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First published in Career Matters June 2019 / Issue 7.3
Autoethnography – a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural, political, social meaning and understanding.
“There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.”
It’s been 25 years this July since I was officially ‘relinquished’ from care. I didn’t ‘leave’, it wasn’t a choice, but I have always striven to make a difference despite the issues that predisposed my life as a care leaver.
The lived experience
Now writing as a care-experienced academic/researcher, I want to write my story from the inside; to inform, make an impact, change perception and contribute to research policy legislation and guidance practice. I also want to raise awareness of the complexities and barriers faced by career development professionals working with this group. Writing from my own personal experience and perspective is known as the ‘lived experience’.
When I started my MA on ‘The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance’, I wanted to encapsulate and consolidate my employment background and gain a qualification that reflected this professionally. This followed years of short-term contracts in welfare to work and advisory capacities, redundancies, private renting moves and single parent responsibilities. Having suffered a mental breakdown in 2015 and a diagnosis of ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder’ CPTSD) in 2018, this qualification enabled me to have a focus in my recovery. My MA dissertation now forms a cathartic facet in which I am able to articulate the sociological and psychological barriers that have affected my life and career history.
I was born in the West Midlands, the youngest of five siblings. I was fostered 13 times before I was adopted at 18 months old. My adoptive mother passed away when I was 11 and I was then returned to care age 14 as a result of a broken down placement. My transition to adulthood and independence did not include career guidance. Having passed four GCSEs with a disrupted year and change of schools, my first role was on YTS as a travel agent. My foster placement ended within that time,
and I was placed in supported lodgings, and then into independent living. I attended college until I was 19 whilst working part-time in retail and catering. I found it difficult to mix with my peer group at college as they all went home to their families. I went home to a flat and felt isolated so this affected my attendance. I moved to Birmingham at 19 working as a residential support worker at a children’s home, had my daughter at 22 and returned to work when she was 18 months. She is now 20 with a career in property management and lives away from home.
Our children, their future
In September 2000 I delivered a speech at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference; ‘Our children, their future’. I delivered my manifesto as a young person supported by a Barnardo’s project. The statistics for care leavers I quoted were that they were:
- 50 times more likely to go to prison
- 60 times more likely to experience homelessness
- 88 times more likely to abuse drugs.
In my speech I highlighted the need for basic support resources for issues such as mental health, poverty, and housing, isolation from peers, securing childcare, networks, guidance and information. All of this was drawn from my own experiences. I do not feel that my voice had been heard nor my contribution valued. At the time these statistics made me determined to prove people wrong. The most recent figures provided by DfE (2014):
- In 2010 25% of those who were homeless had been care at some point in their lives
- In 2008 49% of young men under the age of 21 who had met with the criminal justice system had care experience
- Only 6% of care leavers are in higher education.
These are not inclusive of mortality rates, mental health issues, benefit sanctions and the day-to-day challenges faced by young people currently leaving the care system. There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.
I attended the Care-Experienced Conference in Liverpool in April 2019. This was the first of its kind for care-experienced professionals to meet and network. Care-experienced professionals in every profession trade and occupation you could name were represented. The age range was from 17-65 and proved that the decades of negative statistics, did not speak for the successful achievements of care-experienced adults including myself. This event has also motivated me to complete my MA and continue further to PhD study in the future.
I want to represent a positive statistic and contribute to wider research for care leavers. When I began to investigate the data from 20 years ago, there was little or none to represent the careers of care leavers, yet I have discovered care-experienced academics from UK and international universities. Since I attended this event, I have become part of this huge community and network. I have always helped others, fought for others, striven for better quality services and treatment of others,
advocated for others, motivated others, inspired others, and used my negative experiences into positive realities with myself as evidence in my roles. When it was suggested that I use autoethnography as a methodology, it became an ideal opportunity to write my ‘lived’ experiences into my research.
As a qualified careers guidance practitioner, I am able to use my experiences to relate to and motivate others and have a positive enthusiasm for the careers and futures of those I work with. Young people are motivated by role models, people who defy odds against adversity, real life experiences, and I am a good example of this. I enjoy identifying the potential in every person I interview, showing people how to turn disadvantage into opportunity, and I make a difference. Despite everything
I have encountered in my life, I am still determined to make a positive difference to the lives of others. I have never been ashamed of my background or my upbringing. I am learning to be proud of the obstacles I have overcome, I am not defined by statistics, I refuse to be stigmatised or stereotyped. For me this qualification is a continuing journey of self-recognition, development and learning.
As someone who left care with no exams or a proper place to live being dumped by the care system I wandered through life taking small dead end jobs while caring for my children, when they became old enough for me to plan what I really wanted to do all the time thinking I could never work in children’s homes I’ve no experience and no qualifications. I was encouraged to put in an application form in and just try, she said, nothing. I sent it in and hoped with everything in me to hear something back.
The day of my interview arrived, so nervous, feeling so out of my depth, I’d never had a proper interview. I was called in and you put me at ease straight away listening to me as a person not an application form, I went home and waited…. I can still remember the call from you to say I had the job I was in my garden. When I put the phone down, I cried and cried not only had I been given the chance to totally financially provide for my children I was going to do my dream job.
You guided me through and believed in me and made me know I can do this. I’ve never told you that before, but I’d like you to know that you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and gave me the opportunity to help other children in the position I was once in. I look in my memory box at cards and trinkets young people have given me over the years and know I did help I was there when they needed someone but if you had never believed in me I would never have had that memory box to look in.
Your Life Your Story 2017 brought care experienced adults and are givers together with published authors to learn the techniques of storytelling. What happened was much more than that…. connections were made and RELATIONSHIPS flourished and a sense of family emerged. The soundtrack to this video written and performed by Tasha Rowe celebrates those present at that first event. It is the perfect accompaniment.
When Janet Rich, founder of The Care Leavers Foundation, approached me about running a writing event for care leavers during National Care Leavers Week 2017, I jumped at the opportunity. My business partner and I were long-time supporters of The Care Leavers Foundation and the year previously, at Janet’s request, I had organised the National Care Leavers Week Conference.
I had, by this time, already met Rosie Canning, co-organiser of Your Life Your Story 2017 and 2018. Rosie was raising funds to finance her research into the representation of orphans and care experience in literature. I made a small donation to her cause and suggested she apply to The Care Leavers Foundation for a grant as I had wrongly assumed her to be a young person, not a woman near to my own age who had lived a life beyond the care system. Our separate journeys had brought us to this meeting place in 2015 and as soon as we began talking, I knew we were on the same page…. Go to Orphans & Care Experience in Literature. .https://careleaversinfiction.wordpress.com/2019/09/22/stories-shared-with-amanda-knowles/
Child of the State
17 Unheard Place,
Why Bother Land.
Dear Child of the State,
It must be very hard for you so far away and I am very sad to hear that you are worried but please don’t run away.
You were right to speak out about the worker who left you on your own in a place you didn’t know then told you he’d been drinking before he drove you home.
We both know you’re not the liar but that’s so hard to prove when hiding this, matters far more to them than you.
I know how angry it’s made you, to know he’s coming back, but getting mad will only reinforce it’s you not him that’s bad.
It will be hard to accept that justice won’t be done but we both know another move’s not good for you.
So, hang on to your potential, protect it with your life and the day will come when you can tell them all you survived.
The Caregiver x