Thank you so much for reading this blog. It’s a long one so grab yourself a brew and settle in.
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In September, I have the privilege of going to Uganda to support the great work that Retrak are doing with street kids. You can read more about what we’ll be doing and for whom here. The bit I haven’t yet shared is why I applied in the first place.
For as many years as I can remember, I have been totally focussed on proving a point. To who? I’m not sure. Myself, maybe?
I don’t keep my past a secret. I spent teenage years in Foster Care, moved around a fair bit which meant my childhood was disruptive. I didn’t have too many prospects, if I’m honest. Some of the other kids in placement used to go on the “run”. This is when they choose not to come back and stay out all night. Sometimes it would be just for a night, sometimes it would be for days. We all had our own, very different, reasons for being in Care. Some of the kids were incredibly vulnerable and had a history of abuse (done to them and by them). There would be times when they had gone on the run and the first thing that would happen is they’d be logged as a MISPER (Missing Person) with the police by the Foster Carers. Then my Foster-Dad and I would head out to their usual haunts to try and find them.
Our search would lead us to drug dens, red light districts, squats, sheds, bin houses in high rise flats, dealers, pimps, arsehole boyfriends, known heavies and generally unpleasant types. They would never be found anywhere where they would be safe, protected and free from further abuse. But they didn’t know any different.
Sometimes we found them. Sometimes we didn’t and we’d head back to the house in silence. The police would be called again with an update, the Duty Social Worker would be informed and a meeting would be scheduled to understand “why” it happened. This was a regular occurrence. My last Foster placement always went above and beyond the call of duty. In fact, there was no duty. Simply put, they really cared. You were lucky to get a placement with this family. Many didn’t.
But what if there wasn’t someone to care? What hope or chance do these children have, when they find themselves on the streets?
Just before my 16th birthday I was deemed ready for independence. This, essentially, meant moving into my own accommodation (a bedsit) and learning the ways of the world. I shared the accommodation with another chap and, whilst the main room was grim, it was OK. The bathroom, kitchen and basement room were riddled with damp. So much so, some of the walls were completely black. The smell was rank too and it got into everything, clothes, hair, bedding. You name it. But, it was only a £10 per week contribution towards rent and there weren’t many alternative options that were likely to be any better at the age I was. I wasn’t entitled to social housing until I was 18, so this was it. It was mine and it was home.
I hung around with undesirables, boyfriends included. I didn’t know any different. Surrounded by some work-shy, drug-dealing, weapon-using, violent, abusive types it is remarkable, when I look back now, to comprehend that it was even me in that situation. It doesn’t seem real. But it was.
So what happened to steer me on a path so vastly different to the one I was on, destined to remain on, some might say?
Kindness. People who did not have to help, but did so because they are beautiful people with huge hearts. Doing something for others for no other reason than because they knew they could make a difference. It may be a small difference, it may be a life-changing, path-defining difference. But it was still a difference.
Kind people helped me in many ways back then; bailing me out when I needed to pay bills and I didn’t have a pot to piss in, helping to educate me, developing my life skills, offering support and counsel, buying food when I had ran out two days before I was due to be paid, badgering me to do something with my life, get a proper job and give me something to aim for. Goals. Upon reflection, this was a defining part of my life. I was 17.
17 – 21 was interesting. I moved a lot. I had to. But, and it is a BIG but…. I was working in pubs, loved my job and, more importantly, my circle had started to change. People I could trust, people who were not interested in “what” I could do for them, people who were normal.
At 22 my life changed again. I had a different pub job and to take an excerpt from my very first blog:
“I loved it. Yes, I thought I couldn’t do anything else….I’d had years of people telling me so. Who was I to doubt them, they were the adults.
I was blown away by the fun we had and I was still being paid. This is crazy, right; who gets paid to have fun? It was a year before a manager tapped me on the shoulder and told me I was going on a course. How exciting….so many questions I had; what was the course, why was I picked to go on it, was I not any good at my job that I needed training? Turns out it was a Team Leader Development workshop and when I returned I was made Supervisor. How proud I was. I had my little star to prove that I was good at my job. I still have that star. It reminds me that someone took a chance on me when many thought differently.”
Three people saw something and took a chance on me at that time; Dawn Hawkins, General Manager at Ember Inns, Jo Wright, Pre-Opening Training Manager at Mitchells and Butlers and my amazing man, now husband, Mark Hewitson. I will be forever indebted. Without these three people, at that specific time, my life would most certainly have not taken the path it did. All the right people were in the right place at the right time.
To Dawn and Jo; your professionalism, open-mindedness and sheer determination to allow me to make informed choices, take on responsibility, develop myself, and my business skills, providing me with opportunities to learn and grow. Thank you. I’ll never forget what you did for me.
To Mark; the man I love with every ounce of my being and, with whom, I am spending my life. None of this would have at all been possible without you. You saved me. I was broken when we met, yet we have grown stronger together, helped one another to address and deal with our life questions and challenges. In my case, my deep rooted demons and trees, too. These have been the best 15 years of my life.
Together, we learned that it would be almost impossible for me to have children *shakes fist at Endometriosis* and we accepted that. I still wanted to help children and, after a very lengthy discussion in 2007 we applied to become Foster Carers with our Local Authority. Well, what can I say? It was an experience. And not in any way a good one. I had more “tests and checks” done than most to make sure I wasn’t bitter and twisted about my experience in care and I that I was psychologically sound. They interviewed friends, family, acquaintances, children, work colleagues. They dug up our past, completed CRB’s (DBS’s in today’s money) and we underwent 12 weeks of training and preparation. A week before the panel, who decide if we can be approved Foster Carers, I received a call from the Lead Social Worker explaining that she would like to explore my biological family (BF) in more detail. I asked why and she couldn’t answer well enough. The best reason offered was “my boss wants to ask some questions”. I refused to allow her to do this. I didn’t have any contact with them and I most certainly didn’t want their involvement. What relevance this had is, still to this day, beyond my comprehension. They had pulled my Looked After File and read it; it had an account of everything I ever did and said whilst in care. I know this because I have a copy myself. Honestly, you couldn’t make this up. I was given an ultimatum; allow us to make contact with the BF or we could not go to panel. It required not even an ounce of thought. It was never going to happen. Our application was pulled, 12 months was wasted and I was devastated.
It took many years for me to get over that experience. I threw myself back into work obsessively, suppressing emotions, building barriers and, with hindsight, making myself quite unwell and most unpleasant. I didn’t see the crash until it happened. A summer supported by the Priory was awful but most definitely needed.
In 2012, I still had a burning need to help kids in the same way that I had been helped. I explored options and discovered that we could apply to become Foster Carers with a Private Agency. The process began again and on April 11th 2013 we became Foster Carers. I was so happy, I burst into tears at panel. I was a mess. A very happy mess. We’d done it!
Now this is the bit I don’t get. I’m not sure I ever will. Over the next 14 months, we were referred 13 children to consider. Now, for reasons only known to the child’s social worker, we weren’t chosen. I really started to struggle with this. I mean, what was wrong with us? What were they looking for that we didn’t have? Our Social Worker thought it was a lack of experience. Really? After so much training, investigation and preparation, someone had to take a chance on us at some point, surely? Apparently not. And with that, we accepted that it wasn’t going to happen for us.
Back into obsessive work mode until I had my life light-bulb moment. People Stuff Matters.
I was happy, truly happy. Mark and I had headed off to do Route 66 and got wed, en route, in Vegas, by a singing Elvis, had our 4 cats (my babies), surrounded by the right people and genuine loving friends. Personally, I had achieved my professional goal of leading a people function and had set up my own consultancy business. Life could not be better.
Then I saw Ian Pettigrew’s tweet, realised that I could still give back and applied. On Tuesday 19th April 2016, I was selected to be a part of this awesome team. The opportunity of #ConnectingHRAfrica completes me.
This is my application form that I submitted to Retrak:
Why would you like to participate in the Connecting HR Africa Programme?
This programme connects with me on a personal level. Retrak works to transform lives and provide positive futures for the world’s most vulnerable children who live, work and sleep on the streets and, after experiencing vulnerability first hand in the UK (I spent my teenage years as a looked after child in Foster Care) I have worked hard to make as best a life that was possible in the face of challenges, perception and barriers. I want to help young people accept, embrace and overcome the challenges that they face.
What personal qualities would you bring to the trip?
I love to listen as much as I love engaging in conversation. I am curious, I enjoy solving problems, building stuff and making life fun. I am an obsessive cook, compulsive gardener, keen reader and, hubby would say, very creative when it comes to “sourcing” i.e shopping. I have an enormous amount of compassion and seek to understand what I can do to help others.
What professional experience do you have that could be useful during the trip? (such as working with young people, child protection, counselling, teaching, running talks and workshops)
I am an approved Foster Carer and have been through a deep level of learning to understand safeguarding, child protection, counselling skills and behaviours. In my professional life, I have completed a 120hr online programme to teach English as second language, I write and deliver workshops, facilitate working groups to stimulate conversation, I have presented at conferences and have partnered, in prior employment, with Believe in Young People to help young people embark on a work experience programme within my industry of hospitality. I have a C&G L3 Introduction to Teaching, I deliver many train the trainer programmes,
Have you ever travelled to, lived in or experienced other cultures? If yes, please expand::
Yes, my husband and I are avid travellers. We have spent a lot of time in Asia, specifically Thailand and Vietnam as well as Australia, Egypt, Morocco, Kenya to name but a few. We have driven Route 66 and will be doing an EU road trip in June. When we are away, we do as much as we can with locals; experience first-hand their day to day.
Please tell us about any experience you have of working with children:
I don’t have any children of my own. I have contributed to the upbringing of children who suffer with mental health issues and I have worked with children when I was both in Foster Care as a looked after child (I was given the responsibility for one of the younger children to aid his development. He came to us, aged 3, with limited speech ability after being neglected). I have actively supported care leavers and in 2013 became an approved Foster Carer with a private agency to help other children who were in need of a safe, secure, loving, supportive and developmental environment.
Can you outline any practical skills you have, such as building maintenance, DIY, gardening?
I am a brilliant cook, gardener, driver and builder of stuff (not so hot at walls, but I learn quickly), I do all my own maintenance (even electrics) and I thoroughly enjoy it.
Oh, and I’m doing the Autumn Wolf Run the week before #ConnectingHRAfrica – I have never ran in my life. Not even for a bus. This is a big deal for me, but not as much of how big a deal it is to smash my target.
My Virgin Money Giving page is here or, to donate via phone, please text. An example message: CHRA50 £10 to 70070. Thank you X