When I think back to my journey in care, the ultimate feelings that spring to mind are the overwhelming sense of instability that I felt throughout, and the constant exhaustion felt from fighting to be heard.
I first went into foster care at the age of five with my older sister, due to being neglected at home because of my mum’s many addictions. My sister and I were fortunately fostered (and later adopted) by our grandmother, who cared for us until I was aged thirteen, when she sadly passed away due to cancer. As my mum’s addictions eventually led to her taking her life when I was eleven, my nan’s death meant that my sister and I had to go into foster care again.
My sister and I were split up, being put into different foster placements in different ends of the city, not staying anywhere for longer than three or four months at a time, at first.
My journey through care was very long and complex and involved me living in nearly ten different places during just five years. It was characterised by constant instability and feelings of loneliness and envy towards friends who remained living comfortably in their childhood family homes throughout their teenage years. I remember so badly just wanting to stop living out of a suitcase and wishing to finally find somewhere that I felt comfortable enough to unpack and throw out all my moving boxes.
When I was seventeen, I moved into a flat by myself, finally getting the space I needed to be able to breathe again. Moving in on my own made me realise just how exhausted I was after all the moving about for years, and how uncomfortable and tense it had been living as an outsider in other people’s homes for so long. It was so relieving to be somewhere that was a home to me, and not just a house, as cliché as that may sound.
However, as incredible as this opportunity was for me, it highlighted again just how problematic the care system is, in so many regards. I was only able to move into this flat at this young age due to the support from a one-off charity in my hometown, who supported young people in care to live independently once all other options had been exhausted. They worked with the local council, my ‘corporate parents’, to allow this to happen, and my case was considered relatively ‘rare’ for someone in care. In my opinion, the option for independent living for young adults in care should be much more accessible, all over the country.
People, including social workers and local councils, often assume because you have grown up in care that you can’t responsibly live alone, but this is completely false. I actually think that constantly moving around into various unsuccessful family foster placements can cause more harm than good in many young people, installing not much more than feelings of insecurity and loneliness in those in the care system.
I was very lucky during all of this time, however, to have an amazing social worker. She had known us and worked with our family since we were little, so she fought for us in every way she could, getting us access to all of our rights as children in care. The problem with care, however, is that, firstly, many young people are not fortunate enough to have social workers that really encourage you to use your voice and to fight for your rights in the way mine did. Also, so many things that people often take for granted are so hard to access as young people in care/care-leavers, to the point you often end up so tired from begging for the bare minimum that you then aren’t able to enjoy life the ways others your age are able to.
All of the instability and constant obstacles thrown in care-experienced peoples’ way makes it much harder to reach your full potential in so many areas of life. That’s why I think so much still needs to be improved within the care system so that care-experienced people are given, and do not have to fight so hard for, the same chances as other young people. This is why charities like Become are so important.