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Joe's Story | Care Leavers' Week 2020

I went into foster care when I was 9 years old, 2005 just before my 10th birthday, due to sexual and mental abuse that I went through living with our birth parents.

Moving into foster care was daunting having gone to school leaving my parents house to be told that by the end of the school day that I’d be going to live with people who I don’t know. I remember the day well, as I’m sure most children in care would. I remember my dad handing me a bag in the head teacher's office saying "I thought we were friends" - thinking back to that day it wasn’t a friendship it was emotional abuse.

There I was in a strangers car going somewhere I’ve never been before to stay with some people who I’ve never met. I went to live in Denmead, near Waterlooville, with a great couple called Cindy and Rod. They were so nice and welcoming when I turned up, they sat down with me on the first night with my social worker to discuss how long I was going to be there for and a little bit about why I was there.

As a 9-year-old, you don’t really understand what is going on and my social worker wouldn’t really explain a lot on that day as it was getting late. Living in care for me was both a good and bad experience. The bad thing about being in care is that my peers in school weren’t the greatest, I was a bit of a loner and had been bullied a lot. I had been told that "you not loved" or "your mum and dad didn’t love you" - what 9-year-old deserves to hear that?

I was bullied all through my school years but in college, it was much better! I started venturing out my shell a little bit at a time. I guess I have my foster dad, Rod, for getting me a job in the summer before I started college. First-year in college studied Travel and Tourism at Southdowns College, this is where I met my two good friends Matt and Shaun.

Becoming a care leaver at the age of 18 was not the best for me. Just as I started to find my true self I was told to leave the placement I was in to move to the Isle of Wight. I feel my personal advisor didn’t take into consideration that I wanted to stay in Portsmouth where my friends and foster family were.

As a care leaver, you are still given some support but not as much as a young person in care. When I turned 18, in some ways, I felt like I was being abandoned again by people who were supposed to look out for me - my corporate parents especially.

I had been a member of Portsmouth's Children in Care Council for 10 years now and I’ve helped change some national policies regarding care leavers, including increasing the age of support from 18-21 to 18-25 and young people staying put with their carers which for me was an honour to be part of.

I recall being in a meeting with the then Deputy Director of Social Care lobbying for the council to fund gym memberships for care leavers and, unfortunately, due to budget cutbacks, the council could not fund gym memberships. As a way to resolve this, I had mentioned about setting up a charity.

At first, we were thinking of names - one was PILOT which meant Portsmouth Improving Life Opportunities Trust but we were told that wasn't possible. From that discussion, Flying Solo was born. At first, I wasn’t sure but the name started to grow and I started to like it.

Flying Solo was set up for us to help care leavers have opportunities that they probably didn’t have in care, which includes activities such as sailing or going to the cinemas bowling or go-carting to name a few. It is also for networking with other care leavers to get to know each other.

The charity is now setting up a mentor programme in the charity and a Christmas helpline for care leavers to access over the festive period. Flying Solo's moto is run by care leavers for care leavers, which we will do.

I wouldn’t be the man I am now without Cindy and Rod who I ended up with for 8 years. Their support and guidance when I was younger were invaluable and I’m only starting to learn what they taught me. Cindy and Rod were two people that made a difference in my life I owe them and their family a great deal.

I’m now living in Southsea and although I do volunteer work that gives me time to do something I’m passionate, which is helping young people in care and care leavers.

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