Sunday, 28 September 2014

When Care Left Me and I Left Custody

The day of my release was an amazing day and thinking back the feeling was better than any drug but not one I wanted to take or feel again. 

When I left Custody I had very limited options: my mom's or homelessness. I was a seventeen and a half year old vulnerable heading towards re-offending and failure. 

Social services withdrew from seeing me or looking after me. A feeling of abandonment prevailed as I wasn't ready to take the world of independence on. It was a lonely feeling and a genuine fear for my future. I didn't have options or opportunities when I first came out of the young offenders institution. 

I had to be resilient and determined not to re-offend and stay away from my old crowd of mates that were still offending and taking drugs. I didn't want to be part of the revolving door going in and out. I didn't want a life of crime, drugs and prison.

It was difficult to be living back with my mom where previously it had failed every time. As did this after two weeks. My thoughts and voice weren't listened too when I had said I didn't want to go back there exactly because of this reason.

Then to a hostel after a few days sleeping rough. My mental health was slipping. Dirty, no money or food. And no support! The loneliness got the better of me. I had had enough and wanted to end my life. Isolated and not seeing anyone. I missed my youth offending appointment. Thought I was going back to jail. Some of the darkest days.

I know how it feels to be lonely and isolated, when you feel the world is against you and there is no light. I'd stopped hanging round with my old crowd of friends because I didn't want to re-offend. I chose loneliness instead. I knew I could be with people but that was only going to make it worse. I felt trapped with no-one to turn too.

I took an overdose and was admitted to the Psychiatric hospital and medicated up to the eye-balls to the point I couldn't talk and felt all fight in me was gone. Hard for me to explain.

After two weeks I ran as I hated being on the medication. I had one visit from my youth worker. No family or friends visited. Did I give up? Or fight?

Then I went to Project Challenge which helped me more than words can say. I can't articulate what they did for me. And what I did for myself. The best experience of my life with some of the best views I've ever seen walking across the Alta Via 1.

I then met my son's mom where I stayed six years. On the day my son was born, one of my closest friends was left to die after being released from custody and taking heroin. That was possibly the hardest day of my life. Proud and happy my son was born then hours later to find out my friend/brother had died in tragic circumstances.

I always struggled in the relationship with my son's mom. I was distant. Not very close. I was always thinking and struggling with leaving all my friends behind and starting again. The loss of so many to drugs and suicide. So much of which could have been avoided with the right support, opportunity and funding. So many wasted lives.

I then left the relationship for the sake of my son. I could be a good dad still. It hurt so much to leave him because he was mine! I loved every bone of him. He was my world. I'm not going to lie I struggled being a parent when he was younger because I hadn't resolved my own problems and it affected me. His mom has a great family who all support each other. 

I then spent seven more weeks in a psychiatric ward as I had a breakdown. The most awful seven weeks. But again it was give up or fight?

I fought and started running and got back in to football. That helped me clear my head and make progress and start to give something back.

From there I have made great progress and give something back and help make a small difference to some young peoples' and professionals' lives. Using my negative experience to make theirs a better one.

If I had not found people to help and support me, I would still be struggling. We all need support from time to time and a lot of care leavers don't have these options.

If we support young care leavers now and give them options, opportunity and support we can save lives and cost to the future government purse.

It shouldn't be about money but the reality is that it is. Money first and children and young people second.

Wars seem to be more important to fund than our own young people who will become the future of our country.

Every Child Leaving Care Matters

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Ben Ashcroft

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