I grew up in care. It did not exactly go well; my local authority abused me worse than my family and then left me homeless twice without any support when I was still young enough to be legally entitled to support from them.
I find questions about family confusing. People ask me if I have any siblings and if I have a sister, but I’ve seen her once in ten years and don’t know her. So I don’t know.
I tell people I don’t have parents because, generally, that’s easier to explain than being taken into care. My dad is in another country, like my sister. Even words like ‘dad’, ‘sister’ and ‘mum’ aren’t words I like. They feel overly simple like they encompass both too much and not enough.
If I were to consider family through the lens of who influenced me, shaped me and whom I loved and trusted, the pool of candidates expands. The first people I think of here are those in my cheerleading team, who were the first friends I ever made. It became a safe space and an environment where I felt encouraged to grow and push myself and my abilities.
When I hear the word ‘mum’ the first woman I think of is my childhood social worker. I had a care coordinator once tell me my attachment brain thought of her as my mum, and that was the only person I ever had a secure attachment with.
As a young adult, I wish I didn’t associate her with being a mum. It turns out she didn’t treat me very well, in ways that I was too young and blinded by love and trust to realise when I knew her. I used to want, desperately, to be good enough for my social worker. I wanted this so much I scratched the ‘good’ and just wanted to be enough for her. I was painfully aware I wasn’t. Shortly after I ran into her whilst homeless, malnourished, unwashed and struggling with two infections because I didn’t have access to a shower, food or washing machine she told me I “ruined” everything. I realised that I needed to be my own Kerrie now.
I re-enrolled in college while homeless, started volunteering locally, which expanded to working with five different places, and then became a Director of a Community Interest Company at 23. The thing I realised was that even though the fire under me was lit by wanting to be enough for my social worker, it was me who had achieved so much. Speaking of becoming Director, the people who I work with are another group who I would identify with as ‘family’ – who help me grow and feel safe.
Another thing I didn’t really have in care was a home. I was always moved from placement to bad placement with no say or control. The only place that has truly been ‘home’ for me is not a house. It is not surrounded by walls or where I sleep. It is the town I moved to a couple of years ago. This town is the only place I’ve felt safe and happy and supported. It’s a small town and that rhythm and structure is infinitely better for me than the overcrowded, overstimulated anonymous streets of London, where I’d grown up.
Being in care has made my history different from the stereotype, but something that helps me is understanding that difference doesn’t mean bad or less and I can still find the elements, the definitions, I need elsewhere.
Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.