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The care system changed me, now I’m changing the care system.

My name is Aliyah Ali, I became a looked after child when I was 11 years old and I spent my childhood growing up in children’s homes.

16 February 2018

I’m understating it when I say being removed from my family was a traumatic experience. When I think of my earliest childhood memory, I remember witnessing my hero fall from grace whilst alcohol took over her understanding of love and her concept of family. It lives with me until this day and at times the shadows of my past creep into the corridors of my character to taunt and tease me. But as a result of my experiences, I’m passionate about helping other young people who go into the care system. The system needs to change- and we’re the experts who know how and why.

During my time in care I had over four Social Workers, eight Keyworkers and three Personal Advisors. When I was 18 I was sentenced to a four year custodial sentence. Whilst I was away I came across so many vulnerable girls who had experiences of being in care just like me. Some showed signs of abuse and some neglect but we all had one thing in common, we had been failed and punished by the same system that was supposed to be in place to keep us safe. Society had managed to isolate and institutionalise us. We all had no understanding of emotional intelligence and so many of the girls I came across were on a downward spiral to self-destruction.

When I was released from custody, I had nothing but the clothes on my back and £59.50 from the remaining amount on my canteen sheet. I wasn’t sure what the future held for me but I knew for certain that I was going to make a commitment to help girls like me who had fallen through the cracks of the system. Looking back on my journey, I realised that while I was fighting against the system; I had also declared war with myself. I knew I was bold, strong and opinionated but I couldn’t seem to communicate without coming across as that angry care leaver with a chip on her shoulder. Breaking through the stigmas and the labels society upholds about people like me, was the hardest part of my transition. However, over the course of these years I managed to keep learning, developing and pursuing the things I wanted to achieve for myself and generations of looked after children that would follow me.

With no qualifications and a criminal record, I started working with projects like The Prison Reform Trust from Care Not Custody Review, The Who Cares Trust (now Become), Rainmakers Worldwide, Catch22 and Southwark’s very own Speaker Box. Participating in these projects, I have been empowered by some of the best professionals I have ever come across. With their support I am gradually making the steps towards living my dream of becoming a successful author, business owner and influencer in the social care sector. Many doors were closed in my face but with every door that was closed came a lesson and an opportunity. I finally took the leap of faith and started to blog about my experience in care and custody whilst looking for paid work with looked after children.

Recently I was blessed with the opportunity to work for an organisation called Young Futures. Ironically, this is the same organisation my local authorities referred me to at the age of 16 for semi-independent living. They have recognised me to be a care experienced professional. Not only do they value me and my skills, but they’ve created an environment where my emotional and intellectual needs are nurtured. I now present a radio show played across prisons in England and Wales in partnership with BBC Broadcasting house, my first book will be released this year and I have founded my own company called The Phoenix Solution. Our team of care experienced consultants will focus on developing the skills of people who work with looked after children and care leavers. All our training sessions will be held by care experienced young professionals who all have experience in one of three areas: criminal justice system, foster care placements or children’s rights and entitlements.

Over time, once my focus changed, my bruises gradually disappeared and the wounds around my soul were healing. Once I took responsibility of my life and my suffering I built a worthy life for myself filled with tranquillity and triumph. I am extremely hopeful about the future of our children and for the first time in a long time, I am honoured to be a child of the state and living a life fuelled by purpose.