"I've been here before"

A care-experienced adult reflects on the past two years.

The New Year is often a time to reflect on what has been and dream and look forward towards what is to come. As many of us reflect on the past year, and in fact beyond that, the image is a unique one. Never before have our generation experienced something quite like the pandemic that has affected our lives since March 2020.

Except, in a way, some of us have.

If I think back to March last year, I can remember the conversations that took place, speculating and wondering about what was about to happen. “It won’t really happen,” people said, “They won’t actually send the country into lockdown.” I didn’t know why, but I had a sense even then that something significant was going to happen. And, of course, it did.

What was to be an initial three weeks then continued through April, May and June, bringing daily COVID briefings, furlough schemes, support bubbles and an enormous amount of uncertainty. We had a slice of freedom in the summer, encouraged out of our houses and on to the high street to ‘eat out to help out.’ Then autumn arrived with circuit breakers, national lockdowns, local lockdowns, three tiers and then four tiers and then an emergency fifth tier.

Everything was changing around us, and my husband, my children and my church family found that incredibly challenging. But strangely, I felt okay. In fact, I felt really emotionally stable. While life was a rollercoaster for everyone around me, I was on a conveyer belt.

I was sitting at my desk one day, in the midst of it all, wondering, “Why is my reaction different to those around me? Why doesn’t this feel unfamiliar?” And I heard God kind of say to me, “It’s because you’ve been here before, B.”

It felt like the clouds had broken and the sun was shining through. Of course. Of course this doesn’t feel new or unfamiliar. I’ve experienced this before. The to-ing and fro-ing, the attaching to and detaching from loved ones, the waiting for answers; this was my childhood.

This wasn’t the first time someone ‘in charge’ had told me that I couldn’t see my family. That’s something I have heard said to me more times than I can remember by social workers who had deemed it not safe for me to stay at home. Most of the time, those words were said without any clear idea of how long it would be before I could see a parent, one of my siblings, a former foster carer.

This wasn’t the first time I’d heard, “You can’t go to school today.” When I was a child, school was my safe space. When my son was told he couldn’t go to his classroom any more, I vividly remembered sitting in a social worker’s office when I should have been learning, feeling that my education was being taken from me. Thankfully, school is not my son’s only safe space. But I found myself thinking, “Where are children at risk going to find their safe space today?”

This wasn’t the first time I had been allowed just one hour of exercise a day. My experience as a child led me to make some decisions as a teenager that meant I spent a period of time in prison, and there our one-hour’s worth of exercise was a precious, precious thing. It wasn’t the first time I had been ‘locked-down’ in my home. Probation meant that I couldn’t leave the house I was living in for a duration of time.

For me, having had multiple different homes even before the age of seven, and I think for many others who have experienced care, the longevity of the journey means that cycles emerge. The longevity of this pandemic has meant that we’ve seen cycles, peaks and dips; it had its beginning, and then we had a break, and then things became difficult again, and then eased and felt lighter. Life settles and normality resumes, and I can remember the release and the stability I experienced with great foster carers. Numbers of cases and hospitalisations rise, and we can anticipate what’s coming next, and I’m reminded of the feeling I had when things with mum were getting bad again, and I knew it was just a matter of time before the social worker arrived at the door. As I write this, I feel okay – I feel safe. But I think there will always be a part of my mind that is quietly preparing for the cycle to repeat itself.

This wasn’t new. I had been here before. And to a certain extent, I was used to some of these feelings that were new to so many around the country and around the world.

I think ‘resilience’ is a great word. We care-experienced folk, we have such resilience. I think that having that resilience means perhaps we can last a little longer and go a little further than others who haven’t lived our story. But it doesn’t make us immune. I hit a wall in March 2021 when suddenly, it all felt too much. I was exhausted and drained, and I didn’t want to be separated from my in-laws any more, I wanted to be able to take my daughter back to university without any complications. There was a range of emotions that came near me that day, but the loudest voice was one that cried, “When is this going to stop?”

"When is this going to stop?" I think most of us have asked that question at some point over the last two years – maybe some have asked it many times. But for me, that question carried such heavy weight. It’s one I asked as a young person, echoing feelings I had in a home that was unsafe. As that question returned to me, now as as an adult, self-care has had to be a priority. Support from others has been absolutely invaluable.

There are a few things I have had this year that didn’t exist in my childhood. These days, I am first and foremost a mum to my two beautiful children and a wife to my husband of 20-plus years. We have a third child of the furry, four-legged kind. In the chaos and the change, they have been constant in their presence and in their love. I have a community of other care-experienced adults who I know I can connect with and, without more than a smile, a wink or a “you know what I mean,” know they understand me. I’m part of a beautiful church family and have a faith in Jesus that grounds and comforts me and drives me forward to put my experiences to good use.

There’s a verse in the book of Joshua that I cling to:

Have I not commanded you? Be strong and courageous. Do not be afraid; do not be discouraged, for the Lord your God will be with you wherever you go. Joshua 1: 9

It might seem that we haven’t really ‘gone’ anywhere this year, stuck at home for lengths of time with cancelled plans and restrictions around where we can visit and who we can see. But really, we’ve ‘gone’ to places that many of us have never been - but that some of us have.

The New Year is often a time to reflect on what has been and to dream and look forward towards what is to come. You have had a window into part of our story. How might you use what you have seen, experienced and understood to shape how you care for, support, listen to and advocate on behalf of the thousands of children and young people in the UK who right now are waiting for a safe and stable place to call home? He has commanded you to be strong and courageous; I wonder, where will you go?

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Author:
A care-experienced adult


Date published:
December 2021


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