Paul is a young man who is confident and charming. He tells me, he lives life to the full and feels lucky to be where he is. Paul has his own business (hairstylist) and is surrounded by friends and family members who love and care for him dearly. Life seems good.
However, Paul says that life hasn’t always been good. There is a distinctive tattoo on his left wrist with the date 4th December 2000. Paul tells me that this was the day when he and his brother were removed from his mother’s care and placed into the care of his Aunty.
“Brother was hit with a hammer.”
Paul is very open and honest about his past childhood exposures. He tells me that since he can remember, his mother would often physically and emotionally abuse them, he would go to school in dirty clothes and was bullied because of it. Paul’s school attendance was sporadic, which included a number of moves and up to three years of non-attendance, all before he was 9 years old. Paul says that he would often be hit across the face by his mother and was always in fear of retribution. She had a sense of control over them both and would regularly threaten them so as they would not disclose any of the abusive incidents.
Paul tells me of a further incident whereby his brother was hit with a hammer. He tells me that such experiences were a regular occurrence at home and he is remarkably reflective in detail. I would hazard a guess that once witnessed, such events are not easy to forget. However, Paul does not resent his mother. He says that his mother had her own issues within life, such as learning difficulties and was later diagnosed with having a personality disorder.
It wasn’t until 4th December 2000 that things started to change for Paul. After a weekend away with his Aunty, Paul remembers returning home to get his things for school. However, after being home only a short while, he says that his mother had hit his brother over the head with a shower-head and pushed him down a flight of stairs. Following the incident, Paul remembers hearing his mother call his Aunty. She admitted that she could no longer cope or care for them and to ‘come and take them away’. Paul remembers running out of his mother’s home address with only a handful of pants and socks, and a pink hair dryer – Paul admits that this was perhaps an early sign of his eventual choice of career.
This prompted a referral to children social care. Paul never returned home.
Living with my Aunty – life in Care.
“The Pink Hairdryer was a positive omen.”
Paul speaks with his upmost respect and admiration for his Aunty, who stepped in during his time of need and that he will be forever thankful for her support. However, he admits that initially, it was difficult for him as he struggled to readjust to life. His behaviour deteriorated as all he wanted to do was to go back home. After all, he knew no different – this was his ‘norm’, he tells me. During this time, he would often break or smash items within his Aunty’s home, be disruptive and eventually turned to regular drug use. Paul admits that it was a very difficult and challenging time for him, which lasted for a period of three/four years.
However, slowly but surely things started to change for the better. Through the continued support, love and attention from his Aunty and his support networks (including his Social Worker), things started to settle and Paul’s confidence increased considerably. His attendance at school increased as he began to value education, learning the importance in gaining qualifications so as to achieve future employment aspirations. He stopped misusing drugs.
After a short spell on a plumbing course, where he achieved NVQ L2, Paul decided to move abroad for work. This lasted for a few years and is another example of his increased confidence and self-worth. He eventually returned home to complete a qualification in Hairdressing, a profession which he both loves and feels passionate about. Paul says the Pink Hairdryer was a positive omen.
Having met Paul, and now knowing his background, you could be forgiven for not knowing what he had witnessed as a child. This is further testament to his character and resilience and the support he has received over the years.
My amazing Social Worker – Alex.
“Alex went above and beyond”
After going into care, Paul was allocated a Social Worker called Alex. Like most Social Workers, Alex went above and beyond to support him. Paul speaks very highly of Alex, admitting that he could not fault her. Paul said that she helped support him and his brother at their time in need. He always felt listened too, was central to her decision making and believed she wanted the best for him. Whenever he needed advice, support or just someone to talk to, Alex was there. He felt like her only case – she was there when they did good things and not just when things didn’t go so well.
Paul is still in touch with Alex today.
Paul’s advice and guidance.
What advice would you give to anyone that is going through or has been through the Care System?
“Don’t let you past define your future. Life is a journey and you are the master of your destiny. Yes, you will need help along the way, but the great thing about the future is that it’s not happened yet. Also, surround yourself with a positive support network. For me this was my Aunty. My brother and I were lucky to have such great support. My Aunty taught me right from wrong and I have a very special relationship with her now.”
What advice would you give Social Workers?
“It’s all about the Child – please, never lose sight of this! My Social Worker was amazing and that’s because she was all about my brother and I. We felt central to what was going on around us. Also, make those that are in the care system, feel like they’re not in care and talk at a level so as it can be understood by them.”
What advice would you give to any Foster Carers?
“It’s not about the money. Foster Care is a difficult job and, yes, you should receive payment for it. But remember the best foster carers are those that go above and beyond to help others at their time in need. Also, you need to have patience. It won’t happen overnight and often there will be challenges and difficulties along the way. You need to be their rock!”
What would be you message to anyone reading this?
“Everyone is on a journey in this life. Some bad paths and some good paths, but it’s your choice which path you take. Things can get hard and things can be amazing but that’s life – it’s all about the ups and downs and how you deal with them. In other words, don’t let your past define your future. I wouldn’t be where I am today if it wasn’t for the support I received especially from my Aunty.”
We would like to thank Paul for his time in meeting with us here at One Stop Social. It was a hugely humbling experience and one that we shall never forget. There are many positive stories like this that start with some bad life experiences. Paul is a fantastic example of how you can achieve happiness through strong will and a loving and supportive network.
If you have a story you would like to share with us, please feel free to get in touch with us.