Young person D - stories for Plymouth's care leavers
I was four years old when I entered the care system, I was placed with a family and I stayed until I turned 19. Looking back now at 23, I think I was one of the lucky ones to have a placement from such a young age to still being able to call it home and call them mum and dad. I can go back and visit and call them when I have questions on how to do things or when I need support.
My foster family continued fostering even after I was with them. They were, and continue to be, very supportive and involved in my life, which is why I stayed with them so long and why I continue to go home to them at Christmas because I am not missing their Christmas dinner! Plus they encourage me in everything I do and they are the reason I work hard at my job now and continue to want to have a better life.
Many young people in care experience instability of care and placements but mine was really nice and supportive. The only instability was within my school placements but I wasn't really good at school because I did not like it at all; I am much better hands on and doing physical tasks. The day to day classroom learning made me bored, it frustrated me and I played up so I could leave.
Eventually I went to college and did a professional cooking course, the cooking side was really good and I enjoined learning new skills but again the paperwork side frustrated me, although there was never a dull moment in the kitchen.
Throughout the years I had so many social workers as they were always changing so it is hard to pinpoint one that stood out. I used to have my care plan meetings at home but most of time, I just wanted to get it done and leave because I did not want or feel the need to be checked in on when I was already lucky to be there.
I went to stay with my foster cousin for a while and then my social worker informed me I could bid for council properties and I started bidding for my own place but as with everything, I decided it was taking too long and I went private and got a one bedroom flat.
With the help of my personal advisor I was able to get a care leavers grant and go shopping for items I needed for the flat. Without that being available I may have struggled to buy the basic items needed.
Living alone was scary and took time to adjust to, because suddenly you have nobody to talk with or tell you when you need to put money on the gas or electric or to get a shower.
When I did access social workers and personal advisers in the past I felt they were helpful, one even took time out to attend a job centre appointment with me and helped me job hunt as well and sometimes it is those little things that matter most.
I now have a full time job and have been there for just over a year. It is quite a male dominated environment but I think I fit in well because I am used to standing up for myself and not taking any grief from anyone because even when you have a great foster family, people still know you are the kid from care and judge you on everything regardless. You learn to read people and their body language and you learn how to make the best of every situation.
I think people see care as a bad thing but actually it wasn't for me, it was the best thing and it provided me with a family that really care. Yes you have rules to follow in the home/placement and social worker rules but those are in place to safeguard you from yourself and sometimes from your birth family for a reason. Eventually, you come to realise those things and then you get to decide to be unhappy, to challenge and push boundaries or learn to make changes, take action and make better life choices for yourself and those around you. For me, I go to my job, do what's required and go home after my shift knowing that.
My goal is to ensure I have a nice home, nice things and something that is mine that nobody can say was given to me because I was a kid in care and that nobody can take away from me because I worked hard to earn it.