Tavoy Hunt moved to England from Jamaica with her parents when she was seven years old. The transition was tough and she was overwhelmed by the culture shock, struggling in school and adjusting to her new life.
She was put into care at 16 years old – as about 700 young people are in Bristol every year.
Now the 21-year-old Montpelier resident is a mum and student, studying sociology, psychology and history. She wants to see the system improve for other young people in care and help others by talking about her experiences.
“When I moved at 16, I had no one to talk to. No one really sat down to talk to me about how I was feeling at such a turbulent time of my life. I felt so very alone. I was in a new home with people I didn’t really know and I felt there was no one around who I trusted.
“Although I had a social worker who would check up on me every couple of months, that was definitely not enough for me at all, I needed more support.
“That’s why I believe counselling should be provided for at least a few months when a child is newly housed. It’s a real shock to the system and children shouldn’t manage on their own.
“I had to make tough decisions when I was in care. We would get an allowance of £10 a week. Can you imagine being 16 and that being your only pocket money? To go to college, I needed to pay for my bus and get lunch. It wasn’t enough for both, so I had to either walk, 40 min each way, or I had to miss out on lunch. I didn’t have enough to get through the week.
“Because I had no money, it meant I couldn’t go out with my friends, or really take care of myself as I would have wanted. It really affected my self-confidence and mental health.
“Children in care shouldn’t have to suffer and make tough decisions at such a young age. Money is important – it should be distributed more fairly, and basic expenses should be considered when allowances are set.
“I also struggled when it came to making the right choices for my education. When I was 16 and finished my GCSE’s, I had no idea what I wanted to do and there was no one there to guide me. I panicked and went to college because that’s what I saw my friends doing. It didn’t go well, I realised it wasn’t for me in a couple of months and I dropped out.
“There should be career advisors in schools, within the last two years of GCSEs, for young people who are not getting the same guidance and support as others do because of their family’s backgrounds. It’s important to have someone who can guide a child into career jobs, help them understand what they need to achieve in order to get where they want to be.
“You might be surprised by the last point I’d like to make. It’s a really simple one which you might not have thought of. Children should have a house key.
“Not being able to get into the house I was living in meant I felt alienated, like I was someone who shouldn’t be trusted when this was far from the truth. In winter, when it was raining, snowing, dark and cold – I would have to wait. It’s a real safety issue that needs to be addressed.
“To all of the young people in care now, I’d like to say: Don’t give up! This might feel like an end, but it is just a beginning. Better days will come.”
November is #YouthWorkMonth and Creative Youth Network is fundraising to provide more support to young people in care. Find out more about the campaign via www.creativeyouthnetwork.org.uk.
Main photo courtesy of Tavoy Hunt/Creative Youth Network