Despite a pretty awful childhood, the support of her foster family enabled Maddie to follow her dream of becoming a social worker.

My childhood sounds like something from a Martina Cole novel. I came from one of those families that you see on the Jeremy Kyle show.

Dad left before I was born and my mum was an addict – drink, alcohol, controlling men!! There were many times I’d come home from school to find her passed out either drunk or coming down from a high and I got used to patching her up after her latest boyfriend had used her as a punchbag.

It was after a particularly bad beating that social services stepped in and I was ‘removed from her care’. I was told that it wouldn’t be for long, she just needed a bit of time in rehab to get herself clean. I saw her a couple of times after that but it was obvious that she wouldn’t be able to beat her addiction.

Aged 12 and living with a foster family I realised that I’d never live with her again. I found it hard to accept that she’d put drugs and alcohol before her child and, just as she’d given up on me, so I gave up on myself.

I started mixing with older kids staying out late, smoking and drinking cider. My foster parents tried everything they could to help me but I didn’t want to know.

With the genes I had, it wasn’t really surprising that I’d dabble with drugs, a bit of weed to start with and then harder stuff. It was a slippery slope and to fund my habit I started to offend – shoplifting, theft, possession.

My life was out of control but my foster family stuck by me, even when I treated them appallingly. After one particularly nasty argument my foster ‘mum’ quietly and calmly told me that she was worried that one day I’d be found dead or end up in prison.

I’m pleased to say that neither of these things happened, instead I became pregnant at 15. I wasn’t sure who the father was but I knew that I wanted to keep the baby and that I had to sort myself out. I stopped drinking and taking drugs and started to eat regularly and healthily. After a lot of meetings with social services it was agreed that I could stay with my foster family and we started to prepare for the birth.

I was 5 months pregnant when I miscarried. “Just one of those things” I was told “Nobody’s fault”. But how could I not blame myself; drugs, alcohol and babies don’t mix. I don’t know what I would have done without my foster family, they were with me every step of the way and made me realise that I had to do something to make my babies life count.

I knuckled down at school and stayed on to do my ‘A’ levels in the sixth form. I wanted to be a social worker but I worried that the issues I’d had with drink and drugs would stop me doing so. As it turned out, this wasn’t the problem but my criminal record certainly was.

I applied to 3 universities; two refused me and one offered me a conditional offer subject to seeing my DBS. When the certificate arrived I was told that my application would need to be risk assessed by a panel before my offer could be confirmed.

Following the panel meeting, the university contacted me to let me know that my application had been refused. They did however give me the opportunity to appeal the decision.

I spent a lot of time on my appeal letter making sure that I set out the circumstances that had led to my offending and the reasons why I’d chosen to change my life. I got advice from organisations that worked with people with convictions and also contacted the Health and Care Professions Council who are responsible for regulating the work of social workers to make sure that I would be able to enter the profession after I’d gained my degree. Wherever I could, I provided evidence to back up my arguments.

I was delighted to hear that my appeal had been successful and I loved every aspect of studying. I worked hard and ended up with a 2:1. Part of my degree involved a placement with a local council and when I’d finished my degree I was offered a full time job. I’ve been there for just over 8 years now and have never once regretted the choice I made.

I doubt whether I’d have achieved what I have without the support of my fantastic foster family. They played (and continue to play) a huge role in my life and it’s for that reason that I’m now considering becoming a foster carer myself.

I’m not sure a Martina Cole novel would have ended this way but I’ve got no complaints.

By Maddie  (name changed to protect identity)

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