Ashleigh's story: "I am 19 years old and I am a care leaver"
In celebration of National Care Leavers Week (24 – 31 October) we hear from one young LGBTQ+ care leaver about her story...
Ashleigh on the left, and her girlfriend Megan on the right.
My name is Ashleigh, I am 19 years old and I am a care leaver.
I went into care when I was 14 years old after living with my dad for a short period, after being taken away from my mum. After that, I was placed with Claire, a foster carer with fostering and adoption charity TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust).
Both the social workers and staff were incredible, as they provided support for both myself and Claire and I think as an organisation they make children feel really important. They support young people practically and emotionally, offering courses like Skills For Life and group trips where all the young people in care can meet up and have fun.
My experience of being in care overall was positive, but at first, I didn’t really like social workers – mainly because they were the ones who took me away from my mum. As I got older, I started to understand that they were just doing their job and looking out for my welfare.
Fortunately, I remained throughout my time in care with Claire who is amazing. She made me feel like a part of her family, which is why when I left, I got a little emotional because she was my sole carer for four years.
Claire was fair but firm with me, which might have been frustrating as a teenager, but now that I’m a little older and more mature, I can look back and see that everything she did was in my best interests.
Being in care comes with its highs and its lows – the highs, being my education and personal development as before going into care I really struggled with school, mainly with attendance. However, I managed to get my education back on track, and thanks to additional support, left school with GCSEs and A Levels.
I’m now a more confident person than I was when I entered care – helped by the fact that Claire was willing to drive me around so that I could to take part in confidence building activities with the army cadets and through playing rugby.
The lows of being in care were mostly based around my confusion about why I wasn’t with my mum anymore. Things were difficult to understand and process at the time, and still are, even as an adult.
However, thanks to being in care, I have had access to services like CAMHS (Child and Adolescent Mental Health Service), and the counsellors provided by the school and university, which meant I was given space to look at these problems and try to understand how to overcome feeling low and upset about my past.
Leaving care was difficult, because it was emotional leaving a place and a person that had been so important to me for so many years.
I left care a few weeks before going to university, which was really good for me as it let me adjust to independent living before going off, but it was weird not being somewhere that I called home. After I left my foster placement I moved in with my dad for few weeks, which was nice as it meant I could start to build a stronger bond with him before university.
Luckily, I also had my girlfriend Megan, who I met in college. When I was in care, she lived in the village near mine, so she would come over and make sure I was okay. We recently took the big step of moving in together and we even bought a plant (so we know it’s official).
I try to stay in touch with Claire and I'm always looking forward to going home to catch up over a cup of coffee.
Right now, I’m in my second year of studying Criminology and Criminal Justice at the University of Plymouth, and I’m hoping after that to carry on and get my Master’s degree in the same subject, then either go into the police force, or go into the intelligence sector.
The advice I’d give to young people and children who are going into care is not to worry about it, it feels weird going to live with a stranger at first, but eventually they won’t feel like a stranger, instead they’ll feel more like family.
The advice I’d give to foster carers is to be patient, it’s going to take some time to get used to living with new people, and from experience it took me a while before I felt comfortable in my new home, but being patient and getting to know the young people will make the transition easier.
There is a big shortage of foster carers in the UK and I would urge people to consider doing what Claire did, opening their home and family to a young person in care, it really does transform lives – it did mine.
TACT is the UK's largest fostering and adoption charity and are always on the lookout for foster carers and adopters. If you would like to help provide loving families for vulnerable children visit www.tactcare.org.uk. Follow them on Twitter @TACTCare.
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