Can you introduce yourself please?
Hi, I’m Marie. I’m a 25 year old care leaver originally from Birmingham but currently living in London.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a care leaver from Birmingham and I have just qualified as a social worker. I am currently waiting to start in my first job post in a referral and assessment team in children’s services. My first degree was in Medical Science and Humanities which I really loved but was always drawn back to social rather than medical! In my spare time, I am a keen runner and have completed three ultramarathons. I have more recently taken up triathlon and hope to complete a full ironman in 2018!
What was it like when you first went into care?
In one word: awful. I went to school one day and never went home. I was placed under a police protection order and moved from place to place for months until a permanent place for me to live could be found. There was no option to collect my belongings and I lost everything. My family and my belongings. No one told me what was happening and as I went into care on a Friday night, I truly felt like I was simply dumped, not hearing anything until Monday afternoon.
I went to school one day and never went home
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
I found care hard and I found it hard to accept going home wasn’t an option. I guess going into care at 13 meant I already had 13 years of life and then all of a sudden everything was different. I struggled to settle into foster care. New rules, new people, new everything. I went from not receiving much care at home to endless meetings and people constantly checking up on me. I guess not coping well with what had happened to me at home coined with not wanting a new family made me a handful. I needed a lot of care. 27 foster placements later, I was moved into residential care which was more positive. It was still difficult but easier for me to be surrounded by other people who were like me as well as having staff available around the clock for support.
27 foster placements later, I was moved into residential care which was more positive
What is your favourite childhood memory?
My favourite memory is watching I’m a celebrity with my family. It’s a simple memory but a yearly ritual which was always positive and nice to do together.
What is your biggest achievement?
My biggest achievement is the life I am living now. I have no family around anymore and at 18 years old I had no one bar Pam (a great social worker now friend). Now I am 25 and have some fantastic friends, a great hobby, a career and a masters degree. I am really proud of what I have achieved. I could have taken a different route. Mostly, having people around me who choose to be around me is so important and my greatest achievement. Once I went into care, the only relationships I had were people who were paid to be with me and that was painful. It’s not like that now.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I really struggled with my mental health when I went into care. At 14, I took a pretty bad overdose and spent the next six months in an inpatient mental health unit trying to find reasons to live. My mental health was a real battle for a while but I am on top of this now. I have overcome this by working through problems, recognising when I am struggling and asking for help when I need it. It’s still hard at times.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I think it’s mixed. Obviously, I am doing social work now so a positive is it has paved the way for my career choice. I remember what it felt like to be in care and I will not let other people feel like they are not important or cared for. So positively it has given me a focus and a passion.
But there are lots of negatives. I had to become independent earlier than most and I can struggle to ask for help when I really need it sometimes. I can also become quite anxious and expect the worse. I can still feel quite unimportant at times and feel worthless not having a biological family. But, I do have some people who to me are my family and are everything I have. I wouldn’t have these relationships had I stayed at home. They make me feel like I am worth something.
I remember what it felt like to be in care and I will not let other people feel like they are not important or cared for
What has driven you?
I never wanted to be defined by the family I was given or my care status. I always wanted to be something. I can’t remember a time when I didn’t want to go to university and so this goal had a huge impact of my education and the goals I set for myself. I think it became more important when I went into care as it felt like it was the only way ‘out’ for me.
Who is your role model?
Over time I have found role models in most people I meet. Pam (a social worker allocated to me from CAMHS) helped me to see a life for myself outside of statistics and mental health units. She not once gave up on me even when I had given up on myself. She never shouted at me or told me what to do. Even 11 years later, we still talk and meet often. I often go and stay with her for the weekend. She is someone I truly look up too.
Over time I have also developed role models for different reasons. I admire the kindness of my partner and my best friend’s positive outlook on life. I think there are amazing qualities of all of the people in my life which I try to incorporate into my own self.
Pam (a social worker) … She not once gave up on me even when I had given up on myself … 11 years later, we still talk and meet often… She is someone I truly look up too.
What keeps you going?
Lots of things. Sometimes its myself, sometimes its running. Sometimes its food and sometimes its other people. Sometimes just focusing on getting through the day is what keeps me going. When times are hard, I always reminds myself about the light at the end of the tunnel. It came when I was in care and it will come through any hard times I experience.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Wow, there have been times! But I guess most people have felt this too. For me, the most pivotal was when I was truly depressed and couldn’t see a way out. I did give up this time. However, I got through.
Since, there have been some equally testing times where I haven’t given up like I did the day I attempted to end my life. Being made homeless, losing everything I owned bar what I could carry and spending countless months struggling to feed myself was really difficult. I felt so worthless and alone. But I knew that university was for me and for me I was confident university could help me achieve the future I wanted. I think sometimes you really have to trust yourself even when the future looks completely bleak.
How much have you changed since you left care?
Wow, a lot! When I went into care, I didn’t want anyone in my life. I wanted to be alone. I was so depressed and couldn’t be bothered with anything. I felt so unimportant and because of this I wasn’t the easiest person to be around. Now, I don’t want to be alone, I want lots of people around me and I want to have fun. I want to achieve and go places. Plus I’m nicer to be around (I hope)!!
But, there are some things that haven’t changed. I’m still extremely stubborn and I still struggle to ask for help. But in saying that, I now have some important people who have helped me realise it’s okay to ask for help and have support. Just because someone isn’t blood related, doesn’t mean they don’t want to help or that you aren’t important.
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
You know what, I’m a social worker now and I am still quite tight lipped about being in care. I choose not to tell new friends and colleagues simply because I think there is a lot of work to be done towards ending the stigma of living in care. Even now, as an adult I really carry and feel the stigma associated with it.
During my time in care, I often felt judged and labelled. One example, which I will never forget is the time my foster carer accused me of stealing her son’s phone and she told me that ‘when children are sad, they steal.’ I was so upset about this and this is still in my notes today. I have never stole and find it truly offensive that it was assumed it was me simply because his phone was missing and a foster child lived with her. That was labelling from a carer who was supposed to understand me. It hurt and to be honest it still does!
In saying that, I am open about my care experience once I get to know people. I think it works better that way as they already know me and so there perceptions are truly challenged. It also gives me the space to be ‘Marie’ and not be labelled from the outset.
When did you start to believe in yourself?
I think when I got to college, I started to see the end of the tunnel and I saw options and choices. I started to feel like I was more in control of my life. I had choices to make and a chance to make a life for myself. For me, the road to leaving care was the road to being able to make a life for myself.
Did you ever feel alone?
I found care hard. Sometimes the loneliness was physically painful. I would feel so uncomfortable I wouldn’t know what to do with myself. I don’t even know how to begin to describe the loneliness other than really painful.
I had some very positive carers in the children’s home who made me laugh, helped me out, showed me how to do things and were simply there for me. They were good people.
Did your foster parents help you?
I struggle to think of a foster carer who helped me but I know there are barrels of fantastic foster carers out there. However, I had some very positive carers in the children’s home who made me laugh, helped me out, showed me how to do things and were simply there for me. They were good people.
What’s your message to children in care?
Never give up. No matter how hard it gets or how dark it seems, it always gets better. Being in care does not define you and you are so worthy and important. You really can achieve whatever you want to achieve. Always have belief in yourself even if other people can’t quite see it.
Never give up. No matter how hard it gets or how dark it seems, it always gets better.
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
I wish I had contact with my family. But unfortunately you can’t make people do what you want them to do and so it’s a journey of acceptance. I don’t think I’ll ever truly accept being denied a family however there are some amazing people in my life who I owe so much too. They help to fill the hole.
What do you think about care now?
Care is important. It is necessary to keep children and young people safe and cared for when that is not possible at home. In saying that, care also needs some big changes. There needs to be better outcomes. Care should not expose you to another lot of barriers simply for being in care. I have hope though.
How do you become successful despite a care background?
You achieve! You don’t give up despite the hell you’re going through and you become your own biggest cheerleader whether you have an entire support crew behind you or not. You ask for help when you need it, take sensible risks and most of all; you decide what successful means to you and you go out there and work towards that success. We all have different ideas of success!
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
Never give up. Be kind and have never ending hope!
Is there something you’re most proud of?
Truly, it’s sitting here in my living room, knowing I have enough money to pay my rent and put food on the table. I haven’t been able to comfortably do this for long and I am so proud!