The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance – An autoethnographic perspective from Katrina Goodman

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.

Background

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.

Positive statistic

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.

A Caregivers Lament

Care fails too many it is true

Fob off letters prove

Words on barren wasteland fell

Policy dictated

Wrong, doing remains unrepented

The system failed me too

 

Amanda Knowles MBE

The Not Normal Normal by David Anderson

Fuck you’ he screamed

Is that right son,’ replied the man sardonically

Fucking right it’s right, you ugly fat bastard’

the (now) angry man shouted, ‘Restraint

Two other men promptly arrived

Pumped up and aware of the audience

They grabbed the small boy

Whose parents had just cancelled another visit

Who needed love and understanding

Even if he would reject it with teeth and nails

 

They wrestled his wriggling body to the floor

Face down, he struggled violently

The largest of the three men sat on his back

The other two sat down upon wildly kicking legs

Struggling for air, he screamed, ‘Get the fuck off me’

He told them he couldn’t breathe,

‘I can’t fucking breathe’

We’ll get off when you calm down’, panted the overweight man on his back

he repeated it several times, ‘I can’t fucking breathe’ I can’t breathe’ I can’t…’

‘When you calm down’ he repeated, with added spittle and sweat

A final panic-induced struggle left his body

He went limp before our eyes

Transfixed we watched through the window

Restraint was commonplace and compelling

It had happened to all of us

It happened every day

 

One staff member mentioned he’d turned a funny colour

The men stood up and looked at each other

They looked weak, visibly smaller, somehow older, haggard even

As if they wore a life-time’s wrong-doing on their faces

Dorian Gray paintings momentarily come to life

One left the corridor to call an ambulance

They falsified the report

Didn’t mention his final cries for breath

They were sympathetically questioned

No-one asked us, the real witnesses

 

We kicked-off later that night

The storm after the lull

Breaking things, fighting each other

When they restrained me I tried to replay the scene,

I screamed, kicked wildly, went limp,

I couldn’t die

 

Wee Tommy was really funny,

He pulled mental goofy faces,

 Was good at climbing onto roofs,

He always ate his chips with brown sauce

and hated sleeping with the light off.

Tommy never got the chance to look back on it all

To say, ‘what was that all about, it wasn’t normal after all?’

Reflections…

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.

Gillian Walsh 

Ready for the Bookshops

Proudly announcing that the first YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY inspired book Oi You F*cker has been rebranded and is ready for sale in bookshops. If you have a copy of the first edition hang on to it and watch this space.

Proceeds from first edition book sales have been generously donated by the author to YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY 2019 the third annual care leavers week event that brings care experienced adults and caregivers together with published authors, poets and exhibited artists to learn the techniques of storytelling through the arts. 

Free places are available to care experienced adults and caregivers with artistic and literary aspirations and YOUR LIFE YOUR STORY welcomes contributions from new authors and artists for publication on this website.

For more information contact the editor amanda@ylys.org.uk  

 

 

 

 

The Panel Hearing by David Anderson

Plush carpet versus plimsole shoes

Large antique desk and me in short trews

Crew cut hair and snotty nose

Scabby knees and raggedy clothes

Lay people sitting down

Caring, yet put-on frowns

A social worker reads her report

Anxiety begins its choke

They talk as if they know me well

I send them all to an imaginary hell

It’s fight or flight that’s in my mind

Oh, why oh why is life unkind

So, I stand and shout and shout and swear

Scatter their desk and throw my chair

‘Fuck you all, you don’t know me’

From grabbing hands, I try to break free

I wriggle and turn and squirm and struggle

Is it life or me that’s nowt but trouble

So it’s off to the residential home I go

To which end I could not know

A new beginning is what they said

A complete mess is what they made

 

 

YLYS welcomes new author David Anderson

As a child I resided in a wide range of so-called ‘care’ settings then went on to experience homelessness and prison before managing to get myself on a more positive trajectory – in no small part due to positive relationships based on true care and love. Following a return to education I worked as a youth worker before completing a Social Work Master. More recently, I completed a research degree with a focus on improving educational services for young people experiencing care and am currently working towards designing a relationship-based training course for this purpose. At the moment, I teach Social Work students and Social Educators and my wife and I are in the process of setting up a farm so we can offer a space to people to experience time with animals and nature within a safe place. I also volunteer with Who Cares? Scotland, a charity that pushes for real and lasting change to the care system.

I love to read and write and am in awe of the power words have to change lives for the better. I believe sharing our experiences of care through the written word can encourage understanding of the prevalent issues and provoke change in the minds of those who need it. By taking ownership of our stories we can control the narrative.

National Poetry Day 3 October 2019

The theme is TRUTH….

It was my duty to report but I could

Not foresee

When whistleblowing met closed ranks

Detriment would silence me

That individuals entrusted to

Prevent harm

Courting vested interest

Would fail to raise alarm

As I reflect on experience

Justice denied

Determination rises in me

It’s time to set aside

Fear that forces compliance to

Silence TRUTH

Designed without a qualm for

Victims of epidemic abuse

We have the strength to

Defeat injustice

Stories shared will validate

Abuse that was corrupted

Then our amplified voices

Will influence

Change needed

To prevent future offence

So, we can live in hope

Of no more trauma

Suffered from the consequence

Of power inflicted drama

Amanda Knowles MBE

September 2018

Our Care Family

 

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.