Navigating care and identity
Hear from Ty’rone, who is one of Frontline’s Expert by Experience, as he shares his own experiences in care and highlights the reality that many care experience young people face today.
As an author and poet, Ty’rone’s work focuses on his lived experience, identity and societal issues. He is also the Founder and Artistic Director of a poetry organisation, Literati Art – where he predominantly works with looked after children and care leavers. In this blog, Ty’rone discusses the importance of representation, as well as it’s limitations, and emphasises the importance of strong relationships between social workers and young people.
September 2011, my foster carer of seven years drove me to my uni halls. She let me use an old suitcase that was buried in the attic. She stayed for no more than ten minutes; in that time she barely said a word, she looked frustrated to be there. I then watched her unzip the old forgotten suitcase and empty my clothes onto my new bed, as if it were garbage. Then she left. We haven’t spoken since.
Feeling lonely and alone
I think about that day often as it was a reminder that I was alone. Loneliness and being alone were huge themes of me leaving care; during term time I would feel alone as my reality was so different to my friends. And during the summers, I was the loneliest I have ever been as everyone would escape back to their homes.
Before I was in care I was exposed to drugs, weapons and violence. Sporadically and unprovoked, my carer would tell me “you’re going to end up in prison like the rest of your family” and “you’re just going to sell drugs and go to prison” among a range of other damning remarks to let me know just what she thought of people who come from families like mine.
It is hurtful to know that a Black carer wrote my future away based on my circumstances. I would question, has the care system become so complacent and comfortable with negative outcomes for children in care, that we can’t see hope for transformation and redemption?
Representation in social work
During my time in care, I had seven social workers and only one of them was Black. Racial representation is important in social work as it is in every area of work, especially those which historically are dominated by a particular race. Whilst in care, it never occurred to me that I had five white social workers in a row before a Black one. So, when we had our first meeting and a Black man walked in, I was surprised and felt at ease, quickly. However, we didn’t gel and there was no rapport between the two of us.
Navigating cultural differences and identity
But, there was a Black man that did leave an impact on me: Vernal. He wasn’t my social worker, he was my guardian for a short while. We’d go for drives and talk life, culture, music – Black music: Hip Hop, RnB, Dancehall etc. There would always be a soundtrack of something familiar to our drives. He’d tell me stories with a tone and a drama I was used to.
The one thing that impacted me the most, was that he saw me before he saw my trauma. His conversations with me were about me and not my experience. I remember the feeling that here was a man, a Black man, a professional who was simply interested in me as a person, not a case.
When he moved on, that feeling of sincere interactions was something I always longed for. I think a lot of children in care want that as well; to walk into a room where nobody knows you’re in care or to be a part of a group where your family status is irrelevant. Before I could ever introduce myself to basketball or karate coaches or my Saturday school teachers, they were already briefed with “This is Ty’rone, he’s in care.” My identity was always contextualised and summarised by people before they experienced the real me. Vernal, never done that.
Yes, representation matters enormously but it’s only one piece of the puzzle. We should never think that by putting a Black child with a Black social worker, or in a Black family is enough. The interpersonal dynamics within the representation matters as much as race does.
Saluting our sisters
In honour of this year’s Black History Month’s theme, there is a Black woman who has impacted my life massively, Dr Arlene Weekes. In July 2018, I went for an interview to join Leicester County Council’s Fostering Panel. As I walked into the boardroom filled with white people, a Black lady – Dr Arlene, flew by me before I could even fully see her; as the door closed behind her, the interviewer said with a smile, “that’s our chair, Arlene. You’ll get to know her soon.”
I have sat on countless panels and had the pleasure watching Dr Arlene: an intelligent, assertive and graceful Black woman lead, whilst being as pragmatic as she is sensitive. It has done a lot for me, she has done a lot for me. She has opened doors both in career terms but also mental doors – showing me that I had the potential to do the things I am doing now.
Three Black women raised me: birth mother, mother’s aunt and foster carer – all of whom I have no relationship with. Howbeit life has placed a number of amazing Black “mothers” around me who pray for me, support me and love me. I’m not sure Arlene views our relationship with the same weight as I do, but that is what she means to me. Salute.
Find our more about Ty’rone’s work at Literati Arts.