National Care Leavers Week
As we come to the end of National Care Leavers Week, as a charity that historically provided direct care to children and aspires to provide services to care experienced children again in the future, our Director of Operations reflects on her own experiences of leaving care...
It's National Care Leavers week this week, it’s always a week that makes me think… it’s not one that everyone celebrates or knows about and often it goes by unmarked and missed.
I was reading on a Care leaver’s blog site last night that all people talk about and write about is how they have “moved on”, progressed, got a family, a good job and somewhere to live – but what about your story – what about what actually happened?
Being a Care leaver is an identity – it makes you part of a group – a pretty exclusive group as well.
I have spent years hiding this identity, not talking about my care experiences and it’s only in the last few years that I have discussed it and mentioned it – I know now that it's part of who I am.
When I came to Sir Josiah Mason Trust I remember reading the story of Josiah, the orphanage and what he did… I also remember searching and looking for something bad – a story of bad experiences from these children; anything that would confirm for me that Josiah didn’t really look after these children with care, love, support and education – I found nothing!
I found a story of a man who tried to help by investing in his community, by investing in a generation of young people to make them feel loved, supported and he gave them hope for the future by education.
I wish all care leavers, care experienced people would have a story like this, a story of hope – but they don’t.
I joined the Trust nearly 2 years ago and from the start because of Josiah I discussed being Care experienced, I talk about the Trust helping again – helping the children Josiah would have wanted to – it's what drew me here it’s what makes me stay.
My care experience was like many others it was staying in strange rooms that weren’t mine. Not having my belongings and possessions with me because there was “no room”. I moved what little I did have around in a black bin liner. I remember the first home I went to; they didn’t have much room for me so I slept in their dining room on a Z bed, it was loud and full of people, raised voices and it wasn’t home. Quickly I realised that “this is it, this is life” – I was on my own. My family no longer spoke to me, my dad didn’t want me and I couldn’t be with my mum. I can remember the realisation of this hitting my between the eyes one night when I sat on my bed, in the cold and cried – “you are on your own now” a voice inside me said.
Social workers wrote me off – “You know that’s it now, you are in the system, you won’t get your GCSE’s; it will be too hard, you have no choices to make now…”
I got moved again, to a home very similar to the first where I was put in a temporary room with a bed and cupboard full of other peoples things – this was where I was going to stay, this was the best place for me; so I was told. I sat around a big table at meal times full of other kids who like me had been “put in the system” however I had no connect to them, they had no connection to me – I was alone.
My focus became on leaving, getting away and doing it on my own. On my 16th birthday I packed my things and left vowing I would never return – and I didn’t. I stayed on floors, peoples sofas and sometime wandering the streets until I managed to get a room in a hostel for women. My social worker spent hours trying to convince me to go back to the home I was in, trying to offer help – I didn’t want it; I didn’t need it – I was on my own.
I never took any more help from social services after that point, I did do it on my own. I took the wrong path many many times and when I look back made decisions that no one of that age should have had to make but I did it and I did it on my own.
At 40 years old, I can be that story about progress and success – I have my own family, children, home and a good career. I got an education and did well – but none of this gives me pride without remembering what I did, what I overcame when I was “that kid in care”, when I was that girl wandering the streets – all of those experiences, all of those nightmares made me able to make that progress and be who I am today.
I am care experienced – I am a care leaver and I am proud of that.
Sir Josiah Mason started SJMT to help those most in need. At that time, young people who had no family and nowhere to call home as well as older women, were those who needed his help most. In 2020, young people who are care experienced are still those most in need. They are amongst the most vulnerable and underserved young people in the UK; they are more likely to be at risk of poor educational outcomes, unemployment, homelessness, drug and alcohol dependency, offending and mental health issues.
Since the closure of the orphanage and school in 1960, we have not delivered direct services to children and young people. In 2021, that will change as we embark on a new journey of supporting young people most in need, specifically those leaving care.