Can you introduce yourself please?

My name is Shelly I am 20 years old.

Tell us a little bit about yourself?

So I currently am working at the York Council in the Local Area Teams, helping to deliver early help to families who would like support.

I also work on a sessional basis for Coram Voice, on the New Beginnings project. The project works to enable local authorities to make change and differences for their care leavers, based on their thoughts, views, wishes and feelings.

I am also the current chair of I Still Matter, York’s care leaver forum. We meet monthly to discuss topics around leaving care, including support needed and tackling various issues. I used to be involved also whilst I was in care in Show Me That I Matter, York’s children in care council! I came into care when I was 9 years old and from around the age of 10/11 was always actively involved in attending conferences and meetings both locally and nationally. I’ve been involved in really successful projects, such as the creation and launch of Aspire to More, the Listen to Me Film, and The One Percent with Inspired Youth.

I really enjoy public speaking and have presented at and opened and closed several conferences and events such as the Children’s Media Conference 2017, and the 2018 Association Of Directors Of Children’s Services Conference.

At the age of 17 I decided I wanted to move out and into my own place, and since I have been living independently, working and learning with hopes to continue down my chosen career path.

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

There were a few reasons as to why I was taken into care. I grew up mainly living with my two brothers and our mum. The first home we lived in my brothers shared a room upstairs whilst my bedroom was in a converted front room on the ground floor. I remember mostly this home being calm, we lived just a stone’s throw away from the biggest park in York, one of my fondest memories of living here was myself and my older brother would often sneak around the perimeter of the park, in one entrance and out another in quick time so we wouldn’t get caught by our parents.

My mum split from my dad when we were very young, whilst we lived in our first house, this as a result had already caused a lot of stress and upset in our family household, and my mum as a result struggled to parent us on her own. I remember their divorce and the arguments they would have with each other whilst me and my brothers would watch on having no idea what was going on, and at such a young age shouldn’t have been exposed to that.

We moved from our first home around 2006, I remember being about 6 years old. Our new home was a big council house on an estate. When we moved into this home I remember feeling hopeful as we were starting a fresh in a new side of the city, a new school and new hope for a better life. Unfortunately my mum now was a single parent and struggled to parent us 3 children on her own. My older brother was taken into care first, around 2 years before me and my younger brother were to be. I remember my mum becoming less able to support me and my younger brother, so I spent a lot of my time growing up caring for him and my mum and trying to cook and clean and just generally feeling more responsible than I should have been.

From what I can remember, neither of my parents really worked and the environment I grew up in tended to just be my mum at home, usually watching TV, whilst we played in the house, garden, or on the estate.

It was clear to me that numerous people knew we needed support. The dinner ladies at school paid extra attention to us, and were eager to give us seconds. They must have known that sometimes at home there wasn’t much or any food, and just seeing the look on our faces to have a full meal presented was enough to tell a story.

I remember being told that I was unclean and didn’t wash properly, teachers told me I smelt badly and I must have only been about 7/8 years old. I would go home and run a bath and wash with whatever I could find. This usually was just hand soap and moisturizer- everything but what I really needed to keep myself clean.

The dinner ladies at school paid extra attention to us, and were eager to give us seconds.They must have known that sometimes at home there wasn’t much or any food ….

What was it like when you first went into care?

Me and my younger brother got taken into care as an emergency. The police took me and my brother to wait in the Police station whilst an on duty social worker tried frantically to find us a place to stay that night.

When me and my brother were taken to the station it was around 10pm and I was only 9 years old. It felt like the early hours of the morning.

At the station we were taken to what looked like a big canteen, several officers were also in the room dotted around. The room had large windows across one side and it was pitch black outside except for street lamps and lighting from nearby houses. The officers were ordering fish and chips and were watching Family Guy. There was a long screen at the end of the room which separated the room slightly and had a sofa on the other side. While we waited to hear what would happen me and my brother laid and ‘tried’ to sleep.

I stayed with my brother for around 3 days in a ‘respite’ home. We shared a camp bed in a play room and only stayed in this room except for meals and the one off visit into the garden. Eventually we went back to school and and we tried to go about our normal day, at the end of the day we were met by a teacher in our classrooms and brought to reception to meet our social worker.

This was the first time me and my brother overheard that we were going to be split up and a fair distance away. I remember this being terrifying because all I wanted to do was protect my brother. Knowing we were going to be miles apart was awful.

When I first met my foster carers, Linda and Paul, they immediately made me feel welcome and their daughter Emily showed me to my room. I remember the first thing Emily did was ask if I wanted to play on the Wii (bear in mind I’d never heard of one of these until now).

The first few nights were hard, I found it hard sleeping as I worried what was happening to my mum, and I knew she was worried about me and my brother.

When I first met my foster carers, Linda and Paul, they immediately made me feel welcome …

Overall, what has your care experience been like?

Despite a really difficult time before being in care, my experience of actually being in care was overall really positive and the best thing to have happened to me. With the support of the best carers I have been able to take back my life and become strong, wise and independent as a result.

I feel like I am probably one of the lucky ones, from the day I came into care my carers treated me as their own and made me feel loved and supported from the get go. I stayed in the same placement throughout my time, and my carers took on a lot of responsibility and did a lot of the work and decision making themselves, as any parent should. I always knew from the start that my foster parents loved me, and I could tell they weren’t treating me as ‘their fostered child’ but as their own. This didn’t just include the love they provided, but ensuring they were teaching me my rights from wrongs, and teaching me knowledge and skills to become the person that I am today.

My foster parents enabled me to understand what I went through and introduced me to clubs, activities and sports that would give me as normal childhood as possible.

… from the day I came into care my carers treated me as their own and made me feel loved and supported from the get go …

First day of school

What is your biggest achievement?

My biggest achievements include representing the York Children in Care Council, Show Me That I Matter in Parliament on 3 separate occasions, twice for the Kids Count Awards and once during 2016 National Care Leavers week, speaking to high up professionals.

Despite negative portrayals of looked after children and care leavers, I am proud to have my own place, a really good job, qualifications and experience, and the ability to project myself confidently and independently.

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

My past has both had positive and negative effects on my future. Because of where I have come from I have higher motivation and drive to make something of myself, I know where and who I don’t want to be.

I use my experiences as a way of trying to shape a better future for other young people like me, and to give professionals an idea as to what it really is like for families and young people in York, and how they can improve and change to ensure that children and young people are being supported and listened to in the most effective way possible.

I use my experiences as a way of trying to shape a better future for other young people like me …

What has driven you?

The main things that have driven me are hearing other care experienced people tell their stories. I’ve seen what those people are capable of achieving and I want to be able to do similar things. Such as sharing my story, and making an impact which as a result can change the way the system is, and therefore make the lives of children in care better.

Who is your role model?Tenerife Snakes

My role model is probably my foster mum Linda. She doesn’t always realize how much of a positive impact she has had on my life and my overall outcome.

I admire her ability to continue to show love regardless of the situation she is in. I feel this is so important in making a young person feel wanted and secure.

What keeps you going?

The prospect of just having a happy life after all the bad I went through. As I get older I feel myself becoming happier and being able to manage everything better.

My role model is probably my foster mum Linda

How much have you changed since you left care?

Since leaving care (which was only a couple of years ago) I feel I have developed myself more independently.

I have aspirations in the career that I am in to progress into working directly with and for children who are looked after and care leavers. I made the decision whilst I am working to start University one evening a week, doing Children and Young People’s Education and Development. Whilst I have invaluable knowledge of being looked after and chairing both the children in council and care leavers’ forum, I felt ready to further my knowledge by gaining a degree.

In the time I have left care I have also gained my level 2 in counselling skills, which is a big achievement for myself.

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

Personally I never felt singled out or judged for being in care. I always carried the label with confidence with the aim to say, I am not a stereotype and it will not hinder my abilities to be like anyone else.

I see it a lot around me, and I am always actively involved in doing work that specifically is designed to take away those labels and give people better knowledge and understanding of what care is like, and what they can do to help us get rid of those negative portrayals.

Did your foster parents help you?

Tenerife All Of UsMassively. I know I will sound biased but I feel my foster carers are an example of the best foster carers.

They have always and still now made me feel loved and supported. My foster parents always went out of their way to try and get me involved in clubs and activities, and supported me with my learning and revision.

In my eyes my foster family are part of my real family, they are my mum, dad and sister. So still now even though I have now left care and am in my own place, I will always go to them for support and pop round for birthdays, Christmas and tea in general.

What’s your message to children in care?

Being in care doesn’t define you. Don’t be afraid to be proud of your achievements, especially when there are constant statistics and stereotypes bounced around in the media telling you that you are likely to fail just because of a label.

If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?

I wish in the past I wasn’t so hard on myself.

… be proud of your achievements, especially when there are constant statistics and stereotypes bounced around in the media telling you that you are likely to fail ….

What do you think about care now?

I had a really positive experience of care, but I can see now there is disparity in what children and young people are experiencing during their time in care.  Not all children and young people in the system are lucky to have just one placement and a place that really feels like home.

I do see that children and young people are more involved in the shaping of not only their local services, but nationally as well. It’s really positive to see more positive media coverage and change as a result of more understanding and outreach that the care experienced community has.

What is your message to professionals and foster carers?

Treat us as you would your own. Don’t assume that we are a reflection of what is written on our files. Take time to get to know us and help us to feel listened to and valued.