An Unconventional Family
Imagine a life of turmoil. Imagine having lived in umpteen homes and with umpteen supposed ‘parents’ by the time you were just eight years old. Now think how happy you would be if that feeling of being tossed about like unwanted luggage had finally come to an end. You’d feel pretty good, right? You’d feel as though you had a chance to be normal?
Now imagine being told that, regardless of how happy you are, you are being moved again. The decision is not yours to make. Sounds pretty horrendous? Welcome to my life.
❝ You end up distancing yourself from your own feelings.❞
I have been in foster care for most of my life and my story is as far from simple as you can get.
Let me first give you a little insight into life as a foster child. You have a succession of social workers ruling your life, making all your decisions without even consulting you. You have no say on anything, big or small, like where you’re going to live, who with or for how long. You learn to have a suitcase packed at the ready and to move at a day’s notice. You’re forced to live with strangers on a daily basis, and you look around and are filled with dread at seeing unfamiliar faces and places. You end up distancing yourself from your own feelings.
I was put into my first foster care placement from birth, and I remained there until I was four years old. Then I was placed back with my biological mother and sister for two years before re-entering the system. My mum relapsed when I was six. The four years she spent in rehab suddenly went down the drain, and my mum once again succumbed to her dark way of living. At this time, all I could think to myself was, “Is this going to be my future? Is this the person I should look up to and become? Am I going to be like my mum?”
As humans, we are social beings, and we need the love and encouragement from others to grow and thrive. Without love, life would be a lonely and desolate existence. This is the life I used to live with my biological mother and sister. I felt like I wasn’t loved by the family I had been born into. I wanted an escape.
This escape came in the form of school. When living a life in care, nothing is permanent. However, school was an escape because no matter how many times I moved, school remained the same and that is what I needed to gain stability. Schools gave me structure and routines and this was extremely beneficial.
There are lots of things school has given me and I want to pause here in my story and mention a few so that you can look out for other pupils in your class who are in care and help support them better.
I have teachers in my secondary school who give me some one-to-one support at lunchtimes. This is good because I can a catch up if I have missed work or am falling behind.
I didn’t do as well in my 4th year exams as I had hoped. I felt anxious in the exam hall, surrounded by lots of people. But this year, I was given separate accommodation that reduced my stress.
I also have trouble being surrounded by a large group of people in the cafeteria at lunch. I can avoid the noise and crowds in the canteen by going to the Support for Learning Base.
When I was in my first secondary school, I was bullied and decided that it was best for me to change schools. My foster carers were very supportive and listened to me despite my social worker expressing concern at another move. I settled well in my new school and plan to stay there till sixth year. This shows the importance of listening to young people, one of pledges made by my local authority in their corporate parenting strategy, which I helped launch.
Doing my Duke of Edinburgh award was also good because it helped me see how many other skills I have, such as volunteering at my local after school club. I now regularly volunteer in my community centre as a youth worker. I’ve also recently got a weekend job as an entertainer at McDonalds where I face paint and will soon be attending a course to teach me how to make balloon animals!
Being moved from so many different foster homes left me with emptiness in my heart and a feeling that I didn’t truly belong anywhere or with anyone. Winning awards for my achievements has helped me gain confidence. For example, I won an important award for child-care. All my achievements can go into my memory box, which is huge!
So now, let me get back to my story. Being moved from place to place so often, I felt like I was a burden to my foster carers and that I wasn’t good enough for them and their standards. I felt so isolated, afraid and unloved. I didn’t have a clue about who I was. I had lost all hope in myself and in my dreams of having a family. I believed I was destined to live the life of my mother, alone and in need of help.
❝ Family makes me who I am today,
because without family I couldn’t have had the
encouragement to pursue my hopes and dreams. ❞
But then something unexpected happened! Aged eight, two of the most exceptional people walked into my life. They gave me the confidence to come out of the dark and into the light, and they made my life so much better when they made me permanent. Permanence is a big part of a foster child’s life, it showed me that I am wanted, that I do belong somewhere, that I’m not a burden and that those around me accept me.
I know my new and forever foster carers as mum and dad. They are a couple that focus on every need a child has and have offered me the best possible life. They have given me a home, the love of a parent and above all they have given me security. I am thankful that they have done everything in their power to help me.
My identity is family. Family makes me who I am today because without family I couldn’t have had the encouragement to pursue my hopes and dreams. Mine is not a conventional family.
In the end, no matter if I want to know my biological family or not, I know in my heart that I will always love my permanent family. They continue to play an important role in making me the person I am today and the person I want to become in the future.
A Long Journey for Looked After Children in Scotland
Research by the Scottish Children’s Reporter Administration has found that:
• Twenty-six percent had five or more moves before finding a permanent home
• Thirty-eight percent had waited for five or more years between the date when permanence was identified and the first Order was granted
• Twelve percent of looked after children had a Permanence Order
• Seven percent of those young people who cease to be looked after were adopted
SCRA, Permanence Planning and Decision Making for Looked After Children in Scotland, 2015, http://www.gov.scot/Resource/0049/00490291.pdf
Keeping it real
1. What are some of the barriers to helping children find permanent families? What can we do to overcome these barriers?
2. Did you realize that schools play such an important part in giving children stability? What kind of ethos do we need to help build in our schools?
3. Permanence allows young people to build stronger lives with:
Coming next month is a discussion around how to help children notice their inner lives.
This can be an effective way to help them learn to regulate their emotions.