Many people hear the word “care” and immediately think of Tracey Beaker. That’s what came to mind when I was young. I never thought that one day I would find myself in the same situation; I never thought that one day I would be in “care”. 

When the holidays rolled around, my mum used to send my brothers and me to my one of my uncles or aunties, to get away from the problems at home. Technically, that counts as “care”. I was about 4 years old when I started staying with my uncle’s more and more often. I can honestly say I didn’t like it much; I missed my mum and though I loved my uncles and aunties, but I loved my mum even more.

When I got to the age of 10, things started to become more stressful at home, but instead of sending us away as usual, my mum kept us with her. Social services eventually got involved and took one of my brothers and me into care. My other brother was deemed “too old” to be taken into care. It was only for a short period, 3 days, but I still remember the relief I felt to be away from all the troubles at home. What I didn’t know then is, that everyone who knew my parents, our friends and neighbours, knew about what was going on, and they were angry; angry at me for not being with my family!

When I was 13 years old, social services set my mum and dad up in hostels. They didn’t feel like it was safe for my brother and me to stay there, so they decided for us to stay with my eldest brother for a while.

About six months later, my family and I were eventually given a place to live, but troubles started to brew again. Social services were in and out of our lives whilst my brother and I carried on living at home. That is, until I ran away for the second time. I was immediately placed into “emergency care”. Retrospectively, it all seems a bit surreal, since the very next day I was told I couldn’t stay with her anymore and had to live out of a car with my brother for a week before I was returned home by social services. I know it was only one day, but for 24 hours, I had the best carer I could have ever asked for! She was kind, made me smile, and even invited my brother over to take care of me. I was happy with her, and we actually stayed in touch.

It didn’t take long until someone at college found out about my situation and what was going on in my home. This is how I got in touch with the Gaia Centre, where, after telling my story, I was advised to look for another accommodation.

Soon after, I experienced yet another type of “care”, a properly set up placement through the Council and facilitated by a charitable organisation. For about a year and a half, I stayed with a family in a reasonably happy environment, before I was told that I had to move into “independent living”. Unfortunately, the flat share I was put in didn’t work out for me at all, so I was sent back to live with my mum.

As you can see, “care” for me has always been a bit inconsistent, you have no independence and no way of really being yourself but, if you are placed with the right person and have kind people around you, who really invite you in and nurture you, I believe you can really thrive.

Being “in care” or being a “care leaver” brings about negative connotations with most people. They make assumptions and stigmatize you and in a heartbeat they think to know that you’re trouble. I refuse to think like that, because I know that having been in care and being a care leaver, I’ve made more experiences, good and bad, than someone twice my age and those experiences have shaped me into the person that I am today. From an early age, I had to learn to stand up for what I think is right and stand by my ideals, which I believe not many young people can say they can do confidently.

Being in care doesn’t make you any different from anyone else it just makes you…you 🙂

Written by Roopa Mehta