“Pack your bags, you’re going away for a week” – A Care Leaver’s Story
Early September, the day before I was due to start secondary school. I was excited that it was the first time I would start a school with other students in a new year. Previously my mom had never let us stay in a school for longer than a year and I had probably been to 8 primary schools by year 6. I was just used to being ‘that new kid’. This school matters, it’s the big school where I need to make a real impression, I hoped I would stay at this one for a long time. That morning I had woken with a start and spoken to my older brother. We still had no school uniforms and when we finally coaxed ourselves to let our mom know we need to go shopping, we found her crying over the phone in the living room. We quickly retreated to our room as we knew she would get extremely angry if we saw her this way, and that there would be consequences. We were all huddled on my bunk bed and after about an hour we could hear more voices down stairs. On our investigation we find two women sitting beside our mom, women we had not seen before.
All that I heard was “pack your bags you’re going away for a week.” I was confused and didn’t know where or why I was leaving. I was so shocked whilst packing my clothes and I didn’t know what was happening. I was assured by the social worker that I would be back soon. I remembered that the neighbours’ kids were put into care and they were back within a month. So, I went with the social worker to her car and wasn’t really phased. On reflection I think I already knew why I was leaving, as my life with my mom wasn’t anything like any of the other kids. I sat in the social workers car about to leave, my mom hadn’t even said goodbye. This had all struck me so suddenly, I was leaving already. I was so numb that I can’t remember the journey in the car. At the time, I didn’t realise that this was going to be the start of my life. All I had was one plastic bag of clothes, just enough for a week. That is all I had and that was all I owned. I wasn’t sure what would happen next, but at least I was with my brothers and sister.
The house was bewildering, I had never seen one this fancy before. I could see from the inside of the car that there were the two carers stood just beyond the front door. The social worker looked back to announce that we had arrived. Grasping my bag of clothes, I walked up the drive to the door with the social worker to be greeted by the carers. They stand towering over me and we are invited into the living room. They seemed friendly, but I felt extremely uncomfortable to be expected to be OK with essentially being left in someone else’s care. Their home was grand and finished in gold. Looking back, the house wasn’t finished with gold at all but that was how I perceived the house when I arrived. In the huge living room, I sat between the two carers while they talked and just listened. I had so many questions… I just didn’t have to confidence to ask.
It wasn’t long until I was shown to my room. I followed one of the carers in the shadow of their footsteps to a plain room with a single bed, a room of my own. I had never had a room to myself before and I had always shared with my brothers, so I was going to make the most of it. They left me to unpack my clothes into the bedside drawers. I still had so many questions, but I couldn’t think of which one to ask. I lingered in the hallway for a bit before asking to join them in the living room. By this time the morning was no longer. We sat talking for a while, trying to gauge each other, the carers both just as awkward as myself. It turns out that I was their first foster child and this was going to be the start of a journey for all of us.
Tea time came and the carers tried to accommodate me and asked me what I wanted, but I normally just ate what’s given to me. I hadn’t been given a choice before. So, in my fumble I requested for them to pick something. The carer told me a story of her visit to family in the states when she was younger where she learnt of the American grilled cheese I had never heard of this meal and had certainly never tasted one. She offered to make this for me. I can remember the grilled cheese sandwich and tomato soup that I had and that I was really amazed and hooked. I thanked them for the meal and sat with them again and just listened. They told me loads about themselves and we spoke about the plan for the week. We were going for a meal on Friday and they planned to take me shopping for clothes and toys. I was incredibly excited and hoped to be able to pick my own clothes, as I had always been just bought clothes or handed down from my brother. The carers also asked me to have a think about where I would like to go to eat, I had never been given the choice before and felt a lot of pressure to make a good choice.
I went up to the bedroom and just sat in bed for a while. I scanned the room observing the view of the local football grounds opposite, with erected flood lights spilling their shine across the bedroom ceiling. I reflected on the day that I had but I was optimistic that these people were nice, and I must enjoy my time there. I didn’t know how long I was going to be there for, but from how I had been treated there I hoped that it would last a little.
I didn’t sleep much that night, as I always struggled to sleep in beds that weren’t mine, back then. I just lay in bed listening to the football, taking everything in and wondering what was to come.
Story by Iddi age 19 – Care Leaver & CFT Marketing Apprentice