Friday 20 May 2016

Living the dream

How to start this blog, it's something I have been thinking about writing for a while now but haven't found a way to express myself and how to write it. I decided to just start and see where it takes me.

I was a child in care and drifted through just about every sort of placement there is to be placed in. Good, bad and many in between the only consistent thing was being moved. My responsibility,
I know, but like so many others from care I ended up in custody – it made no difference that many of my crimes were for survival they were still crimes, mainly associated with thefts to feed myself and eventually drug use.

In the time before going into custody I slept in the places used by many care leavers and those who have not formally left care but have left the thinking of those employed to support them. Bus stations, sofas, public toilets, wheelie bins – tried them all as I wandered around the streets high (or low) on drugs, alcohol or other substances. The secure children’s home had provided nothing more than a break from these habits a short respite for my body before starting up again. Was I ill? Probably, certainly I spent time in hospital. Did I care? No, why should I nobody else seemed to. But I am getting just a bit ahead of myself here.,

Over the years I was committing crimes, taking drugs, drinking alcohol and smoking. My mental health deteriorated. I had started to self-harm and take solvents. I was in and out of hospital pretty regularly for a while from getting myself in to awful states and nearly dying a couple of times because of my risky behaviours. I was sleeping rough, in wheelie bins, bus station toilets and other homes of young people in care. I didn't like my social workers, I didn't really like many people but I did have respect for my youth offending worker and sessional worker.

I was moved to all sorts of different placements including foster care, residential care, structured units and then to a secure unit. My mental health was a mess, it was like I got hooked on not giving a fu*k. I didn't care for myself and didn't really care or think about anybody else, the damage I had caused a long the way, the hurt caused to the victims of my crimes. I was cutting myself and trying to strangle myself and take overdoses of paracetamol. I had stitches for the cuts, charcoal for the overdose and some good staff and police officers who intervened and saved me from myself a few times when on another day I would probably be dead. This is caused from the damage and trauma from the experiences I've had. The feelings of not being wanted and un loved.

After the secure children's home I went straight back to my friends who were taking drugs and committing crime, a full psychological assessment was supposed to of been done on me whilst I was residing in the secure children's home, but it wasn't. It was a missed opportunity to help me with the trauma and damaged caused over previous few years. Instead I was locked back up again within months and sent to the first ever secure training centre in Britain. I was the first from my area to be sent there, they wanted to make an example out of me and send a clear message out to people that crime is not acceptable and you will be punished no matter how old you are! The secure training centre was no help for me other than the education. I learnt more in there about crime and disorder from other young people than I knew before going in, in fact we were children. The place was always kicking off, staff mistreating the children. I got the impression that some of the staff seemed to enjoy what I considered to be mistreatment of inmates. The restraints were illegal and looking back very dangerous and could of caused serious injury.

I was back out on the streets after a few months and back committing crimes and taking drugs. Needless to say I got looked up for a 16 month sentence.  I came out and carried on with the drugs and crime, I was hanging around with people who took them and were funding it by committing crimes. I was involved, I hold my hands up, I had a mind of my own. I deserved to get locked up, maybe for even longer than I actually got with hindsight but this was where I had my 'light bulb' moment. I said I wouldn't get in trouble again to my friend who had also been locked up with me. He was a very good friend to me, we were like care brothers.
Once release from custody I was nearly 17 years old. I was told I was going to my mom’s house to live. I told them I didn't wasn't to, did anyone listen? Sadly not. It broke down after a couple of weeks, I was then moved to a bed and breakfast miles from anyone I knew with no money or support other than my youth offending worker when I had appointments. I was eating cornflakes with water because that's how bad it was. Isolated, lonely and desperate.

Over the next year I did manage to pass the course at project challenge but I was struggling with my mental health. I was depressed, isolating myself and just generally lonely and desperate for some help and support. It didn't come, I found myself in hospital because of my mental health, they were dark days and traumatic ones. I struggled for a while in hospital trying to come to terms with the severe depression and flash backs of things that would be unthinkable to most people. I managed to get more stable and ended up being in a relationship before I knew it. I had a son, it was the most proud day of my life. Then in the afternoon I found out my care brother had died from an overdose the same day he got out of prison and on the day my son was born. My head went west, I didn't know how to deal with it, I was overjoyed and proud that my son was there but I had lost one of the people I was the closest to growing up in a tough system. I struggled on with my relationship but after a couple of years it all got too much and decided the best thing was to leave my son and his mom. I ended up back in hospital for seven weeks. My head was going at a million miles an hour, I couldn't eat or sleep and I didn't want to be alive. I didn't eat anything solid for a few weeks, just those special milkshake drinks. I didn't think I was going to come out of it, I thought my life was over but it wasn't, after a couple of months I started to make progress, I was out running and playing sport. I was getting healthy, mentally and physically and not letting the depression win.

That's when I thought, I can be someone. I don't have to just exist anymore. I wanted to make a difference for children and young people who are in similar positions to what I was in when I was in care. I did volunteering, wrote a book and did many presentations and events meeting so many leading professionals, children and young people in care and care leavers. I got to work on European projects and other national things and speak at many amazing events, AGM's, conferences and even in Parliament. More recently I was invited to a royal garden party. Very strange and surreal, at times way more surreal than when I was on drugs. It wasn't for me though, a nice experience but not sure I would go again, I live in the real world with real people. People that are struggling to survive, people who can't afford gas and electric, disabled people not getting the help and support they deserve, children and young people homeless at sixteen plus, isolated, lonely and in desperate need of support. Millions of people using food banks and struggling with mental health. Standing in the Buckingham Palace just proved to me that we live in different worlds. I'm stood there with pence in my pockets but surrounded by so much wealth and security. When you haven't got ‘a pot to piss in’ then it doesn't sit right eating peppermint cucumber sandwiches and other posh food. When there are children and young people being discriminated against and denied adequate aftercare support to at least 21, these are our most vulnerable in Society. I felt out of place anyway, I just don't feel like I am part of this big act.

After working with the children and young people for a few years many would ask me - can't you come and work with us at our children's home? It has always been the dream to work in residential care. I tell them maybe one day, well that one day came. I have now been working in residential care as an intensive support worker with children and young people who display complex and challenging behaviour for about nine months now. It has probably been the toughest nine months I've ever had, adapting and learning. It was surreal to start with, I was on the other side now as a staff member. It did take me some time to adjust, as a friend said to me, you are looking at things 80% from a ‘child in cares’ point of view. He was very right as with all his advice and guidance. After a few months that evened out with the experience I gained. I just want the children and young people I work with to be as prepared for independence as possible, I want them to be successful and lead a positive life after care. I believe independence skills should be started at the earliest opportunity. Care doesn't define who we become, we do, and if I can do it I don't see why anyone else can't do it. It just takes a lot of hard work, determination and resilience but eventually it is possible to achieve your dreams, I just have!

I have developed a whole new respect for and understanding of social workers and residential support workers. I now understand what a tough job it must be and how difficult. No social worker trains and goes to university to be a bad social worker. They do it because they want to make a difference to the lives of children, young people and their families. Not all of them are great in my opinion but that can be said of any profession or trade. I now as an adult have many friends who are currently social workers, plus a few social workers who have retired now but still making a difference for children and young people. Support workers I have a whole new respect for, I didn't understand how difficult their work could be. Sadly I feel they are under-valued, underpaid and under-respected for the brilliant work they do with children and young people. In my opinion these people are amazing. As difficult as the job can be its way more rewarding and there are many more better days than bad days.

I love my job working with the children and young people, the chance to give something back to society and really try hard to make a difference for children and young people. I may have made many mistakes when I was a young damaged and traumatised child and young person, but should I be punished for that all my life? I don't think so. People can change, and do. I'm just glad I was given the opportunity to prove I can do this job. I don't plan on letting anybody down. I aim to be one of the best in the country not just in my company.

Without the support of a few individuals I wouldn't have been able to achieve my dreams and become an Intensive Support Worker and studying for my Diploma in Child Care.

Onward and upwards.

Thank you