As part of National Care Leavers’ Week, Sam Cliffe from Peterborough writes about her life was completely turned around after her heroin addicted mother died and she joined a foster family:
I had been in and out of care since I was two years old, as my mother was a heroin user.
I finally went into full time foster care at the age of nine after my mother passed away.
I remember so well the day I waited at my carers house to go to meet my mother, because when my social workers arrived they told me that she had died the week before. I think the carers already knew.
Between the ages of nine and 11 I had four foster families. And then, just before my 12th birthday, I was placed with TACT (The Adolescent and Children’s Trust) foster carers Lisa and Matt, who went on to become the highlight of my entire life in care. For me, they have become just ‘mum and dad’.
Lisa and Matt have supported me just like any parents would. They taught me how to budget, how to do my own washing, ironing and shopping. Some of my best memories are of our holidays together.
Joining Lisa and Matt’s family meant that I gained fantastic siblings – their birth children. At first they had just a little 18-month old son who I fell instantly in love with. Afterwards, Lisa had two more children. We became very close and still are to this day.
Even though I thought of my carers as family I understood that there were stereotypes attached to looked after children.
It was common for people to assume it was somehow my fault that I was in care, that I was a bad child. Which was not the case.
But like a lot of other looked after children I sometimes felt that maybe I was to blame for the breakdown of my family. When you are very young it is hard to understand why and how you are in the care system.
When it came to events like school trips, teachers thought I would have to have permission from social workers to go on them. But I would say no, it’s okay, I will ask my family.
Okay, I am being fostered, but that means that I am in a proper, stable family, I am not living in an institution.
Someone told me that I wouldn’t pass my GCSEs because I was in care. Being told that made me want to work harder to prove them wrong, to break the cycle and not to use being in care as an excuse to do badly.
I passed them all. I would urge other young people in care to concentrate on their future, break the cycle and don’t use being in care as an excuse to do badly.
When I was 18 I ran away from home. I was pregnant and thought I was in love. I moved in with my boyfriend who was also in care.
Despite my move to independence, Lisa and Matt and my TACT social workers continued to support me, and once they knew that my baby daughter was safe with my partner and I, they gave us the official seal of approval to continue living independently as a new family.
These days, aged 25, I work as a teaching assistant and live with my two young children in Peterborough. In the future I would love to become a foster care myself. I am still in touch with Lisa and Matt, they are my mum and dad after all. My two children call them nanny and grandad and we all get together regularly.
They have always supported me, even when it looked like our relationship was going downhill. Foster children may hit out sometimes, but what some people fail to realise is that we may not be kicking out at them personally.
We’re so used to being treated badly that we’re just trying to stop ourselves from getting hurt again. All we need is the right sort of attention and stability. And that is what I got from being in foster care, thankfully.
More National Care Leavers’ Week 2017 stories: