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Dream of leaving foster care became my worst nightmare WORDS ANNIE BROWN; Teenager talks about most isolating time of her life This is National Care Leavers Week Scotland 2017 and to mark it, Charlotte Armitage, 19, tells how she felt betrayed by the system. Charlotte is working to help other young people like her, through Who Cares? Scotland, a national voluntary organisation.

Byline: ANNIE BROWN

Imagine waking up alone on your 18th birthday with no gifts, no cards, no family around you and no home to call your own. For me and many other young people who leave care, such a scene is not from some tragic drama on the TV. It's our reality.

When I was younger, I thought I could do anything. I had big dreams. Whether it was being a vet and saving animals or somehow falling into my Harry Potter book and becoming best pals with one of my favourite characters, Luna Lovegood.

However, as a teenager, my life started to crumble around me and there was a breakdown in family relations. I was taken into care in East Lothian when I was 15 and sent to live with a family of strangers I'd never met.

This is called a foster placement.

A week later I was whisked away to live with another family of strangers. I was told that I'd be there for a weekend. Then another weekend. It ended up being a year and a half of, "You'll be there for the weekend".

This is the case for a lot of young people in care. Moved from placement to placement, it's hard to become attached to anyone, to feel love because you don't know how long it's going to last. You could fall in love with someone only to be removed. All the while dealing with the trauma of not being with your family. As soon as I had the chance to leave this world of "You'll be there for the weekend" I did.

One of the hardest battles I faced was not feeling in any way important to anyone. When I left foster care, and was told at 16 I was ready for my own place, I was on cloud nine.

I had dreamed of my own flat, decorating it and just finally having somewhere I could really call home. But this turned out to be the most isolating and probably the loneliest experience I've faced in my life. It shouldn't have been but for lots of young people leaving care, it's just the harsh reality of life.

There is no lifetime of support like you have in a normal family. You're a client, a client who can be signed off.

I was reassured that the process wouldn't take too long so I agreed to move into a B&B above a local pub, for what I was told would be a "few weekends".

I thought things were finally moving in my direction. I couldn't have been anymore wrong.

Promise after promise was broken, weekends turned into months and still nothing had happened. I felt utterly worthless.

The B&B I lived in near Edinburgh had no access to a kitchen and only had a microwave and a kettle.

I've since been told that no one from social work had even visited to assess its suitability for someone in as vulnerable a position as me. I was the only female living there at 17 years old. All the other guests were middle-aged male contractors. The pub downstairs was always busy and the music was so loud my sleeping pattern became non-existent. Imagine then, how my mental health suffered again.

I couldn't take respite in having my friends around me, as the rules dictated that no one was allowed in the room with me, no one at all, at any time.

The B&B is where the saddest moment I ever faced in my life was. I woke up alone on my 18th birthday with no cards, gifts or a single person who loved me to wish me happy birthday.

I felt worthless.

The moment I'll tell you something about me. I keep every single card I've ever been given. That and my library card to give me access to the world of Harry Potter & Luna Lovegood is the one constant I've had in my life. On my 18th birthday, the day I became an adult, arguably one of the most important birthdays, I had no cards to add to my collection.

faced in was at the I did meet my Dad later that day and had a drink but there was no great party.

I had become so angry at the world for dealing me such an unfair hand. I felt I had no control over my own life and was abandoned in the dark. I couldn't fight it anymore. Shortly after, I made a serious attempt on my own life. I failed, as it seems I'd been doing for most of my life up until now. But after I had recovered, things seemed to take a turn for the better. I don't know why.

Two days before Christmas, I was given my own flat. It's sad that things had to get so bad before this happened. I had a flat that I could buy Christmas decorations for. I had a home, although I still didn't have anyone to spend Christmas with.

Then my friend invited me to spend Christmas with her family. I had a place at a table for Christmas dinner. My life was turning around and, after years of misery, happiness was coming my way.

I have now reconnected with my Dad and things are starting to improve now, to the point where we have a close relationship.

In fact, my life has turned around so much now that I have an amazing job as a youth worker supporting care experienced people to participate in making decisions around how care is delivered in East Lothian.

utterly saddest Now I can actually help others for a living, which is so fulfilling.

ever my life It's clear though, that during everything I went through, there was no thought put into what would happen to me when I left care.

B&B This is why as National Care Leavers Week begins, I'm proud to be working with Who Cares? Scotland in celebrating Care Experienced people like me in Scotland and across the UK. "We deserve recognition and we deserve love, not just for a short time but a lifetime. I want to help make that happen for others like me.

l For more info on National Care Leavers Week, see www.nationalcareleaversweekscotland.org/

where we have In fact, my life now a in care for a was to be Scotland in people like me. "We deserve day and had party. I felt utterly worthless. The saddest moment I ever faced in my life was at the B&B

CAPTION(S):

BREAK DOWN... Charlotte had a happy childhood before family life fell apart for her

PIRATION... Charlotte has managed to overcome the bad times and is now helping other young people like her
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Title Annotation:Features
Publication:Daily Record (Glasgow, Scotland)
Geographic Code:4EUUK
Date:Oct 21, 2017
Words:1127
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