Last week, we asked Tobi, a young care leaver, about her experience of spending Christmas with the Tope Project. This week, we discuss the impact of the Tope Project, why it is so important and what makes Christmas such a difficult time for care leavers. Catch up on part one of the interview here, then read on for part two.
Has spending Christmas with the Tope Project changed how you feel about this time of year?
One hundred percent. For years since I left care, I hated Christmas. I slept through it. It was not a good time for me. Last year was the final straw for me. I’d had it and I didn’t think I could do another Christmas without being happy. Now Tope has given Christmas a completely different, positive meaning for me. And now it will always be like that, because that was a turning point for me.
What is it about Christmas that is so tough for care leavers?
It reminds them that they don’t have a good family unit.
Why is the work of the Tope Project so important?
Because it saves people’s lives. It stops them feeling alone and miserable, and it allows them to remember that there are good people in the world. It makes them continue on with life. It’s almost like a therapy session – not in the sense that you sit down and talk about all your problems. But it makes you forget about a lot of your problems and just have fun, be a makeshift family on that one day, and actually during the rest of the year as well. It reminds you as a care leaver that you are just as special as anyone else.
Are you planning to volunteer with the Tope Project in future?
I would love to. I just got goosebumps. I think it makes a huge difference. And when I have children I’ll make sure they go to something like it as well. I think everyone should, all around the world, because Christmas isn’t just about with your family. There are people who don’t have family like myself.
Do you think the emotional strain of leaving care should be discussed more?
Definitely. I don’t think people realise how important it is to have family – a good family – and a safe place to be. We’re going into a world that’s quite harsh anyway, and most people with parents have a hard time, so you can imagine how much of a strain it is for people without. The emotional side of it can be quite daunting and most of us don’t end up in a good place. Especially as a disabled care leaver, because I never get considered at all.
I have suffered quite a bit, emotionally. I still get support from The Listening Place – a place for people who want to commit suicide but are trying to prevent it. That is something I need for support as a young adult leaving care. There’s a huge problem and hopefully we can do more to change it.
Do you think you were well prepared when you left care? Did anyone tell you how difficult things like Christmas would be?
No, they didn’t even mention it. And that’s just one aspect. As a disabled young adult leaving care I wasn’t prepared to be responsible for all the aspects of general life – birthdays, Christmas, being at graduation on your own. No one thought of that or talked with me about it. But they’re willing, when you do graduate, to say we helped that young person get there.
Is there anything else you would like to share about care leavers?
Mainly, that there are all kinds of care leaver. For example, the disabled care leavers who could live a normal life, that are willing and ready to really go at it in life, but a lack of support and consideration sets them up to fail. Social workers should speak to young people who are not of the norm. I think that helps you to think of a wider spectrum of needs and not just the “normal” needs, because that leads the government to make solutions that are bog standard and they don’t cover all the aspects of different people’s lives, such as myself.
I’m about to leave the leaving care service, once I graduate next year. I am scared and frightened; I haven’t got the proper support. But having Christmas coming up, and going to the Tope Project, helps me to keep positive and remind me there are people that care about me, and that even if I don’t have that support on the day I graduate, I have it on Christmas day.