Why did no one bother to help?

17th March 2006 at 00:00
A woman who grew up in care yearns to change the system. But first she needs the qualifications it has denied her.

Amaryllis Mogaji knows the pitfalls of the care system only too well, which is why she wants to help to train social workers and foster carers for the next generation of looked-after children.

But despite her obvious intelligence and passion for improving the lot of children in care, she has no qualifications and at the age of just 21 has resigned herself to taking low-paid work just to survive.

With no schooling from the age of 13, Amaryllis is angry at her lost opportunities and would like to sue her local authority, if only to make them pay for college classes so she can finally take her GCSEs.

After being taken into care by the London borough of Camden at the age of six, when her parents could no longer cope with her and her sister, Amaryllis found some stability at a Hampshire primary school, where she stayed until the first year of secondary.

But at the age of 12 she was removed from her residential placement, for which she accepts some responsibility, into what turned out to be nearly 30 placements over the next six years.

"I didn't even get to say goodbye and the whole thing sort of knocked me off-kilter," she said.

Placements followed in residential homes and foster homes in Hampshire, Cambridge, and all over London, staying in some places only a matter of days.

"I was in some such a short time I didn't even get a chance to step inside a school," she said. "In the end I didn't bother because I didn't know how long I would be there. There didn't seem any point."

A move from Hampshire to London was particularly stressful: "It is the one that annoys me most - when they decided all ethnic-minority children should live with someone of their own heritage, and I was moved from a white foster family in Basingstoke, who I really liked, to a single black woman in London, who I hated. I just kept running away.

"I do think it might have helped if I had been able to stay in one area. I believe I would have got my qualifications, but no one seemed that bothered at the time."

By 14, Amaryllis's only education involved a few attempts at contacting home tutors to help her catch up, but none lasted long.

Her experience of school also involved bullying from other children, and, she felt, teachers gossiping about her.

"You feel different and it is hard to motivate yourself because there is a lot of other stuff going on. There was no incentive - even a simple chart with some gold stars on would have been some encouragement. That is as basic as it needed to be."

When Amaryllis was 15, her sister died and she "went off the rails" and was moved to semi- independent and then independent living. By the age of 18 she was on her own.

"I didn't have the opportunity of a basic education. I would like to take them (the local authority) to court because then I might be able to go to university, but I don't think there is much I can do.

"There is no one to support me to even go to college and get basic qualifications like GCSEs, which I know I am capable of.

"I would like to help train social workers and foster carers so they can see a young person's point of view, because we need to change the system for the better.

"But I am doing nothing at the moment and know I am going to have to get a menial job and just survive. As much as I would like to do something to change things, I can't."

* newsdesk@tes.co.uk FE focus 3

The Time to Care campaign aims to encourage action to raise the attainment of pupils in care. More than half leave school without a single GCSE.

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