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Care experienced – both as a child in care and with children previously in care. She is a member of Family Rights Group Parents’ Panel. She holds a BA Hons in Social Welfare Law, Policy and Advice and is currently an MA Education student. She is a keen photographer and a professional pastry chef (non practicing as always on a diet!).
It was the 3rd December and I had just signed for my first ever home, a flat in an area of Stoke on Trent that I was unfamiliar with. As I closed the front door I took stock of the reality.
I was 17 and a half and had spent the previous 18 months homeless after fleeing a bed and breakfast due to the threat of violence and rape. Prior to this I was in the care of the Local Authority until they effectively kicked me out at the age of 16.
I owned a standard lamp, an armchair, a set of drawers with one drawer missing, a second hand divan bed base (I threw the mattress out as it was stained and made me feel sick), a table top cooker and a kettle – all donated from a charity.
The only clothes I owned were the ones on my back.
I can remember feeling very mixed emotions about this day, joy as I felt safe, fear as I had no idea how to run a home (I knew how to run from a home but that was not the same thing!) and also overwhelmed by the fact I had nobody to share this day with at all. This was me. I was alone and it was nearly Christmas. The enormity of what lay ahead was daunting, I had no guidance on applying for housing benefit, no idea how to inform fuel companies I was the person responsible for paying the bills or how I would pay bills.
As the weeks hurtled towards Christmas I can remember receiving income support and buying what was to be my Christmas dinner, a saucepan, a plate, knife, fork, spoon, mug and some Christmas lights. My Christmas dinner was tinned vegetables, one chicken breast and some instant gravy. It was horrible. As dire as my situation had been leading up to this point, I felt like this was one of the worst meals I had ever eaten.
There was not one single Christmas card on display – I had nobody. I was alone. I didn’t even own a radio or television. My Christmas tree was the standard lamp with the Christmas lights wrapped around it.
This was 30 years ago and that Christmas still hangs over me. Children in the care system don’t stop needing care once they hit 16, they do not cease needing guidance once they become ‘independent’, if anything children within the care system need more help and guidance because they do not have family.
I learned a valuable lesson 30 years ago, that ‘things’ do not mean anything. Christmas is not about presents under the tree, tacky plastic decorations, overindulging on food. Christmas is all about being with people who care and love each other. Family is so much more than those bonded by blood and Christmas is one day a year, just 24 hours out of 8,760.
If you are aware of somebody facing Christmas alone – extend your hand. It does not have to cost anything.