‘I grew up in care. Stop using it as an excuse to write me off.’

I sat down with one of our young people, who has spent eight years in care, to get her views on what it’s like being placed into foster care and why societal views need to change on those in care.

Thanks for sitting down and talking to me today. Could you give me some background about your time in foster care?

I grew up in a household with 9 other blood siblings. We were taken into care at 10 due to abuse and neglect. I was placed locally with my brother, and we went into a really good placement with whom I’m still in touch. Unfortunately, that placement broke down due to personal reasons on behalf of the foster parent. After that, I was placed in four other placements, initially with my brother, before being separated as we argued too much. I was placed in the same area to stay and study at the grammar school I was attending.

Was your schooling impacted as a result of being a child in care?

I went to a really good grammar school, so I wouldn’t say I was disadvantaged, but it did have an element of snobbery, so actually, in a way, I also was. There’s a certain stigma attached to growing up in care, and I was one of only two children in the entire school at the time who grew up in foster care. I also found that I was more mature than most people my age because of what I’d been through, which was tough, too. As rare as it was, being a child in care at my school at the time, I also felt really lucky because it meant my teachers didn’t have to distribute their time to loads of other kids in care, and that really benefitted me because I got more one-on-one time.

At around 14, I became really depressed as a result of the trauma that I’d had growing up. My mental health plummeted, and unfortunately, my foster parents couldn’t cope with it, so I was moved again.

As an adult, I don’t blame them, and I’m not angry now, but at the time, I was because of how they handled it. I had spent a few weeks in respite and returned to find my bags were packed and told I was moving; there was no pre-warning.  But everything was calmer by the time I entered sixth form. I stayed at the same school as I didn’t want to have to adapt to a new one. But I also stayed because the staff were amazing, and I constantly received so much support.

You’ve been through more than any young person should, but it sounds like you’ve had some really positive influences in your life, too.

Absolutely! When I struggled the most, at 14 and 15, I had some amazing people at my school. A group of supporters were fresh out of university, so I felt they understood me more. They were young and not yet qualified teachers, so it was more relaxed. They suggested that I supervise every after-school sports club to keep me busy and distracted from my negative thoughts. There were even occasions when I was really struggling when they would come to my house to take me to school. It meant so much that they could see my potential and didn’t give up on me when everything was difficult. There was no punishment, just acceptance of where I was at emotionally.

At the same time, I was also in therapy, and my therapist was amazing. I asked her how she got into the field. If I’m honest I wanted her job! I’m book smart and passionate because I’ve been through it, so I knew that’s what I wanted to do. I chose to study psychology at A-level, where I won two prizes for my work, and now study it at university.

It sounds like you were very lucky to have such positive influences in your life, and they have helped you become so successful. Unfortunately, the media and society do not always show successful cases of children and young people in care. Is there anything we can do to change this?

Knowing that no child growing up in care is inherently bad is important.  If a child in care acts or rebels, it’s because they’ve been hurt; they’re the victims. There definitely is this stereotype that we’re bad kids. I’ve had it where parents haven’t wanted their children mixing with me because they think we will influence their children to do bad things. It’s the complete opposite.

Children of trauma are the ones who are easily influenced, so it’s more likely that your child is doing the influencing, and we’re going along with it to be accepted!

People need to understand that children in care are victims of the environment that they’ve grown up in. If they’re naughty or acting out it’s because they can’t process what has happened and they’re looking for an escape from their trauma. But people also don’t understand that there are benefits to growing up in care. If you’re matched correctly you can grow up in a loving, nurturing environment where you can begin to heal from your trauma. I also have savings, clothing allowances, pocket money, and people constantly checking in on me.

Foster care isn’t widely spoken about and often feels hidden. My generation grew up on Tracy Beaker, and that was the only reference most people had of foster care. The number of times I’ve had people ask if my experience is like Tracy Beaker. They think it’s just a bunch of rowdy kids who are naughty and like to kick off. This is just not the case. From the outside, no one would know I was a foster child. I grew up in a ‘normal’ house with a nuclear family. It couldn’t look more normal from the outside. People don’t know what it’s like, and that’s frustrating.

It also doesn’t help that whenever there has been a crime committed, and it’s presented, either on the news or in documentaries, it always relates back to the child who grew up in care or had some traumatic upbringing. It feels like they’re suggesting that if a child grows up in care there is no doubt that they will grow up to become a criminal. There’s never the opposite side of the story. I’m not a criminal. I’ve been abused, and I know never to do that.

It’s the same with Disney villain stories. Now, it transpires that all Disney villains are only that way because they were victims of abuse. Unfortunately, that can sometimes happen, but it’s not the whole story. I’m concerned that if all we see are negative stories, all that does is reinforce those negative stereotypes.

I’ve been turned away from a job because I told them I had a social worker. Society must stop seeing those in care as a problem and stop using it as an excuse to write people like me off. There never seems to be a mention of the success stories.

The assumption from society is that every child in care is the same. They don’t seem to get that we’re all completely different and come from different experiences. Not every child in care has been abused or neglected. Some have been put in care because they’ve lost a parent, and the remaining parent has done the right thing by recognising they can’t cope and want to do their best for the child. It’s not always unloving on the parents’ side. But we can’t stereotype kids. We don’t in other settings. If we were talking about your birth children, you’d treat them as the individuals they are. The same should be true for children in foster care. Look at me- I’m successful. I’ve got my own car, a job and going to university. I’ve managed to do those things because I was treated as an individual rather than a statistic, which has allowed me to thrive. Every child in care should be treated as an individual. The only thing that is the same is that it is never the child’s fault.

That’s such an important message. Is there anything else you’d like people to take away from your experience?

I’d like people to know I’m very thankful for my life.

When I was younger I used to be angry. I couldn’t understand why these things had happened to me, and then that anger came out as depression. But now I’m older I’m so thankful. Without all the things that have happened, I wouldn’t be me. I wouldn’t have gone to grammar school, counselling or university and be on this path where I can now use my experience to help those in a similar situation.

All care has benefited me, but we need to see more success stories of children in care. I also sit on evolve’s fostering panel, which is really special. It means people can see there are success stories for those in care. And I’m not an exception, I’m not a one off. But we do need to speak about children in care. We need to normalise it. We need to celebrate their success to give others something to strive towards.