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When I left my foster home, getting support became a nightmare

Posted on 23/05/2016 by

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Local authorities need to do more to manage the uncertainty, desolation and confusion that young people face when moving between homes.

When tensions in my foster home reached new heights, it was time to leave. And every step of the process was a messy nightmare.

It was April 2008; I was a few months away from my final A-level exams and a summer of work, before heading off to Scotland. I dreamed of studying at Edinburgh University and living in one of the most beautiful cities in the world.

Things had become increasingly fragile and tense at the foster home I had lived in for more than seven years, and after exploring every route possible and trying to reconcile relationships, the placement had eventually broken down.

The decision was all mine, and it was the biggest jump I had ever made. I was entering the unknown. Where will I be moved to? Will I have any support? Will I be safe?

I started to feel like a second-class citizen rather than an unfortunate young person

I left the foster home in the morning with some clothes, my phone and a toothbrush, and called my social worker. She was my new worker and I hadn’t met her yet, but we had been in frequent contact over the difficulties I had in the foster home.

When I told her that I could no longer live there, she seemed angry and frustrated; “Why would you do this? This is not the right decision.” I was shocked. The local authority knew about everything I had been experiencing. In this time of deep worry, the last thing I needed was to be questioned for a decision I had obviously not made lightly.

She said: “I will get back to you later to let you know what will happen with you.” I started to feel like a second-class citizen that was grudgingly being moved to anywhere that might take me, rather than the unfortunate young person I was.

I tried to do some exam revision while I nervously waited. I was hoping to receive updates fairly regularly, given the life changing day that I was having, but didn’t hear anything into the afternoon. 

I tried to call the local authority several times and eventually, I was put through to a man who didn’t even introduce himself. It felt like drawing blood from a stone, but eventually he gave me the address of a care unit, miles away, in an area I had never been to before. 

“Is there any chance you could help me out with a taxi there?” I asked. “Ha! What do you think I am, a taxi service? You can make your own way there,” was his response. Of course I didn’t think he was a taxi service, but I wouldn’t have minded some compassion.

A few hours later, after a lot of help from school friends who knew London well, I found out how to get to this new place, and travelled the 90-minute journey to get there on my own. I arrived in the early evening to a building which looked like a prison. I was greeted by smiley but confused workers who weren’t expecting me. They said they didn’t have a room for me. Panic set in.

It took several phone calls to the care-unit manager and out-of-hours local authority staff to confirm I was due to stay at this unit after all.

It was a bright, warm day but the windows of the unit were closed, and a few of them had been boarded up with wood – it looks like they had been smashed quite recently. The place felt dangerous and edgy. And edgy was how I was feeling. How could I live here? I traipsed up to the second floor of the dark and desolate building with my key and bag of clothes in hand.

I went inside my new home and locked the door behind me as quickly as I could. By now I wanted to escape everyone, and I wanted to escape the whole day. I was truly drained and the realisation of my isolation and vulnerability started to sink in. Living in a tiny room, surrounded by people I didn’t know.

I had to cook, clean, wash clothes and fend for myself, as well as travel for three hours a day to school and study for my final exams. I had lots to do as deputy head boy, but I now lived much further away from my school, my friends and my two brothers.

The only potential constant in this situation, the local authority, my corporate parent, offered me little and inconsistent support in this move, and this persisted throughout my time in the care unit. It was like the process was designed to be as difficult as possible, compounded by speaking with people who didn’t seem to care about me in the slightest. 

But the experience didn’t stop me from achieving my dreams. There was light at the end of the proverbial tunnel. I had the toughest six months of my life there, but I went on to fulfil my dream and study human geography at Edinburgh.

I loved every minute of it. I made lifelong friends, have the best of memories and achieved a 2:1. I got on to one of the best graduate schemes in the country and today I’m a manager in the health service. I lead a happy, successful life.

It is possible to thrive after experiencing unsettling transitions. But it shouldn’t have been so difficult and, if my experience is anything to go by, corporate parents need to do more to manage the uncertainty, desolation and confusion that young people face when moving between homes.

Source: The Guardian