I've visited eight adult social care departments this year, and talked with front line staff in all of them.
In one sense, I’m actually really lucky. I knew back when I started college in 2009 I wanted to become a sports therapist. I never had the problem of wondering what I should or shouldn’t do. It was obvious, BTEC first, followed by an FA football course then back to a higher level in the BTEC, culminating in the offer of a contract by Chelsea FC (the team I support). All of it was crystal clear. So, if that was the plan, then why am I writing this article and why am I doing work experience at iMPOWER? One answer could be that life doesn’t always work out how you planned. Another could simply be that I’m actually, really lucky.
You see in 2010 I had home difficulties. I had to move out from my mums place and live in a hostel. Sounds negative at first but the truth is I thought it was great. I had my independence. I could do what I liked. No one to tell me what to do or hassle me. I could party late, stay out when I wanted, even take the odd day off from college when I felt like. When you’re 17 and the master of your own world you feel pretty good about the future. You feel invincible.
However, after 6 months of living like that it became pretty clear that I was anything but invincible. I was losing focus at college. I wasn’t thinking about the future. I’d gotten so wrapped up in the present and having a good time I’d forgotten that I had plans for myself. That I had ambitions. I’d gotten so wrapped up in the ‘independence’ I’d be given that it never occurred to me that I would have to use it responsibly.
Something had to change. I had multiple assignments all due, mountains of work on top of me and teachers threatening to drop me from the course if I didn’t sort myself out. It hit me like a brick. I’d lost sight of my goals, I’d over indulged and now it felt like my whole future was at stake. Looking back, and for anyone reading this, it can seem quite odd to think of being a teenager and feeling like you’re whole life rests on a couple of years or a few exams. Time gives you perspective, but when you’re stuck in the middle of it and you’re still learning how to handle ‘independence’ it’s overwhelming.
Getting back on the right track was driven by two things. Firstly I got sight of my goals again. The big prize was the career I wanted. Secondly, it was family and friends. In particular, my little sister. I didn’t want her to think of me as not fulfilling my potential. I wanted to be a role model. I wanted to set an example that she could follow. I know I got a lot of support, social services, when it worked was helpful, good friends supporting my more responsible choices but ultimately I had to want it myself. It’s always going to be a challenge when dealing with a difficult home life, college dead lines and a steep life learning curve, what makes the difference isn’t some external support but rather yourself.
The truth is I’m now only looking to the future. I’m focusing on university, my career and maybe starting a family soon after that. The thing people need to understand about my experience, and other people maybe like me is, that the choices might seem the same as most peoples but they’re not. It’s not that my situation is necessarily worse, although I’d of course love to still be living with my mum, just that, for example, university means something a bit different to me. For many people they choose to go to university because they want a degree and to learn how to be independent. To me it’s solely about building the opportunity to have a better life, I did the independence thing early and the hard way. I’m strong for it though, I know what I want and what I need to do to get it.
My focus is now on getting the sports therapy degree I need to start the career I really want. The one thing I’ve learnt worth sharing is that when you’re younger your big break always seems like its round the next corner. Luck is something you’ve just got in spades. What it takes times to realise is that you have to put the hard graft in first to generate the luck. Too many people just spend their lives waiting for something to happen instead of making it happen for themselves, I’ve never wanted to be one of those people. As part of my own development I’ve been offered a six month contract at iMPOWER, this will give me a great opportunity to develop further before I go on to university. This would never have happened if I hadn’t made the decision to come to iMPOWER’s job’s club (club for young people who have been in the care system and want to develop skills that will help them secure a job) all those months ago. The point being, you never really know where things will take you, it just that the first step though, always has to be your own.
Kareem Guishard (New starter at iMPOWER)