Can you introduce yourself please?
Hi I am Tracey Wright. I am 36 and my background is working in social work for 12 years in children and families and criminal justice.
I left social work last year (2017) to pursue my passion in criminal justice by undertaking a post grad masters in Criminal Justice and Penal change.
Tell us a little bit about yourself?
I am a mother to a wonderful creative, funny and loving son. He is my world and makes me smile.
I am also honored to have recently joined the Celcis advisory board where I can contribute my personal and professional knowledge of the care system to help make positive changes.
It is a privilege to be around and learn from other board members with a depth of experience on working within or around the care system.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
My sisters and I were living in an abusive household, in constant fear of our dad. We never told anyone as there was no one we could trust and I guess we just assumed that it was normal. I didn’t have good friendships at school as looking back, I think my hair and clothes were messy and I had zero confidence. I remember when I went into care the social worker had to take me to get my hair cut as it was all matted together.
My mum died of cancer when I was 12 and a series of events that took place after that led to a referral to social work.
What was it like when you first went into care?
I think I was quite excited and relieved. Social workers came to my school when I was in first year and asked me what was happening in my home. As soon as my sister said it’s ok, they know, I’ve told them everything, I felt a sense of freedom. I told them everything without thinking any further about what would happen next. We never returned home from school that day except to pick up a handful of clothes.
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
To be honest, it was very damaging. I would say it was more traumatic than the abuse I suffered in my family home. At least at home, I could be in control. I knew the signs for trouble and my sisters and I would work together to make plans to protect ourselves or lessen the harm. I could also go out to play and have a normal life with my friends.
In my second and final foster placement, it was clear they were only interested in the financial benefits of fostering. They were emotionally abusive and treated us differently from their own children. We were made to feel ugly and dirty. I remember wearing trainers that were gaping open at the front, yet the foster carers told me to glue it together whilst they bought their own kids whatever they wanted. I would often walk in on them handing money over discreetly to their own children yet I had to do chores to pay for my own clothes or even a facewash. I barely saw my social worker and when I did, she even asked me why I wasn’t wearing a more suitable jacket to the children’s hearing (as the one I had on was ripped). I don’t remember being asked my views or being involved in plans. The social worker believed the foster carer who would pretend to be friendly and caring at meetings.
I was miserable and I felt trapped in their care. No one would listen to our complaints and I hated sounding greedy or materialistic complaining that I didn’t have decent clothes or that I wasn’t getting the same as their own children. This was extremely difficult as a teenager and I used to borrow my sisters and friends’ clothes to try fit in. Whenever I would pluck up the courage and express my intention to leave, the foster carers would bribe me to stay quiet by showing me clothes they had bought me or tell me about gifts they promised to give me at Christmas.
My sister and I were forced to use the same bath water that was leftover from their own daughters. We were always made to feel second class and we were constantly put down or made fun of.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
My favourite memories as a child were playing with my friends in the neighbourhood. We would have a brilliant imagination and kept ourselves entertained all day playing on our bikes, going on adventures and climbing trees.
I also used to look forward to getting an Oor Willie or Broons book at Christmas, that was all I wanted.
What is your biggest achievement?
At school I never considered myself to be intelligent in any way. I was never encouraged or expected to achieve and I assumed that I was determined to fail. I hated being in the lowest level groups for almost everything except English and Home Economics.
I feel that by giving someone that label, it can lead to a self-fulfilling prophecy.
Leaving school with one higher, I left a small town and travelled to Pakistan to undertake a years voluntary work.
This experience changed my life. It gave me the freedom to be who I wanted and I experienced genuine love and acceptance. Thereafter I told myself, if I can go to Pakistan on my own at the age of 18 and make a success of it then I can do anything. I made lifelong friends and learned some of the Urdu language. I have returned twice to Pakistan and would love to go back with my son.
I was incredibly proud to be one of the 1% of young people to leave care and go onto University where I completed my BA in Social work.
I am also proud to be a mother. I feel that my son is my greatest achievement as I know my son has so much more love and confidence at 10 years old than I ever had at 30. I believe that with unconditional love, confidence and belief you can go on to do anything you want.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
Phew, well my whole life has been a challenge and I continue to face challenges.
Educationally I have had to work my way up from the bottom and soon I will have a masters in criminal justice in addition to my BA in social work. Leaving a secure job in social work to pursue my passion in criminal justice was a huge risk. It was extremely stressful and overwhelming. I had to be proactive and seek out support and ask advice. I also had to challenge decisions and think outside the box when it came to trying to organise childcare for evening classes and get funding. What I have found incredibly useful is having a couple of ‘go to’ people. For example, I have someone in the finance section at Uni who gives me great advice and guidance and he is very understanding. It also means I don’t need to keep telling my story to several people.
As a single parent with no family for support, I have had to be incredibly organised and resourceful. I am not shy at seeking help and relying on friends when I need to.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I believe that my past difficulties have made me very resilient, capable and compassionate. When I come across a challenge, I take my time to think outside the box and come up with a plan. One of my friends always used to say, I love how you don’t give up or say it can’t be done, you make a plan!
I am a very positive person and believe anything is possible. It also makes me very passionate about seeing strengths in others and motivating people to find a way out of a difficult situation and seeing their potential.
The negatives are that I have had to grow up very quickly so I don’t feel like I fit in at times. I find it hard to have friendships with people who have had and continue to have an easy life but I am aware of it and I push myself. Having no parents or relatives to guide me, I constantly question myself and have to self-regulate. It can be hard not having grandparents or a big family for my son.
I have had to learn to survive on my own with no safety net.
I was determined not to be another negative statistic.
What has driven you?
I think I have a very strong gut instinct and I know instinctively when something feels right, even if all the odds are against me, I am determined to try, it’s just who I am.
I also think there is a part of me that wants to make my mum proud and do what she couldn’t. I know that my mum aspired to be more. She had a spark in her and she wanted to build on her strengths and seek out her potential. I assume that due to her relationship with my dad, she didn’t have the opportunity. She was only 39 when she died.
I am determined to be a positive role model to my son, to make him proud of me and show him that he can be anything he wants to be.
I also want to be a positive role model to others in care who may think that they have no choice due to their circumstances. I was determined not to be another negative statistic.
Who is your role model?
I have never had any role models growing up. It is only in the last year, whilst undertaking my Msc that I have come across and built relationships with so many amazing, strong, intelligent and inspiring women. Claire Lightowler at CYCJ, Karyn Mc Luskey at Community Justice and Fiona Duncan from the Care Review to name a few.
It’s amazing the difference it makes now having someone to feedback to and to believe in me
What keeps you going?
My son and my determination to achieve to the best of my ability whilst maintaining my values.
Through my involvement in the Care Review in Scotland, there is one person in particular Liz Brabender who has been behind me every step of the way during my Msc course. She believes in me and is always very positive and reminding me how well I am doing, praising me for overcoming barriers. It’s amazing the difference it makes now having someone to feedback to and to believe in me. I remember phoning her in tears when I got my first semester results through. It meant so much to me to have achieved merit grades after the huge amount of stress and barriers I had to overcome during the first semester. Liz had been through it all with me and it was an amazing feeling to phone and say, I passed and even better than that I got a merit. I honestly didn’t even think I’d pass.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
I have felt overwhelmed on numerous occasions feeling like I am constantly fighting an uphill battle. I tell myself that I have not come through everything in my childhood to give up now, especially when I have so much I still want to do. Giving up is not a part of my vocabulary. Even the worst moments have led to a new path, new connections and greater opportunities. I believe everyone comes into our life for a reason and opens another door or teaches us something we need to grow and move on.
How much have you changed since you left care?
I am so much more confident, determined and able to express my views. I still have off days when I question myself and my abilities but I am gradually getting to believe in myself. Having met so many amazing people this year who have been so positive and share my passion and values, it has truly saved me.
Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?
It’s something I am incredibly passionate about as I always felt ashamed at being in care. There is a negative stigma associated with those in care. Unfortunately, I felt this when I was working as a social worker. I was getting into trouble for telling young people that I had been in care. At one point I was threatened that I would lose my job as a result as it was not professional. However, when I told young people or families, it immediately broke down barriers and helped built trust. Families looked at me totally different and said it helped them feel more relaxed knowing that I ‘get it’ and I wasn’t judging them.
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t necessarily change anything about my past as it has made me who I am today. What I do have regrets about is not having grandparents and a big family for my son. Obviously, that’s just the way life worked out but as a single parent with no family support, I have always been financially constrained, working part time and paying for childcare. It’s hard when I see others having support from grandparents. I want to provide more opportunities for my son without worrying about how I will pay for it.
I am at a crossroads in my career and not knowing which path I should choose. I have been accepted for a graduate entry law degree but it will mean another 3 to 5 years of financial hardship. I could return to criminal justice social work and work full time doing what I love which is working with people on a one to one but I am questioning wither I would be more valuable in the long term influencing policy and practice changes. I am hoping for that lightbulb moment when gut instinct kicks in and drives me to a particular destination.
They will know instinctively if you are genuine and that can mean a world of difference. It’s less about what you do and more about how you do it.
What do you think about care now?
My care experience allowed me to put myself in others shoes. When taking children to foster placements, I was always aware how it may feel and what questions the young person may have. However, my compassion and caring too much has been frowned upon in my social work experience.
I fear that social work is now focused on the process, ticking boxes and 80% of the time is spent writing reports and case notes. Social workers are so overwhelmed with bureaucracy and I feel they are working under a culture of fear. We need to go right back and strip away all the procedures and professionalism and have the time to care. We need to treat others as human beings who are going through an incredibly traumatic experience and ask ourselves how would we feel and how would we want to be treated if we were in that situation.
I have felt guilty at leaving a child in a foster placement where I know they don’t care about the child, as I know how it feels. I have felt powerless and as though I am letting the child down. Having to prioritise paperwork demands over quality time with a family, hating that my visit feels tokenistic because I need to collect their views for an upcoming children’s hearing.
The Care system has lost its focus on ‘Care’. It is now only a system. I know that some local authorities are very innovative and forward thinking but there needs to be consistency with best practice being mirrored across the country so that your chance at a successful life is not based on where you live or what social worker you get.
I feel hopeful that the Care Review in Scotland will change the care system for the better as it is being led by those with care experience and also takes into consideration the barriers that social workers face. Fiona Duncan who is leading the review is incredibly attuned to the needs of those in care and what the challenges are. Fiona has the drive and the commitment to ensure that ideas and plans are followed through.
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
Compassion and relationships are key. Children will have experienced a great deal of trauma and witnessed more than they tell you. They will know instinctively if you are genuine and that can mean a world of difference. It’s less about what you do and more about how you do it.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
I am proud of the relationships I formed with all the families, children and individuals during my time in children and families and in criminal justice social work. They knew I was genuine and compassionate and they put their trust in me. I have been with people through some of the most heartbreaking and positive times of their lives. I know that I have been able to make positive changes in people’s lives practically and emotionally and it has been so heartwarming to see people grow and develop.
I am in contact with a boy who was 10 years old when I first started working with him, the same age my son is now. This boy is now 24. He recently got involved in offending and is currently writing to me from prison. I look forward to receiving his letters and replying with funny cards to make him laugh. He told me of the impact I had on his life, how I introduced him to swimming, I took him on a journey to England to see his brothers passing out parade in the Army and of the sleepless nights he had knowing that I had arranged contact with his brothers. So many little things that have meant the world to him and it makes me feel so blessed to have been on his journey with him and watch him grow into an articulate and intelligent young man who has immense (unrealised) potential.
Don’t let your care experience define you. It is only one part of you
What’s your message to children in care?
Don’t let anyone make you feel that you are not good enough or not capable. What you have experienced as a child would probably break many adults.
Build on your strengths and find your passion.
Further education is a lifelong gift, grasp the opportunity. We are so fortunate to have free education in this country. In class you all bring unique skills and experiences. You are no longer the care experienced person, you are an equal. Education broadens our mind and enhances our potential.
Don’t let your care experience define you. It is only one part of you. You have still so much to do, to see and learn. I am constantly learning and even some of the most successful people I know worry that they are not good enough.
Most importantly, be yourself and be genuine. That in itself I have learned is what is most valuable.
Most importantly, be yourself and be genuine