Mike Dennis

Introduce yourself please…

My name is Mike, I’m 38 years young and I’m from Dudley. I’m a bit strange in that I specialise in two very different professions in my life. I’m founder of a fostering agency and I am also a professional web developer. I’m a big computer geek, that’s what I studied at Uni.

I’m founder of a fostering agency and I am also a professional web developer

Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?

My parents were divorced when I was a toddler. Inter-racial relationships weren’t as common as they are now and that as well as other issues caused a split in the family and my mother was left to struggle alone with twins. Occasionally, the pressure affected her mental and physical health and as a result my sister and I became ‘looked after’.

Inter-racial relationships weren’t as common as they are now and that as well as other issues caused a split in the family

How did you feel about going in care?

I understood the reasons why, I didn’t feel sorry for myself and in some ways it was exciting. I didn’t resent it because I knew it was in my mum’s best interest to have a period of rest and recovery.

Whats your favourite childhood memory?

Once I remember getting called racist names from a family across the street, I felt isolated and scared – they were a known family who would break all the windows in your house if you gave them trouble so people-hardly challenged them. One day I had a rare visit from my Dad who, upon hearing this immediately went over to the house, I was really worried for him, I watched through the window as they opened the door and let my Dad in, I could hear him shouting in patois but, couldn’t make out what we was saying I just knew it was about me. The door opened and he came back from across the street back to our house, when he came in, he told me “they wouldn’t be troubling me any more”. They didn’t.

What is your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievement would be realising that success doesn’t come from trying to do it alone. We need other people to help us achieve anything worthwhile and I am no different. In that sense I wouldn’t take full credit by claiming the biggest achievements as my own.

My biggest achievement would be realising that success doesn’t come from trying to do it alone

One achievement that makes me very proud is co-creating a happy, stable and loving home environment with my wife for our two children because being the best parent I can be is something that is so important to me. Another thing I am proud of is founding a fostering agency, led by the vision of someone who has been in care. I now feel able to use my experience to help build an agency that I hope will become regarded as one of the best in the country. The journey has only recently begun but that’s our aim.

Overall, what has your care experience been like?

The people who cared for me via fostering were all nice people so in that aspect I was lucky. Having said that, I would rate the overall experience in hindsight as adequate but not exceptionally good as it should be. I think I remember hearing someone once say that Fostering should be so good that kids who aren’t fostered wished they were fostered”. I think it may have been Lemn Sissay. I don’t know if that’s possible, but that is how good I want our agency to be.

I remember hearing someone once say that Fostering should be so good that kids who aren’t fostered wished they were fostered

Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future? 

Sorry, nothing’s ever simple with me, a gift I have (or a curse) is that I am able to see things in many shades – never just black and white. I can only say that the past has had an essential effect on my future, anything else feel’s like speculation. To me, my past is in the past, whether it’s good or bad depends not upon the past but upon how I react. I have become good at turning a bad situation in a better one.

To me, my past is in the past, whether it’s good or bad depends not upon the past but upon how I react. I have become good at turning a bad situation in a better one.

What has driven you?

A mixture of things really, maybe something to do with a fear of living in poverty, chasing more control and wanting choice in my life, certainly leaving a legacy for my children and family.

Who is your role model?

I have many people who I consider to be great role models. I think the best role models are those who can teach us to be our better selves. Tell me, who is a better role model? A bin man in the street who speaks to you politely with courtesy and manners or a president of a country who respects no-one, uses toxic language and discriminates against women and minorities? Some people might say the president is a wonderful role model but, it shouldn’t be about status, it should be about behaviour.

Have you ever felt like giving up?

I’m able to become very single minded – I wasn’t always that way, it’s something that I have developed after years of trying to be successful in whatever I’m doing. I’m not going to say I’ve never quit but I wouldn’t quit if I felt something was working for me. If something was going too far away from the direction I needed it to, and I could see there was no future, I would probably give up on it as soon as that became apparent. To me life is too precious and far too short to mess around on something that isn’t moving you towards your aims. That said, perseverance is an essential component of success and knowing when to give up and when to carry on is a skill. When you are absolutely clear on your objectives in life, decision making in this regard tends to become easier.

To me life is too precious and far too short to mess around on something that isn’t moving you towards your aims

What keeps you going?

A clear vision, personal responsibility for those around me and self-belief. Also, When it comes to some things – I don’t accept failure as an option.

How much have you changed since you left care?

I am more educated and confident in who I am as a person. I am more positive about the future, I am more patient, less prone to self destructive patterns and I am more easily able to let go of things that have annoyed me.

I am more positive about the future, I am more patient, less prone to self destructive patterns

Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?

Probably but, I don’t remember any significant references.

When did you start to believe in yourself?

I think I always had a degree of self confidence but what I do feel I lacked was self worth. I began to really value myself when I moved away to University with my girlfriend. When you have a partner like her, who believes in you so strongly it is a huge boost.

Did you ever feel alone?

Throughout my secondary school years I felt alone.

Did your foster parents help you?

They gave me an insight into how tranquil life could be, although I don’t think they had the time or capacity to prepare me for adulthood.

What’s your message to children in care?

It’s a tough one, there are so many things I would want to say and not every message fits every child so I would have to be quite general. I might say something like…”You have one gift that many people would love to have and that no amount of money can buy. That gift is youth – when you are young you have time to create a future in your mind and then work towards making that future a reality.”

when you are young you have time to create a future in your mind and then work towards making that future a reality

What was it like when you first went into care?

I don’t really remember, I have an image in my head of a photo I’ve seen. It was in some holiday park somewhere, we were looked after with some twins. I must have only been between 3-5 years old. It was summertime and we all had sun visors on and were kneeling down in a row. Other than that I can remember eating Muesli there, everything else has faded. If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why? I would take more time out to enjoy with my family and friends.

In the difficult moments what kept you going?

My relationship with my wife has been an indescribably huge source of comfort, and strength for me. Those moments have been so frequent I just see everything as another challenge to be overcome.

I just see everything as another challenge to be overcome

How did it feel proving people wrong?

I’m not focussed on proving people wrong but, it feels sweet proving myself right.

What do you think about the care system now?

I think it reflects the society we’re in and government we have. It’s better than in some countries but I cannot be satisfied when outcomes are as they are.

It’s better than in some countries but I cannot be satisfied when outcomes are as they are

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Too many to list but I have overcome them primarily, by not giving up and not losing self belief.

How do you become successful despite a care background?

In my profession in IT – determination and a foresight that help me understand if I behaved poorly it would impact my ability to have a successful life. In terms of my work in fostering, I was able to turn what I considered in some ways to be a disadvantage into an advantage.

I was able to turn what I considered in some ways to be a disadvantage into an advantage

Is there something you’re most proud of?

I’m proud that I persevered with my goals through adversity.

What is your message to professionals and foster carers?

1. Thank you for doing a difficult job. 2. Continuously work to prepare children and young people for success in adult life in as many practical ways as possible as early as possible. Time moves so fast and sometimes I think the preparation could be undertaken with more urgency.

1. Thank you for doing a difficult job. 2. Continuously work to prepare children and young people for success in adult life