10 Questions – Young Person in Aftercare
This month we sat down with a young person who recently transitioned into the aftercare system. Glenn shared the story of his time in care with us and gave an insight as to what a young person experiences as they move into independence.
1) What were things like for you before you came into foster care?
Things weren’t really great, I was living with mum and she wasn’t the most stable. I was in and out of school with suspensions, constantly in trouble and not really caring because things weren’t great at home. I had no-one there to tell me don’t do this, don’t do that so I was a bit off the rails. That was life so it didn’t seem so bad back then. That was life for me.
2) How did you feel when you first came into foster care?
I would have been about 9 or 10 when I first went into foster care. It wasn’t the greatest experience in the world then, the foster carers that I had they didn’t make it feel like you were at home. It was very much that you weren’t meant to be here, but there is a designated space for you, that’s your space and stick to it. It made me feel very alienated from the whole lot, the whole family vibe, being that young and being told more or less you’re moved out, you’re in our own place at that point, very young. That’s how it felt for me. I kind of had to fend for myself a wee bit because I’d be afraid to tell the foster carers if I was being bullied or got into trouble, cause I’d be in trouble more so than when I was at home. I didn’t understand at the time why I was put into foster care, but over the years I realised why, and my mum explained to me afterwards. It’s horrible at the start and I honestly think that kids going into foster care from a young age or any age should get a counsellor assigned to them straight away, even as a short term thing for like a couple of weeks, a couple of sessions just to like ease them into it. That was life and I didn’t know any different. I found that you sit there and you question why you are there and you start to blame yourself because you can’t really see anyone else to blame. You’re the one in that house. When I went into foster care the last time I still blamed myself for being there because I was in that house and no-one else was. I was the one that got taken out of the house, all my belongings were taken, I was put into a different home with people that I didn’t know. At that age and when you’re that young you feel like you’re just about to go into prison. You know you’ve all these emotions going on from growing up and the next thing you know you’re being shipped off to someone’s house to go live with for the foreseeable future.
3) How did you get on with your foster carers?
I was with my last carers for three years. I’m a very talkative person so I’m not hard to get along with. Typically, I got along with all of my previous carers, bar one or two who would be a bit older fashioned, I just wouldn’t have been able to talk to them about much. There wasn’t any of them that I thought I don’t think I’d ever speak to you again. My last foster carers I’d sit down with for hours and chat with and I could tell them anything. The ultimate goal is to be able to sit down and talk with your foster carers and know that they are there to help, they are there to listen and do what they can for you. I’d never be asked to do anything they wouldn’t do themselves. I was always treated like one of their own in my last placement.
4) What was the best thing about being in foster care for you?
The best thing about foster care was that I made it through secondary school. That was the best thing for me. If it wasn’t for my last carers I wouldn’t have, I would have either been kicked out or I would have dropped out. So the fact that there was people out there who were willing to put in the effort to help me get through secondary school was huge. The support, and the fact that they gave out to me-that’s a very important thing. When it comes to foster care, people think that just because they are foster parents, that they can’t give out to you! They can and they should. They are bringing you into their home, they are giving you a roof over your head, and everything you need. The fact that I was given out to and told this is not how we act, it was a big game changer for me. I learned rules and boundaries, what I can and can’t say, and what I can and can’t do. It’s helped as well because I was very unruly child before I was in foster care and I was always running around getting into trouble, because I was never given out to so I just thought ok I’m going to do this and I’m not going to get in trouble for it. Sometimes you’d know it was wrong but you’d know you weren’t going to get in trouble, and the people you’re hanging around with would be a bad influence. So in my last carers they put me wiser for all of that.
5) What is your fondest memory of being in foster care?
My graduation night, dressing up and seeing my foster carers so proud, that’s one thing, and my results day, when I got the results for my leaving cert and seeing how proud they were of me. That day was worth everything. I’ve loads of fond memories but the look on their faces when I got my results and my graduation night.
6) What was the most difficult or challenging thing about being in foster care?
I suppose telling people that you’re in foster care and trying to explain about foster care. Because a lot of people have a negative outlook on foster care which isn’t always the case. Because of news and stuff, all we see is the negative effects of it. Anyone who I would have told would have been a friend of mine and I’m an open and honest person so if someone asks me I’ll tell them. Telling my friends they were very understanding and they had a general good idea of what foster care was but explaining was the most difficult thing. Trying to tell them that I can’t just say âno I’m not going to be home’ because if you’ve a curfew you have to stick to it. They would think that because you’re in foster care that you don’t have to abide by the rules.
Leaving home is difficult too, it never gets easy. I never had a good relationship with Social Workers when I was younger. It wasn’t that long before I realised that the social workers are there for a reason. I’d always be giving out, telling them to f**k off if they were in my house. I’d always give social workers the worst abuse and I never realised that this person is here to help, they are doing their job. I felt they were interfering, coming into your house and sticking their nose in. The way I saw it was they don’t understand what’s going on in that house, which is true in some cases, but sometimes they say something and they might not mean it the way they said it but you’d be on alert because they are in your house and we were always told don’t say anything if a social worker comes in. I didn’t know what can I say, what can’t I say, so I just developed a hate relationship towards social workers and I wouldn’t tell them anything. My last social worker of 6 years, fair play to her she stuck through it. I apologised to her many a times for stuff that I had said. When I was leaving foster care and was grown up and realised that looking back, actually all this did help me, they are all here for a reason. You can’t be told that this is all for the greater good, when you’re set in your frame of mind and you don’t want to be there and you want to go home.
You do a bit feel different than your peers because they have their family there but a lot of my friends they wouldn’t have had their father or some wouldn’t have had their mother around so they understood what it was like to not have a parent there. A lot of people think that if you’re in foster care your parent must have been an alcoholic or drug addict but it’s not always the case, sometimes parents have difficulty with their mental health and people don’t seem to grasp that you can be in foster care if your parents aren’t an alcoholic or drug addict. For some parents that’s the hand they are dealt, they do their best but just get given a crap hand and that’s it.
7) How were you helped to prepare for life after leaving care and how did you feel when the time came to leave care?
In my last foster home I was taught cooking skills, cleaning skills like how to use the washing machine, the dryer, the dishwasher, the cooker and stuff like that. So I was prepared that way. And my last carers helped me learn how to budget because I was very bad with money, no sooner in my hand and it would be gone. I’d get my money on a Saturday and it would be gone by Saturday night. By the end I was making a â¬20 stretch over 3 or 4 days so they helped me that way. They taught me patience and a lot of people told me it’s not something that can be taught but they did it. They taught me how to fill out forms and stuff like that.
I find aftercare is a very grey area in the whole foster care system, there’s not a whole lot of information on it and I still don’t know a whole lot about it. All I know is Tusla helped me fill out forms for college, they give me an allowance every week for staying in college and if I have a question I can ring my aftercare worker but if I have a question I can also ring my foster carers.
My aftercare plan wasn’t done until a few months before my leaving cert and it was very rushed, I felt I was a number that needed to be checked off and pushed aside. That’s how I felt with aftercare. I didn’t get my first aftercare payment until a week after I moved out, I was nearly 19. My carers paid for my deposit for accommodation. I found that everything was between foster carers and social workers, everyone except me. Nobody would give me information even though I was 18, I was told everything had to go through my foster carers or my aftercare worker. I should have some rights to my information.
It can be hard that foster carers don’t have to keep you once you turn 18. They can but they don’t have to. I stayed with my last foster carers after I turned 18 so I could finish my leaving cert. I would have been devastated if I had to leave when I turned 18. Could you imagine going from living with these people who are the friendliest people you’ve ever met and have done a lot for you and then they tell you you can’t live here anymore you have to go. Where do you go, back to your parents to let the cycle reboot and continue?
Leading up to leaving foster care was nerve-wracking. At one point I was thinking do I need to go to college? And could I just stay living here please but I got to that point where it was time for me to go, that was my time, getting out on my own and getting my own life going because from a young age I was fending for myself, so I would have been a bit more independent that way. My life prepared me for who I am today, that’s the way I look at it, I don’t sit there and look back at my life and think oh if that had been better or if I wasn’t in foster care I would have been a better person, be better off. The way I see it you play the card you’re given and go with it. Do your best in life and that’s what I’ve been trying to do.
8) What are you doing now and do you stay in touch with your former foster carers?
I’m in college studying away and I keep in touch with my last foster carers. I spent Christmas with them and can ring them any time. That’s great. I’m no longer doing stupid stuff and I’m living in my own house. I’m paying rent and I haven’t been kicked out. I’ve been living there 6-7 months so I think I’m doing pretty damn good!
9) Is there anything that you would like to change about your experience of foster care?
Other than when you first go in and you don’t know what’s going on. I’d like someone to sit down even take an hour or two to sit down and explain everything. Children aren’t stupid, they know a lot more than they let on and if they are being put in foster care they definitely know somethings up. So sit down and don’t mess about just tell them. I always felt if a social worker was coming I was being treated like a 2 year old, they sit you down and they are real nicey nice and they use these small little words so you understand but kids aren’t stupid. So sit down and have a proper conversation with us. Explain to us it’s not our fault, tell them straight because that child is going to blame themselves.
10) What advice would you give to anybody who was thinking of fostering?
Be yourself, don’t go putting on this act because you’re taking in kids that you don’t know. Be yourself because kids pick up on that very much so. If you’re relaxed and be yourself, a child will then feel relaxed and soothed. Talk to the young person or child, just talk to them, praise them when they do something good and find the equal balance when they do something they shouldn’t.
You need a caring nature. There’s children everywhere that need help, that’s the biggest thing, is give them help. Get to know the young person, see where they fall down and help them.
Fostering makes a huge difference, being in foster care and getting the help I needed got me to where I am now.
If you are interested in fostering or would just like some further information, call us 01-4171944.