I’m 38 now, and although my care experience was long ago, it’s always with me. Today I feel very fortunate to have a good job, a house of my own and a rock of a husband. Getting here wasn’t easy, and it’s only recently thanks to hearing Laura Beveridge’s Ted Talk, that I’ve started truly owing my care identity. I worried that speaking about my experience would make me feel vulnerable, and although it can do at times, overall, I’ve felt stronger.
I hope sharing some of my experience can help someone, in some way, no matter how small.
My mum died of ovarian cancer aged 38, when my younger sisters and I were removed from our family home. We were temporarily placed with two separate family members, after these broke down we were moved into foster care. The foster placement broke down in under a year and one afternoon we were picked up from school by the social worker and told that, whilst I was going to a local children’s home, my sisters were going into foster care in a different area. This was a shock, I was really sad to be split up from my sisters and I felt powerless to protect them. As a child, every time a family home or placement breaks down, it chips away at you and you think, is it me? Today I know that’s not the case, back then I wasn’t so sure.
While all of this was happening, my exams were starting. I had already decided before high school that I wanted to go to University, but I knew if I didn’t get good grades I couldn’t go.
I remember saying to myself “Diane if you go for a job interview in the future, they won’t care that you had a difficult childhood or want to hear your excuses, all they will be interested in is the grades”.
Looking back, I think that I was being harsh on myself, but it kept me motivated.
I cycled for 40 minutes to school, even in the snow, while staff struggled to get the other young people into taxis to secure school units. I remember feeling some staff mistrusted me, as I was behaving differently to the other young people. I don’t remember being asked about school, I think they just let me get on with it. I suffered from bulimia and no one had a clue. I only recovered from my intermittent bouts of bulimia 5 years ago.
After a while, I got used to being in a children’s home. I knew the staff were paid to look after me, I didn’t have to work out whether they cared about me or not. Although I learned some staff did care, it was on the quiet because procedure came first.
I was looking for that unconditional love, the kind I thought you could only get from parents. However, I remember a day my social worker visited and stayed talking to me in her car long after she should have gone home, this meant the world to me. I clung onto these glimpses of unconditional love.
At 16, I was so pleased to be moving from the children’s home into a bedsit. I felt so happy they trusted me, I remember having to get furniture and deciding how to decorate the flat, pay bills and apply for benefits. Very grown up for a 16 year old about to start her highers. I loved my bedsit but I did feel very lonely. I would listen to a talk show on the radio at night for company.
After some time, I got a cat and called her Lucky. I had to keep her a secret from my Throughcare worker as they had a rule against young people having pets. I loved the feeling of having something to come home to. One day my Throughcare worker happened to see the cat jump out of my window and next thing I knew I was in a serious meeting with her and the manager who ordered me to get rid of the cat. I was heartbroken. I felt they didn’t care about me, it was the rules that mattered most with no room for compromise.
At 18 I got accepted into Strathclyde University for a BA in Community Arts. There were only 15 places and it felt like a huge achievement, but I just wanted to tell my mum. Later, I went on to achieve an MSc in Information Technology at Paisley University and I’m now nearing the end of a post graduate diploma at Coventry University. Education isn’t for everyone, it just ended up being my thing. I think it was my only constant, my security, and my way forward.
Counselling and creating a network of positive people also helped me deal with my past. I received counselling when I was 18 years old from a wonderful lady called Collette. She helped me unpack things and process memories. I still use her strategies today. I also attended group counselling where I met an amazing women, who 20 years on, is still one of my closest friends. Having a friend like her in my life, who just gets me, has helped us both stay sane and strong. I have learned that this type of support is crucial in life.
At 15 I remember saying to myself “Diane, just because the first 15 years have been hard, don’t let that ruin the next 15 years”.
As a Who Cares? Scotland Alumni member this is the message I want to give. You can achieve anything. Don’t let your past define you. Turn it around and use your resilience, empathy, strength and determination as an asset. Shine your light on the world.