VOICE OF YOUTH
My name is Michael and I am 21 years old. This is
the story of my life in the care system.
I was born in London in 1976. My mother was a young Greek Cypriot woman, new to this country. To this very day, my father remains unknown. At the age of 2, I was put into a residential nursery. I was seriously overweight and had burns around my mouth from being fed too much hot baby milk.
My mother was not to blame. She was a young single mother in a new country, who loved me but didn't know how to look after me. For example, she was very obsessive. She wanted to hug and kiss me all the time. When she visited me at the nursery, she carried me everywhere and would never put me down. She also spoilt me with sweets and toys. At the age of 3, I was fostered to an English family running a children's home in a small village in Berkshire. My mother was allowed to visit me but, when I was 4, she came for the last time. She was going to marry a man of Iraqi origin, who had told her that his family would not accept her if they knew she already had a mixed race child. My mother claimed that I had a new family who cared and loved me, and who could offer more than she ever could.
Looking back, she was right. But it led to me feeling that my own mother, who had previously given me so much love, had now rejected me. That's why I endured so much emotional pain throughout my life in care. If my mother no longer loved me, then who else could love me? My foster mother tried so hard, yet all I wanted was my own mother. I did not want to be part of my new family and, from the age of 6, I began to withdraw into myself. I became very depressed, and was to grow up very lonely and isolated.
I felt that I didn't belong to anyone. I had an ethnic identity crisis. We were living in a predominantly white, middle class area. I became a victim of racial abuse from foster children in our home and at my primary school. At the age of 7, I ran away from school because the verbal abuse and bullying had become unbearable. But the teachers actually blamed me and said that I teased the other children.
Over the years, much of the arguing and fighting with my foster mother stemmed from this. Every time I tried to talk to her about my ethnic origin, she got upset. She would claim that my skin colour was not important, but being part of the family was. My foster parents never really understood. Then when I was 9, we moved to rural Wales. Wales had hardly any ethnic minorities. The only people at my secondary school who were of ethnic origin were myself and an Anglo-Indian friend, and the racist abuse became even worse. On my first day at school, I was called a 'Paki' and beaten up. I was also bullied by racist sixth formers and the toilet walls regularly had BNP and National Front graffiti on them. I began to blame my foster parents and, at times, I really hated my foster mother. At the age of 14, I was so depressed that my social worker decided to find my natural mother. She found her living in the same flat, separated from her husband and with 2 more children.
I instantly began to idealise my natural family and hoped to live with them. But my mother didn't want to see me, claiming that I had my own family and that there was nothing she could offer me. I was so devastated that my image of women became very bitter and negative. I found it difficult to trust any woman. I do still find it difficult because fears of rejection cannot be easily overcome. However, I am slowly solving this by taking every woman I meet for who she is — not comparing her to my mother.
The arguments with my foster mother got worse. The day after I finished my A levels, I decided to move to London to establish my identity. I chose somewhere very different from my white, middle class background. I moved to Brixton and it didn't take me long to realise that I wasn't black either. However, it was when I started university that I felt most lost. I felt that I couldn't relate to anyone.
In my second year at university, I decided to go and visit my mother. Again, I imagined that everything would be perfect. My visit was disastrous. She would not even let me in the house! Instead, she looked at me and cried. She then closed the door, telling me never to come back again. I sank into a deep depression and resorted to heavy cannabis smoking. At this time, I began to confide in the manager of a local service for young adults. He made a massive effort to gain my trust, encouraging me to speak honestly about my feelings — no matter how difficult it was. I then went into counselling, which helped me to come to terms with my past.
I realised that the positive far outweighed the negative. I had been with my foster parents since I was 3 and, despite our problems, they had not dumped me. My foster dad had helped me to pass my A levels and obtain my degree in History. As for my foster mother, words cannot describe what I feel for her. She is an emotionally strong woman who realises that we cannot turn back the clock, but that our mother-son relationship is now becoming stronger.
I regularly visit them in Wales and feel that they have accepted my need to relate to my ethnic origin. I now feel comfortable defining myself as an Anglicised Greek Cypriot. Although each child has their own distinct experiences in the care system, I hope that some of you can relate to what I went through.
There's something which, like me, you might realise. It is that blood may well be thicker than water, but real love is most certainly thicker than blood.
This feature is from Who Cares? the UK newsletter for young people in care