I’m Charlotte, I’m 17 and I‘ve been living in ‘care’ for most of my life.
My Graduation Day was the proudest time of my life. I could never have imagined that when I first met the team at ubu’s Young People’s Services, I would be able to achieve as much as I have and be able to get qualifications to help me do what I want to do in the future.
That day, my Graduation Day, was such a far cry from how things started out.
People used to say that I blamed others for the path my life took. But you know what? I didn't have any stability, nothing ever lasted, there was no one I felt I could rely on. But then with support and enablement from ubu, I have begun to think about what I want in my life and to take control of my own destiny.
I was put into Children’s Care Services when I was very young because my parents are drug and alcohol dependent. I still see them from time to time. Meeting up with them can be a bit strained because in a way, they expect me to be the ‘parent’ to them, when all I really want is to be looked after myself.
I was adopted when I was 18 months old. My legal and adoptive name is Mary, but I prefer to be called by my birth name Charlotte. My new ‘adoptive’ family life broke down when I was six because my new parents were apparently “unable to form a bond” with me. It was pretty bad and since then I have had as many different ‘homes’ as other children have had hot dinners. None of those ‘homes’ lasted very long, I was sent from place to place, there was never a time when I ever felt properly at home.
Then last year I moved into a ubu Young Peoples’ house and everything began to change. At first I kept myself to myself and spent most of my time out of the house with my old friends, or those I thought were my friends.
Looking back on those early days, I was a law onto myself. I found it really was hard to adjust, everything was different. At first I made sure that nobody knew where I was and I opted out of going to college. But it wasn’t long before I started getting myself into all kinds of trouble. I got caught up in substance abuse and I started sleeping around for money. It was pretty bad. I wasn’t bothered about the home or anybody in it. I was afraid really, I think, looking back, that I couldn’t cope with thought of yet more rejection.
The way I was behaving, and the things I was doing then would probably have tested the toughest of care workers. Believe me, I know, I have tried it in the past, pushing myself and everyone around me to the limit. But the team of enablers at ubu didn’t give up on me. That was really different because unlike care and social workers in the past, my attitude just didn’t phase any of them.
No matter what I threw at them and believe me I literally did, they just kept on trying to engage with me. They were patient and supportive in a way I hadn’t really experienced before. They told me when I was doing something ‘right’ – and when things were ‘wrong’. It helped to have people who weren’t judging me all the time, who were actually ‘getting’ how I felt and why I was so angry and hurt. It took time to get to trust people though, I’ve had a lot of disappointment in the past when people have just given up on me. Over time, I started to feel better about myself and bit by bit I began to share my life with them.
As my confidence grew and I started to feel I was around people I could actually trust to listen to me and to really hear what was going on with me, I started to make better the choices about where my life was heading. So for example, I’ve always wanted to work with horses. It’s been a lifetime ambition, one which never seemed likely to come real. Working with horses is something I felt sure would give me a real place to be in the world where I could be useful and appreciated for who I am and what I can do.
The ubu enabling team worked with alongside other agencies to help me get a place at a residential college to study equestrian skills. For one of the first time’s in my life there was something really positive happening and that made me feel much better about myself and where I was heading.
At last I felt I wasn't on my own, it was like someone was walking along with me. While waiting for the course to start I started to feel more in control, I really began to be my own person. People gave me lots of positive feedback as I started making better choices like properly choosing to keep myself safe, actually letting other people know how I feel and just trying to understand myself better.
I chose to work with agencies like MAPS (A therapy group for looked after children) and Taking Stock (who support people who have been sexually exploited). By the time my course started I could see that I needed to dress more appropriately for what I was going to be doing. It was a big change, the low-cut belly tops and hot pants I was used to, made way for more flattering jeans, smart trousers and tops. I felt it was my moment to show people who I could be and leave behind who I was before.
My residential college course started in October, but unfortunately I fell off my horse shortly after it began. I fractured my pelvis and had to go back home. It was a huge set-back for sure, but the old saying; “If you fall off get straight back on” is definitely true. The ubu team was there for me through the pain and disappointment, encouraging me to get the right kind of exercise and helping to put my mind at ease about the course. I thought perhaps that I had blown it, but they helped arrange for me to return to College when I was recovered which was brilliant!
College was been an emotional roller-coaster, I can’t deny that. But I got through it and have gained qualifications and certifications including ‘Emergency First Aid’ and ‘Horse Care Level 1’. I am now working towards getting qualifications in Maths and English. A Life Skills course has been much more useful than you might think. It’s taught me how to be more independent and now I’m choosing and making my own meals.
Graduation Day from College was so special. The people around me now who have believed in me and supported me to achieve my goal of training to work around horses seemed as proud of me as I felt of myself. That meant a lot to me. My next goal is to gain work experience by finding a placement on a stables or equine centre and that will lead to finding a proper job in my chosen career.
When I look back at where I was and where I am now, I am taken aback at how much I have come on and the successes I’ve achieved. In June this year I am due to leave the ubu support I live in at the moment and it will be hard making the transition to living independently. It has been my first ever real home and I have finally found ‘family’ with people who genuinely care about me. I am optimistic though, I’ve taken some giant steps in taking control of my own life, and I’ve made choices which are positive and good for me. Now I want to get a job and find my own home, things I never imagined might be possible in the past.