TACT care leaver
My name is Ashleigh, I am 19 and I am a care leaver. I went into care when I was 14, after living with my dad for a short period after being taken away from my mum.
I was placed with Claire, a foster carer with fostering and adoption charity TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust). Both the social workers and staff were incredible, as they provided support to Claire as well as me. I think as an organisation they make children feel important. They support young people practically and emotionally, offering courses like ‘Skills for Life’ and group trips where all the young people in care can meet up and have fun.
My experience of being in care overall was positive, but at first I didn’t really like social workers, mainly because they were the ones who took me away from my mum, but as I got older, I started to understand that they were just doing their job and looking out for my welfare.
Fortunately, I remained throughout my time in care with Claire. She is amazing, she made me feel like a part of her family, which is why when I left, I got a little bit emotional because she was literally my sole carer for four years. Claire was fair but firm with me, which might be frustrating for a teenager, but now being a little bit older and more mature I can look back on it and see that all she did was for my best interest.
Being in care comes with its highs and its lows, the highs for me being my education and personal development, as before going into care I really struggled with school, mainly with attendance. However, I managed to get my education back on track, and thanks to additional support such as mentoring, personal tutoring, and counselling I left school with GCSE’s and A levels. Personally, I am now a more confident person than I was when I entered care, which was probably helped by the fact that Claire was willing to drive me around so that I could to take part in confidence building activities with the army cadets and rugby.
The lows of being in care were mostly based around confusion about why I wasn’t with my mum anymore. Things were difficult to understand and process at the time, and still are, even though I’m an adult. However, thanks to being in care I have had access to services like CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), and the counsellors provided by the school and university, which meant that I could try and look at these problems and try to understand how to overcome feeling low and upset about my past.
Leaving care was difficult, because it was quite emotional leaving a place and a person that had been so important to me for four years. I left care a few weeks before going to university, which was really good for me as it let me adjust to independent living before going off, but it was weird not being somewhere that I called home. After I left my foster placement I moved in with my dad for few weeks, which was nice as it meant I could start to make a stronger bond with him before leaving to go to university. Luckily, I had my girlfriend Megan, who I met when I started year 12 and we’ve been together ever since. When I was in care, she lived in the village near mine, so she would come over and make sure I was okay. We recently took the big step and moved in together and bought a plant – so we know it’s official.
I try to stay in touch with Claire but being at university makes it difficult because there is so much going on. However, I am always looking forward to going home and catching up with her over a cup of coffee.
At the moment, I’m in my second year of studying Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Plymouth, and I’m hoping after that to carry on and get my Master’s degree in the same subject, then either go into the police force, or go into the intelligence sector.
The advice I’d give to young people and children who are going into care is not to worry about it, it feels weird going to live with a stranger at first, but eventually they won’t feel like a stranger, instead they’ll feel more like family. The advice I’d give to foster carers is to be patient, it’s going to take some time to get used to living with new people, and from experience it took me a while before I felt comfortable in my new home living with a new person but being patient and getting to know the young people will make the transition easier.
There is a big shortage of foster carers in the UK and I would urge people to consider doing what Claire did, opening their home and family to a young person in care, it really does transform lives, well it did mine.