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Changes: Casey Armstrong

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Annie [00:00:00] Before we start, a word of warning that this episode contains some upsetting content. Please check the show notes for full details. Hello and welcome to Changes, it's Annie Macmanus here. Great to have you with me, thank you for being here. Today 82,000 children are in care in Britain and for this week's episode of Changes, I wanted to focus on someone whose voice doesn't get heard in this whole conversation about the UK care system, and that is the young children who are going in and out of care. So this week we focus on a personal story and in order to find our guest and make sure that we had a duty of care to that guest, that they were safe in talking about their experiences, we enlisted the help of the Become charity. They are a charity dedicated to children in care and young care leavers and they introduced us to our guest this week, Casey Armstrong. Casey is 24 years old now and an astrophysics and physics student in Dundee. Casey it's so fab to have you on Changes, welcome. 

Casey [00:01:11] Hi, thank you. 

Annie [00:01:12] So what is it about physics that you love so much? 

Casey [00:01:16] Well, I've known for the longest time that I wanted to do some kind of science, and I think I- just the day that I found a documentary that was on astrophysics I just- I fell in love with the subject straightaway. It's such a crazy subject sometimes that you're sat there and you happen to remind yourself that it's non-fiction, that is actually real the stuff that you're learning about. And I know I'm biased but honestly, I just think it's the best subject in the world. 

Annie [00:01:40] Was it a Stephen Hawkins documentary? 

Casey [00:01:43] Yes, so it was Into The Universe by Stephen Hawking and I just- it had me gripped from like the first second that it started. I was just so fascinated. 

Annie [00:01:53] Yeah. And are you enjoying your studies now? Is everything you thought it would be? 

Casey [00:01:58] Yeah. I'm absolutely loving it. I've waited so long to get to learn about these things in an actual academic context rather than just watching YouTube videos. I think the cherry on top is me moving to Scotland has actually- it's just been the perfect thing for me and I've just, I don't know, I feel like I've got that freedom that I've always wanted in my life and I'm just- I'm so happy with where I am right now. 

Annie [00:02:18] Good. Why, I suppose, is it so important for you to kind of be a voice out there and tell people about your experiences of the care system? 

Casey [00:02:26] I mean, everyone knows at the end of the day the care system is a flawed system, there's a lot that needs doing to fix it. I'm one of the lucky few where I've been able to put voice to what I've been through and a lot of people aren't able to do that. And because I know that I'm able to do that, I want to take advantage of it. I want to help make those changes that need to happen because somebody has to do it. And I want to try and help stop people going through the things that I went through, even if I can just change things by minuscule amounts. I think any difference matters at this point. 

Annie [00:02:54] Yeah, and I think, you know, from the perspective of someone who hasn't been in care, you hear a lot from the authorities about the care system but you don't really hear that much from the people who've been through it. What are you like with change, Casey? How do you feel about that word, I suppose? 

Casey [00:03:10] It's a bit of a weird one for me because I've had a lot of change in my life, even before I went into care I'd been to so many different schools, I'd lived in so many different houses just because my bio family moved around a lot. And yeah, there's been times where change has been really good for me. There's been times where it's been bad for me. But either way I think, you know, when you've had so much change in your life, sometimes you just- you want it to stop for a little bit and just allow yourself to settle. So, you know, I can be very adversed to change but, you know, there's been times that, you know, the big change that happened of me going to university is probably the best thing that ever happened to me or the change when I went into care. So, you know, change can be really good, but it can also be very stressful at the same time. 

Annie [00:03:48] So you were 14 when you went into care, what are your memories, I suppose, of that time before you went in to care? 

Casey [00:03:55] So I just- I never had loads of stability in my life. When I was younger my parents split up and then they got back together again and then they officially split up again. So that was a lot of moving back and forth at that time. I remember the last time they split up, it was this kind of leaving panicked in the middle of the day whilst my dad was at work, and it was that sort of sneaking out type story that you hear about. 

Annie [00:04:18] Did you have siblings? 

Casey [00:04:20] Yes. So I've got an older sister and a younger brother who has a different dad. I unfortunately, I don't have contact with them. I was the only one that went into care. 

Annie [00:04:31] Right. 

Casey [00:04:32] So there's something called family scapegoat syndrome. That's basically where I was the family scapegoat. A parent- typically tends to be a parent just decides that they're going to take it all out on one of the children and that ended up being me. So I was just kind of the black sheep of the family and just left out quite a lot. Just sort of spent a lot of time where, you know, I'd get the punishments for basically anything that went wrong in my mum's life. It was quite lonely to be honest, there were a lot of, you know, if there were family events I wouldn't- I wasn't part of the family, so I wouldn't be there for that family event. 

Annie [00:05:05] Wow. How did it come about then, that you went into care? And can you tell me about that experience, that change? 

Casey [00:05:13] So I was dealing with a lot of mental health issues. 

Annie [00:05:17] Did you know they were mental health issues? I mean, when you're that age- were you aware? 

Casey [00:05:22] So for as long as I can remember, I had mental health issues, a can't remember a time that I didn't. And, you know, I spent a really long time not knowing what was wrong with me, not knowing that it was mental health issues. I didn't think I could have something like that so young. I remember the first time that I attempted suicide, I was nine years old. Obviously it wasn't successful at all, but it was just kind of- I remember me doing something with the intent to take my life, essentially. You know, it's not normal to be doing something like that at that age but I didn't have words for it. I didn't have an explanation for it. It wasn't until my suicide attempts got worse, and they'd be things that would land me in the hospital, that the word depression got mentioned to me. And at the time I was thinking, really? Could I be depressed? That's a really serious thing. I'm only sort of 11, 12 years old. Can I be depressed at this age? But that was the beginning of the thought process that actually I could have mental health problems and actually it was quite a relief because I didn't feel so crazy at that point, because I just always had so much going on in my head with no explanation. 

Annie [00:06:16] Yeah, just to be able to name something. And then what kind of support system was there, or was there any beyond your family? 

Casey [00:06:24] Erm, the main support system I always had was school. I think that is a big reason why I've wanted to go into a career that's so heavily academic, because you know, schools were always the ones that kind of, they did help me. You know, it was a place where I could leave home and I always explained it as having my own little bubble that I could go to and I could forget about things for the day. I had some really good friends and their parents kind of understood what was going on. There were a few times where I'd run away from home and they'd sort of take me in for a couple weeks at a time. And you know, so that- for the main part that was my support network but in terms officially when it comes to, say, social workers or mental health services, that's not really something that I had. I got a child and adolescent mental health worker I think when I was 12 or 13, and she was absolutely brilliant. She was really helpful. 

Annie [00:07:11] And so how did that feel then, having someone that you could talk to that was neutral? 

Casey [00:07:16] I honestly feel like she did save my life because you know th- I won't say she's the only person that did, you know, I was a very suicidal person, I really struggled with a lot of hopelessness and there were a lot of people that sort of would be there for me at instance that, you know, if they weren't then I don't know what would have happened. She saw the situation for what it was. Admittedly, she did things where she could have gotten told off or, where she didn't report certain things that I had said to her. I remember there was one time where I'd self-harmed and she really wanted me to get stitches, but she knew how badly I just didn't want to do that. It meant that my mum would have found out because then I would have been at the hospital for them and, you know, we reached an agreement where she said, okay, I'm going to give you this care pack or I'm going to give you these these proper dressings and as long as you agree to do that, and you look after it properly, then I won't make you go and get stitches. She builds up this different kind of element of trust where she knew that there were things she could do that could cause things to be worse for me at home. And instead she'd make these sort of arrangements with me where, you know, it would be like a middle between the two of us. We had a really good relationship in that sense and it felt like I could really trust her in a time that I felt like I couldn't trust anyone. 

Annie [00:08:21] If you had gone to the hospital and got stitches, what would have been the repercussions of that at home? 

Casey [00:08:27] There are a few times where my mum would find out that I had been self-harming and, you know, it would always- quite often it would end up with me being kicked out. It would be 'you're ruining the family' 'you're being selfish' 'how dare you do this to us?'. At the very least, I'd get grounded, but her version of being grounded would be to take off all electronics. You know, I wouldn't be allowed to sort of go outside or anything like that and it would last for about six months at a time and I'd just- I'd be cut off from the entire world. 

Annie [00:08:52] And in terms of your house, like, what was your mum's circumstance financially? Did she work? Was she comfortable for money or not? 

Casey [00:09:01] No. So I know money was always a struggle. She worked as a childminder and didn't have much income from that for quite a few years, but then as soon as social services got involved, obviously she was no longer allowed to be a childminder. That was something she blamed on me, even though it was her parenting that got social services involved. She was a single parent. Finances were never good. I know we lived in some quite rubbish houses, you know, I remember when we were younger, the amount of times that someone would become a knocking on the door to collect a loan and she'd be just 'quick, be quiet, pretend that we're not in, turn the lights off' while someone's banging on the door trying to collect a loan payment. 

[00:09:34] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:09:45] So at what point did the social services get involved then? 

Casey [00:09:48] There are actually two instances that I went into care. So the first time was when I was 14 years old, that was just a temporary placement. The main reason that happened is because, so I was taken to the hospital, they put me on a three day section because of another suicide attempt, and the option was either to put me on an inpatient ward or to send me in care. I made it very clear how badly I didn't want to go onto an inpatient ward and was sort of coming out with 'if you even speak more about that, I will run away and you won't be able to find me'. So they at the end just kind of went, 'okay, yeah, we'll put her in care then'. You know, I was very big on not losing my access to school and after about three months, they sent me back home with my biological family, and things broke down very quickly. And then in another six months, I got kicked out and, you know, no one could get in contact with my mum. My dad was then also homeless at the time because he'd just been kicked out by his partner. So there was just physically nowhere for me to stay. The only solution was for me to go into care again at that point. 

Annie [00:10:48] So tell me about that change then. How did that feel and what happened initially? 

Casey [00:10:54] The first foster family I had, not a fan of them, and the second time I went into care I just got so unbelievably lucky. You know, they're still my family to this day and, you know, they fought to keep me sort of at that placement. I stayed with them sort of until the day I left care.

Annie [00:11:12] So how does it feel, you know, walking into someone else's house and having to make that a home? 

Casey [00:11:23] It's a very hard feeling to describe. Some people will get a little bit of prep time before they move into their placement. You know, they might get a chance to sort of like slowly meet their family a little bit more. But for me, in a lot of cases, I both times, I was an emergency placement, which means both times I found out about an hour before I was getting sent their that I was going into care. I had no clue I was about to go into care. And so, you know, you get the social worker that picks you up and, you know, sometimes you might go and sit in the office for a little bit whilst they finalise some paperwork and you've got about an hour to sit there and ask questions and try and find out what's going on. Chances are because it's all last minute, the social worker doesn't know much what's going on. It's probably not even your social worker, it's normally an on duty one. It's not just a new house that you're living with, your living with strangers that you've never met before, you didn't even know they existed. And then you're also living in a new area that you don't know and you don't recognise. Then social services quite often try to get you to change school because they want you to be closer to the area that you're living in. You really do just- you lose everything you know, especially when home has always been something that's not safe for you, going into a stranger's home, it just, it makes it feel that much more scarier because you know that is a place that isn't safe. Yet you have to just overnight get comfortable there and feel safe there. It's a difficult process. 

Annie [00:12:42] So the first one didn't feel good for you at 14? 

Casey [00:12:47] No, so my first placement, they were very obviously doing it for the money. If we went on holiday, the rule was that we had to all be out of the caravan till about 8:00, 9:00 at night. Didn't matter if it was raining, there were a few times we would be stuck out in the rain, because they wanted their holiday time and I think they were only taking us with them just so they could say to social services that, 'yeah, we're taking the kids on holiday', but you know, I think we very much were just a bit of a- money to come in on the side. 

Annie [00:13:15] Mhm. So tell me about then this new family. How did they make you feel upon living with them? 

Casey [00:13:22] It was very strange meeting this new family. I come in this sort of really mentally unwell teenage girl, you know, I'm self-harming every day at this point, I'm known for repeated suicide attempts, you know, they don't know how to deal with this and I just sort of got sent in with them. At this point they were only approved as short time foster carers and not long term foster carers, so really they just got thrown right in the deep end with me. But the really shocking thing was, was that we just clicked very quickly. It wasn't as awkward as when I moved in with my first carers. I had no clothes on me with it being an emergency placement. You know, I'd been sort of sofa surfing around friends houses for a long weekend and she just went, 'well, you've not even got a toothbrush, Casey. I'm not waiting for social services to approve money to get you these things. We're going to go to the shop now, we're just going to buy some basics. We're going to get you some casual clothes and some school clothes and some pyjamas just so you can be comfortable'. And, you know, that was within sort of- I think that was pretty much as soon as the social worker had left after dropping me off. And straightaway, her priority was just making sure I had all of those things, whereas my first carers were 'well, we know you've not really got anything, but we're going to wait until we get an emergency fund first before we buy you anything like clothes'. And I just, I saw that different straightaway and I think it helps me to open up. We joke now that it's like I was meant to be with the family, but because my mum, my foster mum, she was 16 at the time I was born, we just say there was like a little bit of a detour with my bio family before I could come to my true family. 

Annie [00:14:50] Wow. 

Casey [00:14:50] They came to call me my daughter quite quickly, you know, I call them my mum and dad because that's what they are to me. So yeah, I'm extremely lucky to have them. 

Annie [00:14:59] So upon being part of this family, your school life, how was your mental health? Did those things change as a result of feeling kind of safe and secure? 

Casey [00:15:09] Yep. So a lot of people said it's like a switch we just flicked, it was so quick. 

Annie [00:15:16] No way, wow. 

Casey [00:15:16] Yeah, it was- it was honestly, it was insane. I went from this daily self-harming to, you know, it went to about a week and considering how my mental health was at the time, being able to go a whole week without doing it, it was so different. And I actually, I remember from the day that I went into care, it wasn't until I was 17 and a few months before my 18th birthday and me leaving care that I actually made a suicide attempt and I realised that whole time, there were times I've considered it and I'd gotten close to it, but I'd never actually acted out on it. And again, I went from doing that once every few months to not doing it for years after I then moved into care. You know, it just, it shows the difference that it made with me just having a family there to love me. 

[00:15:54] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:16:05] There is a thing that I think a lot of people don't really know about with regards to care, which is called the care cliff. Can you explain that, what that is? And also kind of what was your awareness of it as Casey, 15 years old, finally settled and doing well in life? 

Casey [00:16:22] So at the age of 15, I didn't quite realise how- you know, I knew I was late going into care but I didn't realise how close I was to leaving care at that point and how little time I actually had. It's kind of strange looking back because I had no idea how much was about to come and just, you know, essentially just hit me like a train with how it just came out of nowhere. Because the care cliff, it's the process of leaving care and how bad it is essentially because you haven't got the right support there, every local authority has different resources, every social worker has different resources. And for the most part, people just aren't prepared for it. You're going from living in care and, you know, just living with a family and being, you know, at least living the life that's somewhat close to what your age should be, to all of a sudden you're 18 years old, you're out in the world, you're an adult. So many people just have their lives fall apart. You know, I was one of those. I was in college at the time, as my 18th was approaching, mental health was just declining and declining because I was dreading it. I didn't know what was going to happen, I really thought I was going to lose my family because I thought as soon as their payments for looking after me went, they'd go, and my only plans for after turning 18 was to go into university accommodation. My birthday was in the summer so social services approved for me to wait a couple months with my foster family until the new academic year started. I could go into university accommodation, but my mental health was declining and college was the last thing that was on my mind. At this point, just to cope, I started drinking, I started drug use. It was March, just before my final A-level exams that I had the worst suicide attempt that I've ever done. I was very lucky to survive that. And at that point it was, you know, I need to prioritise my mental health. There's no way that- I just need to stop worrying so much about college because I needed to remove as much stress in my life as I could. With that, you know, I lost my accommodation for when I turned 18, so everything kind of just fell apart. I ended up homeless, not much longer after my 18th. I was then sort of worse with drug and alcohol use. You know, I didn't have my future plans that, you know, there's this subject that I've always loved so much. Suddenly it was then a point of upset because it was then something, another thing in my life that I'd failed at and I'd never achieve, so I just- I completely fell apart after I turned 18. 

Annie [00:18:41] It's so shocking, isn't it, that, you know, you're so vulnerable, so young, and suddenly you're just cast out by the system. What did the family think of this and were you able to talk to them about it? It's interesting you've mentioned the payments, obviously there's a kind of transactional aspect of you being in care and I suppose some families will make you feel like there's not and like, you know, like this family and, you know, you're a loved member of the family. But at the end of the day, there's money that they're getting paid in order to look after you and to keep you. I suppose that's when it becomes really real. You know, the money stops. I mean, it's just eugh.

Casey [00:19:20] Yeah, yeah, it was- you know, I mean, I know so many people who, you know, they have lost their foster family, they've lived with them and, you know, they may not have had the same relationship that I had with my family but, you know, they've still seen it as a family relationship and then they find out that they've just moved straight onto the next foster kid as soon as they've left and, you know, I've seen it happen. There's a placement that my foster parents had and, you know, overnight they basically just gave up this kid that they'd had for years. And, you know, he was so devastated by it and he really struggled to form any kind of relationship then with my foster family that he'd moved into because he'd just been abandoned like that with a family that he, you know, he thought that he had for all of this time. There's a lot of carers out there that either see it as a job or they see it as too much of a job. They may see it as a loving thing that they're doing but in the back of their heads, they're still seeing it as enough of a job when they can just drop a child and an entire person's life at a moment's notice like that. 

Annie [00:20:15] So what did they say to you about leaving and was there any conversation there or was that just something that you had to kind of worry about in your own head? 

Casey [00:20:25] So we actually found out quite recently, just sort of in the past year that- so there's something called staying put where after you turn 18, you can arrange it so you can stay, I believe it's until the age of 21. I think it's yeah, it's up until the age of 21. Yeah. And they can get financial support to continue looking after you. Turns out that my parents actually asked for this. They asked my social worker about that. My social worker just said no, she wants her independence too much. She won't want that. And for years, I never broached the subject because I thought, you know, our relationship got very strained towards the end because of my mental health and I was trying to push them away, not know what was going to happen when I turned 18. You know, for years that was a point of heartache where, you know, I kind of felt a little bit abandoned and rejected but kind of thought, well, it's my own fault, you know, I deserve it. So I just didn't want to bring up the subject to them because I didn't want to hear them say the words, 'you were too much'. And I found out actually they tried to keep me and they were basically told no and there was no involvement with me about it. I wasn't asked that. There was no discussion. If I was asked, you know, I would have been jumping for joy. I would have taken that opportunity in a moment's notice. But I was never given the option. You know, we've got our theories as to why. We think that social services just wanted to get another placement in there asap because they make less money if someone's staying put. There's also, that means that they've got another child that they can then move into a placement. There were also private foster carers of a private company at the time, which means that they have to get paid more. It was very difficult to fight to get me permanance there as it was. My life just completely fell apart like that because we think the council were just trying to make things easier for themselves and not me. 

Annie [00:22:05] So you found out only recently in the last year. How did that feel when you found out and I presume you find out from your foster family? Yeah. 

Casey [00:22:12] Yeah. We were just discussing about the care cliff, really, because I was just talking about a job that I'd had and, you know, our foster mum just turned around and went 'yeah, you know, you could have stayed put'. And at that point I was so confused and she explained it and the emotions that went through me, I was, I was so angry at the social worker I had at the time because, you know, all it took was for her to turn around and go 'Casey, they've offered this. Would you like this? The options there'. You know, not a word was mentioned to me and I spent all these years with this feeling of rejection. You know, there was a feeling of relief because it was, oh, they did want me, I wasn't too much, that option was actually there and it's not either of our fault that it didn't happen. And then I think it was just the- I guess the grief at the same time of, you know, actually what could my life have been if I did get to have that? You know, I wouldn't have been homeless. Maybe my drug use would actually have stopped and it wouldn't have gotten out of control. Maybe I would have gotten to university on time because, you know, I only went to university last year, five years behind some of my peers. So, you know, it was a long five years for me to get there and actually, maybe it might have just been one extra year for me to get there. My life could have been on a very different trajectory. 

Annie [00:23:20] When I think about the amount of pressure that A-levels are anyway, regardless of your situation, you know, the huge amount of pressure, but then when you have the added pressure of your academic results like directly affecting whether you have a home or not. Like your only chance in your head at that time of a place to live was halls. That's just not okay amount of pressure. 

Casey [00:23:42] Yeah, it was er- as soon as my grades started to slip the tiniest bit, I knew the weight of me not getting as good of a grade as I wanted. And you know, that was the beginning of the decline that I had and that's all it was, it was just a couple of slipping grades. Because for me a slipping grade wasn't just, 'oh no, I'm a bit disappointed, I could've done better', it was a, 'I'm risking my accommodation when I turn 18 here, I'm risking being homeless now' and I was 17. I was a kid. I still was a kid at the age of 18. I shouldn't have been dealing with stuff like that, but I was because that's what social services have decided is how things go, essentially. 

[00:24:17] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:24:27] So you said you were homeless, were you on the streets? 

Casey [00:24:32] I was lucky to always be sofa surfing, there were maybe only ever a couple of nights where I would be on the streets but it was manageable in the sense that I could stay awake all night and, you know, I didn't have to actually sleep on a bench or anything like that. You know, I had enough energy to stay awake for one or two nights. But after I turned 18, I had a friend at the time, and I was lucky because he let me stay there for a whole month until social services finally sort of managed to sort me something out. So then I did actually have a flat that I could live. And, you know, again, there's parts of my story where yes, my life has been really difficult. But I feel like I- for a life like mine and the way that it's played out, I've also probably been one of the most lucky because I've had friends where I could sofa surf with, social services were able to, you know, pay the first months rent and deposit on a flat where, you know, other local authorities won't be able to do that for their young people. So, you know, I've been very unlucky but very lucky at the same time. 

Annie [00:25:25] And how did that feel then, being in this flat by yourself? You know, fully independent for the first time, I suppose. 

Casey [00:25:33] My life took an interesting turn then because I had this full freedom. I had a roof over my head. I also had a job. 

Annie [00:25:39] What was your job? 

Casey [00:25:42] Working in an Amazon warehouse *laughs*. So me having that kind of freedom at 18 years old wasn't good. I ended up racking up a lot of debt. I was just so fixated on going out every night and doing drugs and just, the fact that I'd also gotten some stability by having a roof over my head also gave me a little bit of space to go, okay, I can sit back and relax. Okay, I've been through a lot. Oh, there's a lot of stress here. Oh, there's a lot of stuff to deal with. And I didn't know how to deal with it. 

Annie [00:26:06] Sure. 

Casey [00:26:07] And I had that mental health fallout. 

Annie [00:26:10] And so there's no support system? Like the social services don't give you any sort of mental health support after 18? 

Casey [00:26:18] So social services don't really give much mental health support anyway. It's more they try to refer you onto it when it comes to sort of NHS services. But that's another big part of the care cliff, you go from- you know, there's this so much- you've got loads of people involved but you turn 18 and it's all gone. You know, you've got a leaving care social worker, that's it. Because I got so behind in rent, I ended up getting kicked out of that flat that I was in at the end. I called her up one day in tears and I said, 'I need help, I'm going to be homeless, I don't know what to do', and she just went 'oh, well, they can't do anything till you go to court so you're fine for now'. And just sort of like told me to go to the council and that was it. You know, I didn't really get any support at all. So, you know, considering that I went to help for something like that, mental health support just wasn't there and NHS is pushed as it is for mental health services so, yeah, it was very hard getting any sort of support from them as well. 

Annie [00:27:14] And did you have any contact with your family or your biological your bio family, as you call them, like in this time, was there any sort of semblance of support from anyone there? 

Casey [00:27:25] So I had just big time distanced myself from my family, my foster family. I was convinced that they didn't want me anymore after thinking that they didn't want me to stay put. We spent a few years where I just really didn't speak to them very much at all. At the time, I was in contact with my bio dad and sister but, you know, I'm no longer in contact with them for a reason. Anyone from my biological family in my life, they just- they made my mental health worse and it just- it wasn't good for me in the end which is why I unfortunately no longer have contact with my younger brother. I had to cut off everyone else and unfortunately, that meant that he had to go with them as well. 

Annie [00:28:02] And that's a big, huge decision to make and involves a lot of kind of, I suppose, conviction in yourself and knowing yourself and knowing what you need and knowing what's good for you and what's not good for you. I can imagine that that is the start of you really looking out for you, you know? 

Casey [00:28:21] Yeah, it definitely was. Things got worse again, so at the point where I was being made homeless because I was so behind on my rent, I was in a toxic relationship and my landlord just kind of went, okay, you got a boyfriend, move in with him, is that an option? And I was like well yeah? And then, you know, at time my boyfriend was like okay, brilliant, yeah, she can move in. Things got quite bad because then he sort of had way too much control over my life. I was living in his place. I ended up leaving work. People weren't allowed round unless he said they could, you know, blah, blah, blah. Not a good relationship. And of course, at the end of that relationship he kicked me out. It was overnight that it happened and again, I was homeless. I'd lost all of my belongings from my old flat because I got locked out and I couldn't get back in and I got to a point where I realised that my life genuinely could not get any worse. And I know that sounds a bit sad, but actually that's probably one of the best things that's ever happened to me because it gave me that fight for, well, if things can't get any worse, if I just take this leap that I've always wanted to do, and if it fails, what can happen? Things can't get any worse. And that big leap was me going back into education. You know, I just, I started focusing on myself a lot more. I started to realise that there were a lot of people in my life that weren't good for me and, you know, it's it's very unfortunate, but it's one of those really difficult decisions that just had to be made. Three years later and I'm now at my second year of uni and yeah, I'm living in Scotland and my life is the best that it's ever been. 

Annie [00:29:49] I mean, it's such huge resilience and strength to go back and retake your A-levels after that, and then go to university. How does it feel to be in university now, to be in this place that you made for yourself? 

Casey [00:30:05] Sometimes it's like I just have to pinch myself a bit and realise that is real. Even before I went into care, my only life goal was to get to university and to study physics because before I knew that I was going to go into care, it was still my way out of that life because still university accommodation would have meant that I could have moved out of my bio families. It's very hard to break the cycle, especially when you know, you've come from a family that's not financially well off. And for me, going into physics is getting me out of that life. It's something that I love so it helps my mental health. And the best part of it is that it's something that I can make a career out of, it's something that I can really distance myself and I can make my own life with. I mean, I've moved really far away for a reason and it's given me that chance to actually start my life, but start it with my own narrative, start it with- people know stuff about me that I want them to know. I'm not just the girl that was in care anymore. For my whole life my care experiences defined me, and I'm finding a point where I'm feeling like my future career is what's starting to define me instead and that's, you know, that's something that I've always- it's all I've ever wanted. I just- I'm starting to feel like a normal person. And it sounds very small, but to me, that's the biggest thing in the world. 

Annie [00:31:16] Has it changed how you look at yourself? You mentioned that you had suffered from a lot of hopelessness when you were younger, I suppose how do you feel about who you are now and how do you feel about younger you? And is there anything you wish you could have told her or be able to tell her to know that she'd be okay? 

Casey [00:31:35] The only thing that I would tell myself is that you will make it, because it's the only words that I ever wanted to hear, you know? I always get a bit emotional sorry when I think about it because, you know, so much of my childhood, it was just so hopeless and I think that's why I just latched on to physics so much because I realised I could make a career out of it and I that enjoyed it and so I just went- I've got that little hope that, you know, this is something that's actually really keeping me going but, you know, putting that much into a subject is- at the same time, it's kind of dangerous because that's when if the subject sort of- if you don't do so well because you've got other things going on, then things really do fall apart. There's so many times where I didn't think I'd make it, and all I wanted to hear is that you will make it, you know it will happen, you will get there, because I've got no reason to not pass my degree. I know that I'm going to pass it. And it's the fact that this thing that's kept me alive for half of my life, it wasn't for nothing. 

[00:32:36] *Short musical interlude*

Annie [00:32:46] What change would you still like to make moving forwards then? 

Casey [00:32:49] I know that I want to do PhD. I want to go all the way. I want to be like a research theorist, sort of do sort of like theoretical cosmology. 

Annie [00:32:58] Wow! 

Casey [00:32:58] It's stuff that I'm really interested, I love it *laughs*. It sounds a bit-

Annie [00:33:02] I mean I'm so, so ignorant about it, but it sounds so exciting. 

Casey [00:33:06] Oh, it definitely is, it's a very cool subject. When it comes to changes, you know, I'm so much more content now. I'm not sure that there is anything that I really want to change. I just want to see myself continue to grow on this path that I'm on now. 

Annie [00:33:20] Is there something about having control of the changes? Like, you know, being able to own your own changes as opposed to having them happen to you? 

Casey [00:33:30] Yeah, my whole life I've not been in control of anything. You know, I've had all of these changes happening to me and I've not had any control over them. I've not had any choice. And, you know, I think that's a big reason why I love so much that I've moved up here to Scotland, because that was a change that I chose. You know, I wanted this to happen. And not only that, but I had the resources to make it happen by myself. Nobody did this for me. You know, there were people that did help me along the way but ultimately, you know, it was me that did this. 

Annie [00:33:59] So your family are back in Leicester, and do you see them much? Do you go back and see them? 

Casey [00:34:03] Yeah, I've probably been annoying them a bit this summer because I've been back all the time *both laugh*. I mean, I've had a job over the summer, but still I've just sort of been like sneaking back about every month and just going and staying there for about two weeks. But yeah, I spent Christmas' with them, you know, they love having me there. It's strange because they've got two of their own biological kids and, you know, they don't remember a life before I was there. They were quite young when I moved in, so they only remember me being in their life and, you know, it's just very nice knowing that I've got that family there and I can just call up and go, 'ah, can I come home next week?' and I'm calling it home as well, I'm asking if I can come home. 

Annie [00:34:37] Yeahhhh. 

Casey [00:34:38] You know, and I know I'm welcome. I've not got the anxiety with them not wanting me there. It's just- it's nice. 

Annie [00:34:46] Last question. Just zooming out on the care system and, you know, it's so apparent how it completely derails a child's life, the care cliff. How could it be changed for the better from your perspective? 

Casey [00:35:02] That's a very big question *laughs*. 

Annie [00:35:04] That's a huge question and it's not your responsibility to answer, I know, so- 

Casey [00:35:07] I think one of the biggest things is person centred care. So a big issue is that, I mean, throughout care, when you're leaving care and when you've left care, they try to just implement this one size fits all and it's getting better as the years go on, but they need to look at individual cases as individuals, they need to listen to what the young people are saying. If that's what I had, then I could have stayed put. Because with me they kind of put that 'oh, we've seen other kids behave this way and they don't want staying put, so therefore we don't think that Casey wants this and we're just going to assume that' and they're putting that one size fits all sort of assumption on me. And there's just so many times where they don't realise how individual we all are, which is quite surprising. You know, all of our trauma is so individual, our foster families or our placements, they're all so individual. No one of us is anywhere near like in our experiences, yet they try to put these kind of blanket treatments and decisions on us where we don't get any control in those changes that they try to implement. You know, if they were to just make things more fluid in the sense that we could have that more individualistic approach, I really just feel like it would be a really strong start to improving things. 

Annie [00:36:23] Well listen, I'm so grateful to you for sharing your story today, thank you so much. And for what it's worth, I think you are amazing for coming through all of that and fighting for yourself and for your education. And I look forward to reading about you or seeing you on television one day talking about theoretical cosmology *Casey laughs*. And I'm in awe of anyone who can understand that *laughs*. 

Casey [00:36:49] Thank you for having me. 

Annie [00:36:51] Thank you so much, Casey. Thank you to the Become charity for connecting us with Casey for this week's episode. If you are interested to hear more about their work and how you can support them, we have included a link to their website in the show notes. Do please rate, review and subscribe to Changes, it is so appreciated and if you fancy sharing it on social media too, that would be amazing. The more people we can get listening to these episodes the better, we want to tell our stories far and wide. Changes is produced by Louise Mason through DIN Productions. Thanks for listening!