The first three years of my life were pretty normal. From the outside, things looked great: my parents had a couple of houses and ran a business. When my Mum wanted to leave my Dad, she went to a women's refuge. At that time, the law stated that she couldn't receive any help because she was a married woman with two properties. The funding for her to be there with me and my little brother ended, and on the night that she was court-ordered to go back to my Dad's house, he killed her.
I was present. I remember it, and it affected me for many years, but support can get you a long way. In 1991, there was no trauma-led approach, but because my situation was so extreme, I was placed under some of the top psychiatrists in the country. They used art as part of the therapy, and reliving what had happened through drawing and playing it out meant that nothing got lost in translation, and I could fully comprehend where my memories had come from, what was real, and what was not. I firmly believe that being taught how to deal with trauma from a young age gave me the foundation to be strong through my later experiences. This level of support, and the consistency of it, is something that every child in care needs, but they don't get.
Another thing that helped me is that I had one social worker from the age of three until I left care.
I didn't like her very much at the time, but she was the one consistency I had through all the different placements I went to. Each time I moved home, I'd have to relive everything.
all over again so the new carers got to know my story, but at least I didn't have to repeat myself with her, too. As an adult, I'm thankful for her, and I realise how relationships like this one helped me become who I am. Again, this is something we only see sometimes. Many young people get passed from one person to the next and the next, and they're never going to get the help they need or build trust because they know that their son's going to be around for a while
I felt like I was serving the sentence that my Dad didn't. At twelve, I could cook for my-
self, care for myself, and I wanted to move into my own place. Legally, I wasn't allowed to, as my social worker reminded me - and at this point, I lost hope. I'd already served six years of my sentence and had another six years ahead of me. Living without hope is very difficult to navigate through, and my turning point was after I survived an overdose at fourteen. I was in hospital for three weeks with liver failure, and I realised that I needed to start facing forward rather than festering about why I was there and how long I had left in care. I worked hard on myself and started participating in education; they set me free at sixteen.
I was given a flat, and I began to develop more confidence in myself and my ability, but I found it challenging to manage things like my finances. I'd lived in children's homes where the only food you could access were small boxes of cereal and toast without asking somebody to unlock the kitchen. Doing the weekly shop and learning how to top up the electricity meter felt like I was being flung into the deep end.
I tried to stay in education, but I dropped out because of the need to survive and financially hold myself and I took myself down the career track instead.
I have three children and, ever since my daughter started school, I've been back on my career drive. This took me to Shelter, the housing and homelessness charity, where I rose through the ranks from an official fundraiser to a fundraising manager. I fell into fundraising, but I love it. I want to give something back, and it allows me to feel that I'm achieving something not only for myself but also for other people. When you see how much of a difference your work has made to somebody's life it is so rewarding.
In this role, I learned that over 120,000 homeless children are living in temporary accommodation in the UK. I felt so much outrage, and I realised that I needed to come back to the care sector and make a difference to children who need it. I want to improve society for our youngest generation to allow them to achieve and succeed: this is my driving force on a professional level. Personally, I was never going to be what they expected me to be. The statistics scream for themselves around children in care and what we're expected to achieve. I was determined to wipe the floor with those statistics, and I'm still going. My situation has made me become who I am. I needed to prove people wrong. I needed to give my Mum the legacy that she deserves. It's the only thing I can do for her, pushing me to achieve all I can. I know that other children can achieve so much without falling into that statistic trap.
This inspired me to move into a new role and saw a job at Become. When I talked with my Director, I realised I'd come across them long ago, back when they ran the Who Cares? magazine. Flicking through it as a teenager, I realised it wasn't something for social workers or staff. It was about amplifying the voices of the young people in it. I did a '10 year since leaving care' article for them and shared my story about my family because I felt it was something many young people could resonate with. I had my children young, but I chose to do that because I wanted a family, and I wanted to show other young people that there is light at the end of the tunnel and they too, could live the life they wanted.
Become does some fantastic work to support young people. In the corporate partnerships role, I'm speaking to businesses and organisations who can help fuel our services because numbers are higher than ever. There are a lot of people relying on the care advice helpline, free workshops, and virtual and in-person link-ups, as well as the training we deliver. As a fundraiser, this is what motivates me to perform, and we continue to work hard to make this support accessible so young people can use it and benefit from it.