster carers and would feed it back to them or just not doing anything. Things escalated and we were eventually removed from them after being there for about 5 years. We made full statements to the police.
At 11 years old I moved to my second placement where I stayed for a year. They treated us like ‘a child in care’. They didn’t give us any attention or love. We had a separate living-room from them and weren’t allowed to sit at the same table as them to eat tea. I just accepted it at the time but later realised it wasn’t right. I had horrendous head-lice, they didn’t do anything. They treated us like we were nothing and I got no love or support from them. At this point I was separated from my two sisters and only saw them once in a year. I hated it there. So I spoke to my eldest sister and said I wanted to live with her, her foster carers fought for me and it was agreed that they would foster me too. It felt amazing. My youngest sister also joined us so we were all back together for a while.
“I was separated from my two sisters and only saw them once in a year”
I stayed there from 3 years. They were really good, strict though and I found this difficult as I was going through teenage years. It wasn’t an easy time and things were strained with my carers and also between us as sisters and at 15 I walked out. I can understand now looking back why they were so strict, as they were just protecting us. Last year I got in contact with them and I’m now seeing them regularly which is really nice. She came to my engagement party last year which meant a great deal.
My most recent foster carers encouraged me with school and college and guided me in the right direct. I was a typical teenager, out with my friends, wouldn’t answer my phone, disappearing off to my boyfriend’s house (Dave’s Mum’s). My foster carer couldn’t deal with this, she was jealous of my relationship with Dave’s Mum, even jealous of my relationship with my Mum. I felt like I had to change to be part of her family. She’d say you are like a daughter to me, and I did feel loved, but it was different. She wanted me to be like her own daughters. She wanted to mould me to be the person she wanted me to be. She would put my sisters down and wouldn’t allow my sisters to come into the house. I think she found it hard that I was my own person.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I would say it has had a positive effect. I never look back on my past, always to the future, making new memories. My past is part of me, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t experienced being in care.
“My past is part of me, I wouldn’t be where I am today if I hadn’t experienced being in care”
What has driven you?
My past, in every way. Not wanting the life I had for my children, being the best mummy I could ever be.
What keeps you going?
My family and myself, looking to the future. Having my partner there, no matter what I throw at him! Knowing he loves the bones of me makes all the difference.
“Having my partner there, no matter what I throw at him! Knowing he loves the bones of me makes all the difference”
Have you ever felt like giving up?
No I can’t say I have. Having a positive attitude really helps.
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
Every day of my time in care – called names, not trusted, not believed… it was so hurtful. I feel that people still do if they know my past. Don’t judge me just because I’ve been in care. I’ve done better than lots of people who have been brought up by their own family.
“Don’t judge me just because I’ve been in care”
How did it feel proving people wrong?
I always knew I would. I’m so proud of myself.
Did you ever feel alone?
Many times. I always wanted that one person to talk to that would understand me. It was good to have my sisters to off load on to.
Did your foster parents help you?
My last foster parents helped me with many things in the time I was with them, but they also let me down and knocked me back, making me feel worthless. I did have a really good social worker for several years, who stayed with me until I was 21. She was always there for me, I could talk to her, and she responded quickly when I needed her. She had such a bubbly personality and she just got it.
“She was always there for me, I could talk to her”
What’s your message to children in care?
Think positive, believe in your self. You are as good, if not better, than everyone around you. Don’t give up. Don’t let your past get in the way of your future, your goals and your dreams. We are all equal. And if you don’t have anyone to talk to, or you don’t know how to say it, writing it down can really help to get it out.
“writing it down can really help to get it out”
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
Nothing. I am who I am today because of my past. I hold my head up high I am as good as everyone else.
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
Put your self in the child’s shoes, having been taken away from their parents. Having to live with people they don’t know. All I say is be a shoulder for them to cry on, be there when they want to talk to you about how much they miss their mummy and daddy. Listen to them, don’t judge them, allow them to have a normal childhood. Trust them, believe in them, that way they will believe in themselves. Most of all don’t ever, ever give up on that child. They depend on you.
“Trust them, believe in them, that way they will believe in themselves”
Is there something you’re most proud of?
Becoming a foster mum to my little sister. Letting her have a normal happy childhood not letting her go through what her sisters went through. Giving her the best start in life.. X