Benita recently started working as Digital Engagement Assistant at the Children’s Commissioner’s office. In this blog post we hear about her care leaver journey.
As a care leaver, I recently moved into my own flat, by far my biggest achievement so far. Now, thinking about my journey so far, I’m not sure anything could have prepared me for that transition. For the last five years, I was comfortable, ‘looked after’ and in a safe place that I called ‘home’. When I turned 18, my social worker started to prepare me for independent living, which involved being given a budget, being encouraged to buy and prepare my own food, and attending a money house course to enable me to budget effectively.
I also had to part ways with my advocator, my social worker and was introduced to my new Personal Advisor (PA). The relationship with my new PA was so different for me. It felt like my security blanket was gone and now I had to grow up and stand on my own two feet. There was support, but it wasn’t as frequent and if I needed help, I would have to contact the PA. I stayed with my foster carer post-18, but there were other options I could have taken that meant I would have been in semi-independent living. I think that this option would have moved me a step closer to independent living, but the thought alone was scary for me.
With the help of my PA, I was allocated a flat, not far from my foster carer. At first, staying local wasn’t an issue for me, but now, I see it as a lifeline. Living on my own and having familiar surroundings, like knowing the local area and having support close by are the most important things in my life.
Living independently, in my own flat, has meant I’ve had to learn very quickly how to negotiate with several different agencies relating to my housing and getting needed repairs carried out. I have learnt how to decorate and budget so I’m able to live on limited funds.
Being fully independent has made me more determined to achieve things in my life and has given me an optimistic outlook. This whole experience has really helped me discover new things about myself, for example I have faced many challenges and I’ve discovered that I’m a lot more resilient than I thought. I’ve been forced to come out of my comfort zone and navigate some of life’s experiences on my own and so far, I think I’m doing well.
Going from security of a home to full independence is never easy. At times I feel very lonely, sometimes I wonder will this loneliness ever leave? I don’t know. That’s probably the next blog!
Mental health issues are something other care leavers I have spoken to go through when moving out to live independently. If you are suffering, get help, reach out and stay in touch. Don’t withdraw from life. Socialising can improve your mood. Keeping in touch with friends and family means you have someone to talk to when you’re feeling low. Be more active- take up some form of exercise. There’s evidence that exercise can lift your mood even if it’s for 20 minutes or so.
Try, to face your fears, don’t avoid the things you find difficult. When people feel low or anxious, they sometimes avoid talking to people so can lose their confidence. There was a point where I only ordered my groceries online to avoid interacting with people and getting on a bus. Now, I make going shopping a part of my weekly routine.
Today as my journey continues, I just take one day at a time.