Young person A - stories for Plymouth's care leavers
I was removed from my mum's care at the age of 13, at the time our relationship wasn't the best and I know my behaviour was terrible. I felt had to make the decision to go into care, because either I went, or they would take my younger sister into care instead.
During this I was arrested for assaulting a police officer. When I was released, I was told a social worker was coming to collect me and that I could not go home.
From this point on I seemed to have loads of placements. Some were really beautiful placements in the countryside and I developed a love of nature and the outdoors. Only one placement was really bad. Some people have a really bad view of care, but it depends on what you make of it. I had placements all across the country, because social services thought moving me out of the area would keep me out of trouble and change my lifestyle. This meant I got to make friends and see amazing places that had I stayed in Plymouth I know would not have been possible.
It didn't keep me out of trouble and my behaviour meant I never stayed in a placement long enough to sit any exams so left school without qualifications. I only see the impact of that now. Looking back, I wish this was different as I would have a better future, I know part of the social worker and personal adviser's role now is to encourage and support young people to remain in education.
It seemed like I was left to my own devices at the age of 17. This gave me time and boredom and led me to go searching for new friends, but it actually led me to getting involved in a gang. We were involved in beating people up, mugging people, we were just nasty. There was drugs, dealing and assisting in crack dens that were developing the drugs for the area. It was a scary life but it was like I didn't know any different. I was in too deep and even today this has an impact on me. If I had been kept busy doing things I liked and people were more forgiving of my behaviour I don't know if things might have been different.
During this time I was arrested for robbery and in custody for 48 hours. It was the scariest time of my life. Usually I would be in and out in a short time, but instead of releasing me they informed me I was staying until I went to court. I could not believe this was happening.
When I went to court they decided I was a flight risk because I used to run away when in care so they decided to remand me, which meant I had to go to jail.
I turned round to look at my mum who was in bits, crying her eyes out. I tried to get to her but then my legs gave out and I was eventually dragged down the steps and led to a holding cell, wondering why I had got involved with those so called friends and how things had got to this point.
I sat in the cell under the court and informed that they were looking to send me to a secure unit instead of prison, before being led into the G4S van. I sat looking at the other cages and there were some really big lads that made me wonder how come they were going to the same place as me because they looked really scary.
Eventually we came to a stop and I realised we had arrived at a prison and it wasn't a secure unit and my stomach was in knots. They took me through the process of booking me in and finally allowed me a call to mum and we both broke down crying. In hindsight this was not a good thing because it showed weakness to those around me. I was on a unit where the staff were a lot nicer to you but you're still in a prison. Days and nights were structured and regimented but it was constantly scary. You see prison on the TV and think it can't be that bad, but it was worse than I imagined I wasn't prepared.
I remember going down for lunch, sitting down and getting grief from a group because I had sat on the top dog's table without permission and they demanded I move. I refused so not to show weakness and give in and so I got in a fight. After that people left me alone a bit, but I saw how other people were treated badly. People always prey on the vulnerable and I really saw the impact while there and a lot of people just never disclose anything because once you do your life is not good.
The things I witnessed inside were not good and I am ashamed to admit I socialised with some of those people to fit in and to protect myself. In the end I just focused on making changes so I could get out of jail.
During the time I was in prison I did some positive activity and got some qualifications.
Eventually I was released on licence and saw my family which gave me hope. My social worker at the time came and collected me from prison and we got the train back to Plymouth. As my mum was on holiday I had to move into a bed and breakfast with a 7 to 7 curfew. This was the start of my new life!
I had not been in Plymouth for five years and it was strange as I tried to contact people that I knew but people had moved on and didn't want to see me. I felt that they had grown up and were making positive life changes and I have been left behind
I had depression and think it was made worse because I felt isolated from people. I moved around a lot, sometimes it wasn't my fault and at one point I was I was accused of a serious crime. Eventually I was cleared but because of the time it took to investigate this claim and how it made me feel I had to leave my college course. This led me into a downward spiral and I now suffer from anxiety, depression and social anxiety when in groups of people.
I have tried to commit suicide numerous times because of my life experiences and not having a support system in place. I think it might have been better for me if social care had placed me on a full care order but instead my family still had responsibility and attended meetings. In my mind workers favoured her views and opinions and never listened to me and what I wanted or thought during this whole process. In this way I wonder if I had been let done by decisions made.
When I became homeless again, I stayed in a hotel with youth workers supporting me and some of them were actually interested in my experiences and what I had to say on my life and the system. This was one of the best times I had were I felt I was being listened to and people tried to keep me busy. I just wished people had listened sooner to me and realised my parent was playing a game to make herself look better in the eyes of social care and blame me for everything, when actually they played a massive part in my downfall.
I am now turning my life around one day at a time. I have assisted in community projects supporting local people, putting some of the learning from prison into practice and doing something good with it.
I recently started a college course, undertaking a level two qualification as well as my functional skills. I am working hard and trying to give back to Plymouth.
I am an active member of the Care Experienced Council and am working with them on providing feedback on the care system for the benefit of other young people.
For me at the time going into care was the best day of my life, I didn't care about the red tape or the meetings I would need to attend, I just knew this would be better for me in the long run. It's been difficult and even with everything I've gone through and mistakes I've made I think it's been for the best.