Young person B - stories for Plymouth's care leavers
When I was 14, I was taken into care. I am now in my mid-twenties and looking back, I realise it was the right option for me. Had that not happened I think that my mum and I would not be as close as we are now and we wouldn't have the close and supportive relationship we do.
When I lived with mum, we used to argue all the time. After my parents separated my mum was in another relationship with someone and fell pregnant soon after meeting him. At that time, we didn't get on because he was not my dad. Dad had walked out on us a few years earlier and as a kid you always hope your parents will get back together. But then I discovered my dad was not my actual real dad which hit me hard and I resented my mum for lying to me throughout my childhood. On top of that, I also had serious health issues.
Because of this I left mum to live with my dad, and whilst with him I ended up ill in hospital. He then picked his girlfriend and her child over me and I started hanging around with the wrong people and admittedly drinking and taking drugs with them. This led me to going back home to my mum to try and avoid these people and this behaviour.
However, after two weeks we had a row and I lashed out and broke a door and some other stuff. Mum reported me to the police who arrested me and I was taken to Charles Cross police station. There I was informed that I could not go home to my mum's house and my dad would not allow me to go back to his either. The police asked me to call friends to see if anyone could have me which was so incredibly hard. Imagine being 14 years old and having to call your friends to see if anyone could have you stay for an unidentified amount of time. I had no one to call, I didn't know who to turn to and I was angry I was left to seemingly fend for myself whilst also feeling abandoned. This was my way into care as I had no one who cared enough to take me.
When I was released from custody the police took me straight to a big house in the middle of nowhere, a place with nobody I knew nearby. I was told that I would be staying there for a while. The next day the couple informed me that their daughter did not agree with their choice to foster so I should beware as she may be bitchy to me. They showed me my room and informed me if I wanted a bigger room I needed to work for it. No social worker came to explain what was happening and why or what the next steps were. I had no information of rules to follow while I was there or what support I could access. I was just left to try and cope alone at the time in my life when I most needed support and information.
Eventually I was moved back to Plymouth and stayed there for remainder of my time in care. I left my placement at 16 to stay with a friend for a while, which wasn't a great choice, then I went to the Plymouth Foyer. At 16, I thought I knew better and that I would eventually get a flat. I wasn't told this was unlikely as because not considered an adult I couldn't be given a tenancy. There is this expectation about independent living but I think we actually need our workers to be realistic about what we are entitled to and how we need to manage a budget, learn to cook and clean and maintain a place.
I was signed off as a care leaver aged 18 and told I was doing really well but when it was discovered I was pregnant I was called out of the blue by my old Personal Advisor and asked to attend a meeting for a chat. They would not inform me what it was for.
At the time I was about to move into a shared house that had round the clock staff and I mentioned to one of them about the call and the meeting. She told me that it could be linked to my pregnancy and warned me to be careful and to take someone with me. I would have understood better if I had a hint of what the meeting was going to be about. Instead I felt tricked into a meeting. People should have been honest and explained in full because not only did I get additional stress and anxiety, it impacted my health and wellbeing and made me distrust services more than ever.
On the day, I arrived with my mum and was taken into a room which had around 6 professionals in and then I was informed that there were concerns for my unborn child because when I was younger I had dabbled in drink and drugs. Who doesn't at that age? Most people make mistakes when they are younger, not everybody is perfect. Because I felt ambushed into attending and had this thrown this at me I became upset and angry that my past was being used against me.
I was then informed that because of the concerns for my unborn child they were placing it on a child in need plan. I offered to do a drink and drugs test, which I did at the hospital and results were negative. I sent the proof but people still carried on stating they had to be involved and made me apply for the mother and baby unit just before my son was born as they said that the shared house I was not suitable any more, even with staff around the clock. Why couldn't professionals not offer reassurance that this was about offering help and support rather than seemingly trying to take my baby away? At 18, I wasn't so sure.
I felt that I had to constantly jump through hoops as a child, as a young person and then as a parent. It felt like I had to constantly have to persuade social workers that I was doing a good enough job and I could be left alone. It always seemed that there were only two extreme options, either be left alone or have my child removed.
Living at the mother and baby unit was not too bad, a few minor incidents as expected but if you kept yourself to yourself it was generally okay. One of the workers was really supportive, giving tips, helping out and offering advice. I think she realised I was not as bad as I had been made out to be.
While there I engaged with other groups and workshops that were useful and helped with life skills or parenting. The worst thing for me was the social services visits to the unit because they made it clear to the whole unit that they were social services and they had concerns. Other people thought I had done something really bad to have their involvement and those visits and that maybe no child was safe around me.
It seemed I was doing well enough to be signed off as a care leaver at 18 but the rules changed when I was pregnant. No one wanted to give me help or support before when I wasn't pregnant, where were those offers then? The social workers only seemed interested when I was pregnant and then it was constant, from unannounced visits to regular meetings. I had to undergo a 12 week assessment, meet expectations to prove I could look after my son and parenting workshops all to tick boxes so they could say they had proved I could be a good parent. It all seemed to be a process to cover themselves in case I messed up.
Eventually we moved into a flat and the case was signed off and I was transferred back to my personal advisor until I turned 21. At 21 years old, I was pregnant with my second child but this time round there was no involvement or concerns and no meeting requests which was a relief. It meant I could enjoy that pregnancy and concentrate on my children and future.
In my opinion Social Workers and other professionals need to review how they come across to young people and the manner in which we are spoken too. Going into care can be really difficult as well as the circumstances of how we come into care. It's different for everyone, some are taken from their homes, and others picked up from a police station or school. Regardless of how this happens someone needs to explain what is happening and why. They also need to ensure we have everything we need and it's important to us to have phone numbers or email addresses to reach our social workers whenever we want and need to.
For the last few years I have been involved in the Care Experienced Council, run by the Participation Team. As a young person I finally get the opportunity to have a say on services for other children and young people in care to have better experiences. To shape and recommend changes that improve services. I know things have changed and hopefully young people today can have better experiences and support and make better life choices that won't come back to bite them later on, like mine did.
I am now in my mid-twenties, with my third child on the way. With hard work and commitment I have managed to keep my children and be the person I am today.
Everyone must always try to do better for the next young person they meet and remember the lasting impact contact and behaviour can have on people's lives.