Most children who've lost or been separated from their parents experience extraordinary trauma, and have no choice but to move in with strangers. Like Michelle. At 16 she was studying for her A-levels, and was exhausted from pretending to be okay, pretending her memories didn’t make her feel anxious, worthless, suicidal.
As a little girl, Michelle looked after her four younger siblings, foraging in bins along the street, going hungry so the others could eat. She’d pour her mum’s vodka away and step in front of her brothers and sisters to protect them from their violent father.
When she was 11 Michelle went into foster care, but nobody had space for five brothers and sisters. So Michelle was separated from the people she had cared for and loved more than anyone. It almost broke her.
We can scoop up a toddler to protect them; but what about a vulnerable teenager who's desperate for love? How do you stop her seeking attention, even if it’s from the wrong people? Well, you create a safe haven, and build her confidence.
At Become, Michelle was able to work through her past and learn the vital skills she missed during her disrupted childhood. Michelle attended cooking and budgeting workshops for children who leave care (often as young as 16). We helped with college, work experience, and crucial emotional support – texts and calls on a bad day, interview clothes, birthday cake, somewhere to celebrate her successes with workers she trusts and supportive new friends.
Michelle is burdened with more life experience than most adults, but for the first time she feels she really matters, and can offer something to the world. She’s starting to see a happy, successful future for herself, thanks to the confidence and practical skills she’s gained. And, Michelle’s no longer looking for love in dangerous places.
Michelle's story was told for The Who Cares? Trust's Radio 4 Appeal in April 2015 - you can still listen to Diane Louise Jordan on the Radio 4 website.
(Image posed by model, some details have been changed.)