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Family Matters - A journey from foster care to a career in law

View profile for Mike Devlin
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This was first published in the Wigan Observer on the 17th December 2013

I was encouraged to write about my own childhood experiences of foster care after recent news about allowing children to remain in their Foster Homes until 21, and having overheard some very negative statements about children, who through no fault of their own, find themselves in foster care. Unfortunately, I realised there still seem to be widely held negative views and misconceptions about ‘cared for’ children.

Most children are unlikely to enter foster care at a particularly happy time in their lives. There may be situations where a move is planned, but perhaps more often it’s an unexpected thing as a result of a sudden illness of a parent, or removal from home by social care to protect them from harm. Both upsetting for a child.

I was 10 when told by my older sister that we were going to be taken away from home, following my mother’s illness, and placed in Foster Care. Attempts were made to find carers who would be able to look after my brother, sister and I all together, but this was not possible and we were placed in separate homes.

I was taken to a house in an area I did not know well. I was told where my sister and brother had gone, but at that age I did not know where the places were. They could have been on the other side of the world for all I understood.

I was met by my ‘new mum and dad’ and their three children. They had a girl of a similar age to me and two younger boys which definitely helped me to settle in. I was used to living with my brother and sister and it would have been strange not to share a home with some other children. I lived there eventually for 11 months. A long time when you’re 10 years old! During that time I remained close to my brother and sister, and each of our foster carers went to great lengths to ensure we were able to have contact with each other, and making trips to hospital to visit our mum.

We returned home to my mum when she became better, increasing the time we spent with her until we were ready to return full time.

Since, I have very much felt that I had two “homes” and the three children who had so willingly shared their home with me and made me so welcome into the family, felt like my sister and brothers. They still do now 14 years on.

When I returned home my family had changed. My sister left foster care at 16 and never returned to live with us, my Granddad had sadly passed away during this time and my Dad had moved abroad. Although my family had changed, I was by then equipped with the emotional resources needed to cope with this, through the support provided to me by my foster parents during the time with them. I had also created a second family to turn to and they have continued to be a source of support and strength for me now, even though it was so long ago.

I have been very surprised by the negative stereotypes or misconceptions some people hold of the children who go into or leave foster care, and the idea that they cannot go on to be happy and successful adults. I don’t pretend every story is likely to be as positive as mine, but can confidently say my time in foster care has not held me back, it might have even spurred me on in some way, and even with the benefit of  hindsight I would not change my experiences.

I believe that my childhood has given me the insight to truly understand and appreciate many of our clients’ worries and sadness at a time when they feel that their own family life is being turned upside down.  

I don’t believe my experiences of foster care particularly prompted or motivated me to pursue a career as a solicitor. However, it has certainly provided me with some of the skills needed to cope when you are faced with uncertainty and tasked with helping clients on a daily basis.

14 years on I don’t believe having been in foster care for part of my childhood has hindered or held me back, in fact in mine, as in many cases, it has probably had the opposite effect. I’m better for my experience and proud of it.