I am 19 years old and I went into care at the age of 15 due to parental neglect.
My first months in foster care were not very positive. I was frustrated because the various professionals I encountered would not listen to me. They thought they knew what was best for me because they are adults and would not take the views of a child into account.
As someone with Spina Bifida and a wheelchair user, I felt my first two foster families saw me purely through my disability. I remember one day I was eating dinner with my carer, and she just stared at me, when I looked at her she asked: "Did you have polio or something?". That memory has stuck with me.
Everything changed when I was placed with TACT (The Adolescent and Children's Trust) carer Natalie, initially on respite. When I first arrived at her house, I was slightly worried because I have an Asian background, as did all my previous foster carers, but Natalie did not. For that simple reason I thought we wouldn't get along, but I need not have worried. I remember feeling so pleased when she showed me to my room and I saw there was a TV with DVDs next to it. It was the smallest thing, but it made a big difference, because it meant that Natalie saw me as a normal teenager. I immediately felt welcome and that I was at home, and the fact that she has kids of her own also helped.
After two weeks, I asked Natalie if I could continue to stay with her because I enjoyed living with her so much. She agreed, but we knew that it would not be that simple. I wrote a very long email to my social worker explaining how staying with Natalie would benefit my wellbeing and my mental health. My social worker agreed and I have been living with Natalie for three years now.
Living with Natalie has really given me stability and a sense of having my own home. I remember I used to be so nervous and felt an urge to ask even if I can make myself a cup of tea. Now I am so comfortable. We cook together, try new recipes, gossip and watch telly. It is like living with my best friend.
I joined TACT's Children's Champions group which brings together young people from across the UK to share their views about TACT policy, procedures and initiatives. Before that I had never met any other care leavers. The first time I went to a meeting I was impressed with how friendly everyone was, and realised how important it was for me to spend time with young people who shared the same experiences as me.
I have just started a journalism degree at university this September and I continue living with Natalie under Staying Put arrangement. I am sure I wouldn't be where I am now without her. Thanks to her support, I am also learning to drive and have already passed the theoretical test.
Being in care taught me not to be afraid, to express my opinion, and I would encourage other children and young people to do the same. Not everyone might listen, but there will always be that one person who will. I am a proof that good foster care can turn a young person's life around and put them on the right path to leading a happy and fulfilling life.