Using past experiences to help other young people
Jean Cleary always put Lucy first, standing in front of cars to stop her running away and calming her down when she smashed up a room in rage against having to leave yet another foster carer.
Her unwavering support and understanding for many years as a Council social care worker has certainly paid off because Lucy is now a proud mum-of-two who has just embarked on her own career helping young people.
Lucy, aged 25, said: “I owe so much to Jean – she was always there for me and believed in me. I’ve been through some really tough times over the years, but now my life is on track.
“After starting my job, I realised I had never actually said thank you so I rushed out to get some flowers and a special card. But you can’t put into words what Jean means to me – she has done so much. Everyone loves our Jean.”
They first met when Lucy was 13 years old and living with her mum in a flat in Park South.
“I was hanging out of a window shouting with my friend. We saw her coming and I knew why she was coming. Basically me and my mum were ready to kill each other, so she was going to try and help us sort our relationship out,” Lucy said.
“I’m from a big family – six brothers, three sisters and I was the youngest. Apart from my brother, I didn’t have a relationship with the others because they were older and from my dad’s previous marriage. Dad died when I was five and mum had struggled to cope. Often I was the one looking after her. But I was also very strong-willed and we rowed about everything – nothing was going to change that and we both needed some space.”
Lucy started meeting regularly with Jean to talk through any issues and help her find a sense of belonging.
“We made a book of my family history because I didn’t know anything about them. I didn’t know where I came from or how I fitted in,” Lucy said.
“This book really helped – it was really interesting to find out about connections from the past. I’ve still got the book and keep updating it.”
But the rows with her mum continued and Lucy ran away. Police tracked her down days later but her mum felt unable to handle their volatile relationship. Lucy was taken into care, which also proved an unsettling and chaotic experience.
She said: “I’ve lost count of the number of different foster placements – I moved all over and kept running away. I’m sure some of them meant well – they bought me clothes and took me on holiday, but no one even tried to understand me apart from Jean,” she said.
One placement, which didn’t work out through no fault of Lucy’s own, resulted in a fit of anger in a meeting room at the Children and Families Intervention centre, in Gladstone Street.
“When I was told I couldn’t stay there, I kicked off big time. I was shouting and swearing, chucking chairs around the room and everything. I just had to let the anger out. I was being sent to Bristol because there were no other placements for me in Swindon, but it felt like I was being punished and moved on even though I had done nothing wrong. No one wanted me. In hindsight I can see why people must have been worried for Jean, but she stayed with me the whole way through even going with me to Bristol that night and staying until I calmed down. I was in Bristol for a year and a half in three different placements,” Lucy said.
“It was after that I ran away back to Swindon. I remember being with a friend in a car ready to go to Reading. Jean turned up and somehow saw me, even though I hid in the back. She dived in front of the car and ordered it to stop. Reluctantly I got out and eventually came to my senses after a heart to heart with Jean.”
Fortunately Lucy’s mother was more settled by this time and arrangements were made for her to return home.
“I had left all my stuff behind and only had two sets of clothes. I remember Jean went out and bought me a brilliant pair of black boots, which I wore for years. Returning to my mum’s was hard. We just couldn’t live together,” she said.
Then Lucy faced another challenge – falling pregnant at the age of 15.
“I remember doing a test with Jean and saying: ‘I’m going to be a mum.’ I was no longer in touch with the father, and family and friends thought I should get rid of it. But I knew straight away I wanted to keep my baby – there was never any doubt,” Lucy said.
After her 16th birthday she moved into a flat in a hostel and had a baby girl.
“I gave her a Welsh name because my dad was Welsh. I had met someone during my pregnancy and we moved in together. Of course I was still very young, but I coped pretty well in the circumstances. Instinct kicked in and I was determined to look after my little baby,” Lucy said.
After three years of working together it was time for Jean and Lucy’s meetings to end.
She said: “We both cried that day, but of course she wasn’t abandoning me. She said: ‘If you ever need me, I’m here – just call…I’ll do what I can.’”
Lucy’s relationship broke up, but she had a better support network having grown closer to her older brother. She also met a new man and there was another unplanned pregnancy.
Lucy said: “I was 17 and far more settled, so it was exciting news. This time I had a boy and we made a good go of things together. But everything went wrong on my 20thbirthday,” Lucy said.
“We were having a party and I didn’t want it carrying on late because it would wake the children. It caused an argument and my partner left that night. My whole world fell apart.”
Lucy, knowing the intervention centre’s phone number by heart, called on Jean and they met up to talk through the situation. It became clear Lucy was depressed and having trouble bonding with her son.
“I was feeling low and struggling a bit. Jean put me in touch with SureStart Children’s Centre, where I learned about methods of play. It was really good for me and my baby and my confidence came back.” she said.
Since then, things have gone from strength to strength. Lucy is the house-proud, attentive mum of a very happy and active eight-year-old girl and seven-year-old boy.
She said: “My little princess is so confident, always dancing and singing. My youngest is the brain box, doing work from the year above at school, and he’s brilliant at karate. He also spends quality time with his father – that’s important. I’ve just finished decorating their rooms – there’s never a dull moment and I wouldn’t change it for the world.”
Lucy has also embarked on an exciting new career, having gained a full-time job as a teaching assistant after completing an NVQ in supporting teaching and learning in schools.
“That was the one downside of being pregnant so young – I missed out on getting my qualifications. I was determined to change that and catch up – my certificate is on the wall at home. I went to Jean and said; ‘it’s time for me to get a job.’ She helped with my CV and preparation for the interview. I was the first in my family to get a job – now my brother has one too,” she said.
“I’ve had my fair share of issues, so it’s good to give something back and help young people who need support. It’s also great to be earning a wage – we may even be able to have our first holiday together this year,” Lucy said.
“It’s quite scary to think in five years I’ll be the mum of a teenager. I can see my feisty personality in my daughter, but one thing is for sure she won’t be getting pregnant at 15. I want the best for both my kids and will make sure they have the stability I didn’t. The rift from my own mum is also healing and she’s enjoying being a gran, treating them to the sweet stuff I keep out of the house. At long last life is more settled and I can make proper plans for my family’s future.”
Jean, who has worked for the council for 12 years and is now an outreach support worker, is of course thrilled with Lucy’s success.
She said: “Lucy says I’m amazing, but I think she is. It’s tremendous how she has turned her life around and I hope her story will be an inspiration to others facing challenges in their lives.
“The job can be tough at times, but reading Lucy’s card reminds me why I do it and love it so much: ‘Just a little note to say how much I appreciate all your help over the years. You never had to stay in contact with me but you did. I honestly don’t know where I’d be if you were never there back then. I’m glad I’ve had you to believe in me because it gave me motivation to succeed not only for my kids but for me too. You will always be a massive part of my life and will always be thankful for all your support.”
Lucy’s real name has been changed to protect her identity
· £13 of every £100 of residents’ Council Tax is spent on protecting children and vulnerable young people, for example social work, foster care and adoption.
· Around £17 million was spent on children’s social care during 2012/13.
· There were 4,863 contacts to children’s social care between April and December 2012 – this is higher than the previous year when there were 4,605 contacts.
· In December 2012, there were 256 children in care. This compares to 243 in December 2011.
· 145 children in Swindon are on a Child Protection Plan at the end of December 2012. This has risen from 107 in December 2011.
· Most children in care are placed with foster carers in Swindon, but 58 are in placements out of Swindon, for particular health, education or social care needs.
· Every child on a child protection plan has a designated social worker.
· There are 165 foster carers in Swindon and more are needed to meet future demand.
· The council offers a range of fostering options from providing temporary care
with the goal of returning children to their family, to permanent care where children to remain in care until moving to independence.
· Crisis or emergency care is also needed for families in crisis and people are also required to provide overnight short breaks for children with disabilities as well as supported lodgings which support young people aged 16-21 in the transition from foster care to independent living.
· Foster Carers receive ongoing training and an allowance. There is someone available 24 hours a day, seven days a week to call and talk with. For more information in fostering or adoption, contact the Family Placement Team on: (01793) 465700.