I remember every date that means something important since I went into care. In fact, I remember the time too. How could I forget the moments where it felt like my life had changed forever? That’s how I know that it was 7 years ago, on the 5th of July at 9.30am that a decision was made to take me and my siblings into care and away from our Mum and Dad.
I’m the oldest of 5, and have 2 younger brothers and 2 younger sisters. The morning we were taken into care, our social worker and family support worker took us outside. They were people that I had never met.
I got really upset when I realised that we were being put in different cars. 2 of my sisters were put together, I was put with my brother and my other brother went on his own. We didn’t even get to say goodbye. I didn’t realise it would be the last time I lived with them together.
The separation was hard because I was kind of like a Mum to my brothers and sisters when we lived at home. I helped feed them, clean them and make sure the house was in order. I spent so long after we were separated worrying about them. It took me years to understand that they were actually safe without me. I desperately wanted to help them but I was always too scared to ask if they were okay. I would just sit in my room and cry. If I knew they were upset or sad, not being able to do anything about it would have broken me.
I realise now that worrying about them shouldn’t have been my job, but it was hard to let go of that responsibility. I still struggle with it today.
At first, we all got to see each other every week, but after a while it was every 2 weeks, and then every month. I don’t remember getting an explanation about why these changes were made, or who made them.
Even though I’m an adult now, I still see my younger siblings in a controlled way. It can actually be stressful.
It’s not a whole day in the park, or a trip to wherever we want to go as a family. It can be as little as an hour. In fact, the maximum I’ve ever had is two hours. Sometimes contact is monitored, meaning someone sits in the room with us. So we don’t really get to be ourselves the way you should when you’re with your family.
Imagine suddenly being told you can’t see the people you love, for any good reason, apart from for an hour every 4 weeks. I don’t get to see my siblings much. That means I don’t get the comfort of being around them and I miss so much important stuff that I won’t ever get a chance to see again. Like first days at school, birthdays and Christmas. And even when I do, it feels like an effort. I even didn’t hear that my Papa had died until having scheduled contact with my Mum. Things can change so fast and I feel like I’ve missed so much. It’s really hard.
I’ve had had seventeen placement moves since I went into care seven years ago. Seventeen different bedrooms, living rooms and sets of rules. It’s because of that experience that I think lasting relationships are so important. School was the only place I built lasting relationships and if it wasn’t for the teachers going out of their way to be there for me, I wouldn’t have had anyone to turn to.
So I want two things for care experienced people.
I want them to experience real love in care. I want children and young people to feel safe, secure and able to be themselves. Yes, I loved my birth family and wanted to stay connected to them. But I was also capable of loving and being loved by those who were looking after me. It doesn’t have to be an either/or choice.
And I want siblings to be together. I can’t accept that there is a good enough excuse for that not to happen.
When we lived at home, me and my sister would sit up all night and plan living together when we were older. I’m happy because we still want to do that now, and we’ve managed to keep in contact despite all the challenges. When the First Minister visited Who Cares? Scotland, it was me that welcomed her. Getting to do that with my wee sister in the room was so important. I want to be a positive influence on my family, to show them that even though we’ve had a difficult start, we can achieve.
Lots of us know what it’s like to be a sibling. “Borrowing” each other’s clothes and watching your favourite TV shows together. I missed a lot of that. I want to make sure that when sibling groups are taken into care, everyone around them can honestly say that they did everything possible to keep them together.
All I want is a chance to show my brothers and sisters that they have a best friend for life.