Introduce yourself please
My name’s Luke Rodgers, I’m the director of Foster Focus. We’re a company that works with children in care and care leavers.
Would you like to tell us a bit about yourself and the reasons why you went into care?
I went into care because I came from a pretty difficult background at home. I had eleven primary schools, 13 foster homes and now I run a business working with children in care.
How did you feel about going into care?
I was pretty scared because I didn’t really know what was going on. I was introduced to loads of professionals, loads of new people. They were talking to me about things I didn’t understand like Looked After Children’s Reviews, having medicals, and contact with parents. I was just interjected into this whole world of new people, professional people. I didn’t know what was going on in my life at the time and just had work it out. Work with these new people to figure out what it was that I wanted to do.
They used to talk to me about things like education. Things like permanence. Things like stability.
I was scared about being in care because of all the new people, and I’d been taken away from my mum and my dad. I just wanted to see my mum and my dad and I wasn’t allowed. I was told that I had a contact order and that they were going for a care order. They were talking about my first Looked After Children’s Review. They were all things that I didn’t know and understand. I felt like I was in this world of just professionals that were trying to make decisions for me. I didn’t really feel listened to at the start.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
When I came second in a pentathlon. Which is a mixture of horse riding, swimming, shooting, running, and fencing. My foster carers at the time were like “you’d be really good at that, you should do it.” And I was like “I won’t be good at it, I’ll be rubbish at it and I did it.” I remember the guy who’s number one in England at running, at the time was really really nice to me the whole event and then when it came to running he was really mean and ran off in front of me. He was like I’ll hang around with you for the whole event and ran off. Then right at the very end I chased him and overtook him, and beat him. That was a very very good moment because I was like the second best person in England, at running, at the time.
What’s your biggest achievement?
I think the biggest achievement would probably be the work that we’ve done with Foster Focus. There’s too many achievements actually. I think the thing that I’m most proud of is working with young people and setting up projects and pieces of work where I can see young people go from one space to another. And actually watching young people really get involved in their projects. Then watching those young people go on and do further things like school, university, jobs, even set up their own businesses. I love that. I’m proud of the work that Foster Focus does.
“I’m proud of the work that Foster Focus does”
Overall, what do you think your care experience has been like?
Theres two ways that I think about it. The first thing that I used to think was that it’s really negative and that in fact it was the worst thing in the world. But then when I left care I realised there were so many positive things to learn from my negative experiences. I actually learnt that I went through these things for a reason, it made who I am today. If it wasn’t for those things I wouldn’t be able to do the work that I’m doing. So my overall experience is positive, but only because I changed the way in which I think about it.
“I realised there were so many positive things to learn from my negative experiences”
Has your past had a positive or negative influence on your future?
Positive. It’s been really positive because it’s made me realise that I can have relationships with people, which I didn’t originally think I could do. It’s made me be able to do the work that I can do. And most importantly it’s made me be able to work with and connect with young people because I can use it and say well I know what it’s like for you guys, and I’ve been through it, and helping young people doing it. So it’s a positive experience, definitely.
What has driven you?
My experiences originally drove me to do what I’m doing because I looked at my life and thought I want to make a difference because I haven’t had a good time. But then you guys drive me everyday because I see the influence of the work that we’re doing and it inspires me. So you guys inspire me to keep doing what I’m doing. Because if it wasn’t for you then I wouldn’t be doing it. That’s what keeps me going.
“I see the influence of the work that we’re doing and it inspires me”
Who is your role model?
I have lots of role models, I’ve got two role models actually. It’s my foster mum and my foster dad, the ones that I stayed with the longest. Because they helped me see who I really was at a time when I didn’t know who I was. They reflected that back to me so that when I grew up, and started to really figure out who I was, a lot of the messages they said when I was younger started to ring true in my mind. It really made me realise how much of much of special people they were.
If I can give that to other young people, be able to mirror back who they are to them and hope that one day they’ll see it (how special they are). That’s why they are my role models, for teaching me that.
What keeps you going?
It’s usually coffee, maybe skittles depending how long my days been *Laughs*.
The inspiration that my work creates, and that you guys create from the projects that we do. So I mean that’s it. There’s nothing more I can say about it. If I didn’t work with young people then I don’t think I’d be very inspired or driven because it’s just what I want to do.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Of course I have. Of course I’ve felt like giving up. I still do now, sometimes. As the work gets bigger, as the projects have more influence and we meet more resistance. People are saying well we don’t think young people should have these opportunities.
But I just remind myself why I’m doing it. The idea of quitting, and giving up, and doing nothing is a much more scarier thought than actually working hard to make it happen. I’d much prefer to be stressed, working hard to make it happen that actually the feeling of the stress from not doing anything. So, it’s a constant thing.
“The idea of quitting, and giving up, and doing nothing is a much more scarier thought than actually working hard to make it happen”
How much do you think care has changed since you left?
It’s changed quite a bit. It always will change. Things like new policies have come around. Delegated authority has been one of the biggest changes. When I was in care if I wanted to stay at a friends house their parents would have to have police checks before I stayed and they could take 2 months. So I was never aloud to stay at friends houses.
Whereas now delegated authority means that foster carers can allow young people in care to stay at friends houses, if they want. So those experiences can now happen for young people.
I think a lot of things like that have changed. I also think that young people are listened to more now than what they were when I was in care. I think things will always change and it has changed in those ways.
“I also think that young people are listened to more now than what they were when I was in care”
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled because you were in care?
Yeah, all the time. But you are when you’re in care, because people are trying to figure out ‘what mental health problem they can put a label on’ and ‘what attachment issue you have’ and I always used to think, actually do I have these problems? or are we just trying to think too deep about it.
I felt labelled for being in care because for people that didn’t understand or didn’t know anybody else in care. And had only had influence from the media. Everyone just thinks kids in care as the bad kids, or they’re in care because they’ve been bad. Or they don’t go to school. I always felt like I was subject to that judging but I think that’s down to people’s lack of education, if anything. And how the media portray young people in care.
“I always felt like I was subject to that judging but I think that’s down to people’s lack of education”
When and what moment do you think you really started to believe in yourself?
It was probably my first ever public speech. Because when I finished that speech I remember everyone clapping me, me walking off the stage, and I felt a little bit like moses. I felt like I had to part the sea because there was that many people running up to me.
I kinda thought in that moment that what I was saying to these people was making a difference. I actually realised the power of stories could really change the way people think and help other young people. It was a story that I always thought wasn’t a good story, I never thought it had any worth. But in that moment I kinda thought, hang on a minute, even by just sharing my story I can help people. That’s what made me start to believe in myself.
“I actually realised the power of stories could really change the way people think and help other young people”
But there were other points amongst my life where I did start to believe in myself as well in different areas. It’s a constant thing. You’re always finding new things out about yourself, which are amazing things to discover because it really makes you realise who you are and what talents, skills, and abilities you have. So it’s a constant journey. You’re always learning about yourself.
“It’s a constant journey. You’re always learning about yourself”
Did you ever feel alone?
Yeah. I think everyone in the world at some point feels alone. When I first moved in on my own, that was probably one of the hardest times because I was so used to having everybody around me. In my reviews, my social worker, my leaving care worker, all these people all around me. Then when I left care they’d all gone.
I actually think it’s something that we all go through. Everyone in the whole world goes through it. I think it’s actually just part of learning, and part of life feeling alone. Again, I learnt a lot about myself in those moments because when you’ve got no one else around you, you’ve only got yourself to think about. It’s another opportunity where you can discover who you are.
Do you think your foster carers helped you? And if so how?
Yeah I think they helped me. They disciplined me very well. I was a very arrogant kid, I was like I know best. I know I want these things and these are the things I’m gonna have. So give me my pocket money, give my clothing allowance, give me all of these things. And they were like No. No we’re not going to give you those things because you need to earn them or you need to understand that this isn’t something that you’re just entitled to.
What those foster carers did was communicate to me in a really positive way. When everyone else was telling me I was a bad kid they we’re saying you weren’t. You’re a good kid. In fact all these things, all these labels that are attached to your name, we don’t believe them because we see who you really are. Although I never listened when I was a kid. Went in one ear, and out of the other. When I became an adult and looked back, a lot of the things they said in those moments when I was a child echoed into the future. To the point where I started to listened and actually understand what they were trying to say to me in those moments.
“What those foster carers did was communicate to me in a really positive way”
What would you say to children in care?
A million and one things really. I don’t want to be cheesy and say don’t give up because it’s not as if I want you to think that you’re are in a system where you have to constantly fight.
I just want you to be yourself. To pursue what you want to pursue. Forget what people say about you, if it’s negative. Because the whole world is full of people that are going to judge other people and they’re going to have their opinions. That’s just the same for everybody, it’s just when you’re in care it can seem more difficult.
For me it’s like, if you want to do something in your life there is nothing stopping you from doing it. Absolutely nothing. As much as you might see these barriers, challenges, and these walls that you face. You might feel in moments that you can’t achieve anything, you can. And you will. Just do it, genuinely just go ahead and do it.
Ask for help. Sometimes it’s really difficult asking other people for help because we are so independent, we’re so about us and we’re so like were alright in ourselves. That’s what we think. But ask for help. Be in control of your own lives and do what you want to do to make your lives better.
What was like when you first went into care?
It was like a cultural change because I was used to so many rules and they way my house worked. Like the fact that you couldn’t sit on the sofa and have your breakfast or your dinner. Then I went to my new home and you could. It was like really small things which were really weird. It was like I constantly had to learn a new way to live.
I remember going to my first foster placements and just the food that they ate. How the house smelt. The things that they used to say, and attitudes that they had. They were just completely new attitudes that I’d ever been confronted with essentially. I had to just adapt and it was weird but again you learn about people and how different houses worked. It was quite intense, strange and overwhelming but at the same time looking back it was quite a positive experience.
“It was quite intense, strange and overwhelming but at the same time looking back it was quite a positive experience”
If you could change anything about your past, what would it be and why?
I’m sorry this is going to be a really short answer because I wouldn’t change anything about my past at all.
Because I’m to some extent, grateful for what I have been through because it’s made me who I am. I think if we look back and want to change things we tend to look at the negative things we want to change. Then we tend to get into this mindset of regret or the sense that we feel we’ve missed out on something. I think a lot of it’s just to do with acceptance. To look at the life that you’ve had and actually see it for what it is. And what you can learn from it, and how you can use it to move forward.
I think if I was to spend my time looking back on my life and thinking about things I could of changed, it’s a waste of time. When I think about how I can use my past to make a difference.
In them most difficult moments, what kept you going?
I was a really really arrogant child and I had a vision to make a difference. If we’re talking about when I was in care, what kept me going was the idea that I wanted to be on my own and do something with my life. I wouldn’t let anyone take that away from me. So if anybody ever came up to me and were making decisions that I didn’t think were right I would fight furiously to make sure that they were.
When I left care there was two things that kept me going. One was the fear that if I failed I’d lose everything. That was a negative energy, I was like if I don’t work something out here I haven’t got a house, I haven’t got a job, I haven’t got anything. I’m going to be on benefits and I’m struggling.
The next one was a positive energy which was like if you make it, if you achieve what you want to achieve, and if you get to where you want to be it will be a million times better than anything you can ever imagine. Because you’ve made it and you’ve done it. That’s what I thought all the time about myself. If you keep going and keep pushing forward you can sit back at the end of day and look at your life and say you’ve done this and I’m in control of it. I’m lucky enough to have an ambition to help other people so I can also sit back and feel very rewarded about the work that we do.
“if you achieve what you want to achieve, and if you get to where you want to be it will be a million times better than anything you can ever imagine”
How did it feel proving people wrong that you could get a proper life?
So there’s two things actually. Is that it went from proving people wrong to proving people right. Because people didn’t believe in me for a very very long time and I spent a long time of my life trying to prove people wrong. I actually found that really stressful because I’m constantly trying to challenge people.
Then what happened after I’d done more and more work, and achieved more and more was that people started to believe in me. So then I started to prove people right because they had changed the way they thought about me. What was the most amazing thing wasn’t that I’d proved them wrong or that I’d proved them right. It was the fact that because I’d decided to do something with my own life I’d changed the way in which people thought about me.
They no longer wanted to be proven wrong but they could see that I was going to do something with my life. And that I was proving them right. That shift, and that feeling when someone your whole life has told you that they don’t believe in you then all of a sudden tells you that they do. That shift is an amazing feeling to think that you’ve done that because you’ve chosen a path that you want to take when people have been against you. You’ve been able to prove people wrong.
Did you ever run away? And what was it like?
Yeah I ran away a lot of times and I’d never advise running away because it’s cold when I had a warm bed, it was stupid. I had to steal MarsBars from the shop because I had no money. So don’t do it basically. And that’s my experience of it.
What do think about the care system now?
I’m probably not the best person to ask that question to because I’m not in it anymore, but I think it’s better. I think it’s better than what it was. I think there’s a lot more people out there than you imagine that are actually trying their hardest to make a difference. Which I didn’t see when I was in care. I didn’t think anyone was trying to do anything. Then when I left I realised there was loads of people trying to do a lot, but I just never saw them when I was in care.
So I think the care system is better because one, I can see it differently now and two, because I actually realise and work with people that are really trying to make a difference for young people.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
The biggest challenge is stigma. Having to prove to people that I can achieve and that I want to achieve. That has been the biggest challenge. The biggest challenge of my work is not being seen as this tokenistic care leaver. As being seen as somebody that can provide a service that is getting young people heard. That’s the biggest challenge because people are so used to youth participation and young people’s voices being tokenistic that they believe anybody that comes in to do it is going to be that way. So, that’s the biggest challenge and we’ve overcome it with the work.
“The biggest challenge is stigma”
Why do you think the statistics show that care leavers achieve less?
Unfortunately, it’s because care leavers do achieve less. But that’s not their fault. I actually think the statistics themselves need to be changed because what I think we’re measuring is the wrong thing. I think there’s an expectation that care leavers should be going to university at a certain age. There’s an expectation that they should be in jobs at a certain age. When actually care leavers have got a lot more things going on for them that they need to worry about at those moments in time than school.
Like independence and their family, and other factors in their life that they find difficult. What I really wish is that there was a different way of measuring outcomes. That in fact we don’t measure outcomes based on education and the current statistics. But we base them on how young people are doing emotionally and socially.
Unfortunately, care leavers are achieving less than other young people that are not in care. Which is sad.
“Unfortunately, care leavers are achieving less than other young people that are not in care. Which is sad”
What did you do differently to the people around you that you saw were failing?
Ask for help. Genuinely, ask for help. There was a young girl that lived with us in the same B&B. She had really big problems. She was suicidal and she never ever asked anybody. She just stayed in her room and she refused to ask people.
Whereas I was a bit opposite, I actually accepted that I had difficulties and chose that I wanted to help myself. The biggest step was to ask other people for support and for help. In fact, when I started to do that, I started to realise that people actually cared because I didn’t think anybody did. When you start telling people that you’re in a bad place and that you need help. Human being are usually quite kind people and they help you. I think probably one of the biggest challenges for me was asking for help. It was also one of the most beneficial factors of me progressing too where I am.
Who is the most inspiring person you have met and why?
I’ve met loads of inspiring people. It’s really hard to identify it as one. My foster brother, he inspires me because he’s older. He’s driven. He teaches me a lot about, just man stuff really. He taught me how to be a man, did my foster brother.
My foster mum, she taught me about respect, about relationships, about love. That you can have these relationships with people and enjoy them and be supported.
Then my friends as well. My friends inspire me all the time. I’ve got a great bunch of people around me that support me with my work, I support them with their lives and it’s a relationship that works two ways.
“My foster mum, she taught me about respect, about relationships, about love”
How important has telling your story been?
Amazingly important for me because I realise the more I shared my story, the more it was helping me overcome it. Because the more I actually talked about it, the more I realised that a lot of the things I’d been through I’d learnt from and that they’ve made me who I am. The second important thing is that in fact, the impact that it has on other people. The fact that if you’ve got a story and you share it, other people will be inspired by it. They’ll learn from you. That’s a really, really important gift too have because you can inspire anybody that you come in contact with by sharing your story and talking about what you’ve been through. Because there’s people that have been through the same things that can relate to you. That’s powerful because being in care, you feel like you’re alone a lot of the time. Sometimes just listening to somebody else going through the same thing really helps you.
For adults working with children, it’s really important for them because a lot of the time they don’t feel like they’re achieving anything for children. So sometimes when a young person comes along and says this is what I went through, these are the people that helped me and this is what I’m doing now. It gives them a sense of pride that they’re doing the right thing because they can learn from your story.
The underlying thing amongst all of it is that when I left care I felt worthless. I felt like my story had no worth. The more and more I spoke about it, and the more and more I’ve done this job I’ve started to realise my story has a lot of worth. That in fact I should be proud of where I have come from. That was the biggest change for me, the most important thing. The biggest reason why I do this.
“I should be proud of where I have come from”
How do you become successful despite a care background?
It doesn’t matter what your background is. You can be successful no matter who you are. It’s about just doing what you want to do. Success to you, it what success is too you and nobody else. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it doesn’t matter who you are. If you want to do something and achieve something, then do it. That’s it. Just pursue your dream. If you’ve got something in your mind, pursue it, do it and you will be successful. Just don’t stop.
“pursue your dream”
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
To get to know young people. To really get to know young people. To not judge young people based on what you hear about them. I think that’s the biggest problem. Is that professionals are too quick to make decisions on young people based on what they’ve read and what they’ve heard. What professionals need to be doing more of, is spending time with young people to get to know who they really are. Because professionals keep talking about this magical thing called a relationship but more and more and more I see that they aren’t trying to develop them. I think that if in fact professionals make relationships with young people, and that relationship is a positive one, professionals will be happier and young people will achieve more. I think we need to be focusing more on building relationships with young people above everything else.
“get to know who young people really are”
Transcribed by Amy.