I am number 4 of 5 children my mother had with my father. My father had 13 children in total of which I was number 9. My mother made the decision for me to come and live with family friends in England as a bid to give me a ‘better life’ based on my family circumstances at the time. I came to England in 2002 and I lived in South London with this family for almost 8 years. The first 4 years of living with them, I was not allowed out of the house and was not allowed traditional education but was merely acting as the family’s live-in au-pair. I endured countless amounts of physical, emotional and mental abuse whilst living with the family.
I had no friends and no family to confide in. As I got older, I could not take it anymore which led to me running away and reporting my situation to the police. The police introduced me to Merton social services who supported me for most of my early adult years from 2010 until I finished university in 2019.
Social services – being responsive to individual’s needs is pivotal
I was age 17 when I was introduced to social services. They helped me start over and obtain the necessary education. I was placed in foster care for a few months but then moved to supported living as my foster mother told them I am capable of living alone as I am quite independent in terms of cooking, cleaning and money management. I enjoyed living with my foster carer as she was lovely and taught me about managing my allowances. She made a spreadsheet for me and would have a meeting with me weekly to ensure I save £5 from the £40 I was getting from social services. This is a skill I tend to use now in my adult life.
Though I enjoyed foster care, it was mutual consensus that I live in a more independent environment. I lived in shared accommodations from 2011 till 2014 with other children in care. I was always the one delegating chores, meetings and also writing up minutes of house meetings. I was also involved in the Children in Care Council and acted as a buddy to younger children in care and was part of Merton’s Youth Parliament. I gained a lot of skills being under social services and I am always grateful for their support. In 2015, I was offered accommodation of my own which is where I live now.
Leaving care, immigration background, and additional challenges
Leaving care has not been an easy journey. It is hard being responsible for myself and trying to keep it together at such an early age. I now have friends, family and most of all I had the opportunity to seek counselling. Counselling really helped me a lot to work through and be more comfortable speaking about my situation. I was also heavily involved in my church which was where I made a lot of friends and became closer with my family.
Up until 2015, I did not have the right to stay in the country which was very difficult in terms of gaining any academic or professional skills. I focused on looking for free courses and volunteered for the British Heart Foundation for 3 years. I was also involved in interviews for social services. After I was granted Leave to Remain, I put myself into the workforce as I was not eligible for student finance and faced hard barriers in gaining Higher Education. I maintained good professional relationships by gaining experience in things I was interested in.
Education has been a difficult path for me but thankfully I persevered. Every year I would apply for university and each year I would gain admission to most of my choices. But unfortunately, I could never attend as I was not eligible for Student Finance. To my disappointment each year, the rules stayed the same. I was then informed by social services that there are numerous ways to gain Higher Education without needing to pay. I found out about the Compact Scheme where you apply for a scholarship with a specific university providing you fit the criteria.
I then specifically applied to the universities which provided the scholarship for someone in my situation. Yet again I was accepted to UCL however, they were not providing the scheme for someone like me. With the support of Merton social services, I wrote a persuasive letter convincing Kingston University that I am the best candidate for the scholarship, which worked as I was one of the 4 individuals offered the scheme that year. I made the decision to attend university and study psychology in 2016. This was one of the best decisions I have ever made as it gave me sense of wholeness and self-accomplishment.
I left university with a 2:1, but the obstacles still remained as I wanted to remain in education and gain a post graduate degree in teaching. Although this time I was eligible for student finance, in order to receive it I had to provide proof of my address dating back years which I did not have. I was very disappointed but I decided to look at the bright side of things and accept that this was not the right thing for me to do right now.
The long way to starting a sustainable career
I initially came to Drive Forward on the 13th March 2018 whilst studying and then re-engaged in February 2019 in the final year of my degree. I worked hard with my Employment Consultant to update my CV and for the following 6 months we were back and forth in communication sourcing and completing applications and perfecting my writing style. After numerous 1-2-1 sessions, emails, phone calls, and redrafting of applications, I began getting phone interviews, face-to-face interviews, training courses and impressive feedback. However, unfortunately none of the opportunities came to fruition. Regardless of this, I continued to work hard and keep a steady income post-graduation thanks to babysitting employment. I came along to the DFF trip to see the award-winning musical Hamilton and still kept my tenacity to better myself and utilise my education and talent. In October 2020 I informed my Employment Consultant that I was pregnant and eventually gave birth in May to a beautiful baby girl.
By August 19th I was once again securing interviews and gaining Learner Support Roles in schools, however, I knew this was not where I wanted to be and didn’t find the roles fulfilling and sustainable for the long term. In September, I attended the DFF Civil Service Internship Scheme Insight Session. It was a chance for DFF young people to sit down with actual Civil Servants and learn about how best to apply and what to expect from the Civil Service. After multiple redrafts with my Employment Consultant, I was granted an interview. I worked hard to practice for the interview and attended interview preparation sessions with my Employment Consultant all the while looking after my baby.
On December 2nd I found out that I had been successful in securing the role of Executive Officer at the FCDO, the Foreign, Commonwealth & Development Office. I was over the moon and couldn’t believe that stability and career prospects were within my grasp. However, this excitement didn’t last long, by January 6th, I was informed that due to my Nigerian Passport and lack of British Citizenship I didn’t meet the nationality requirements to work at the FCDO regardless of my Indefinite Leave to Remain and Nigeria being a Commonwealth country. But I didn’t give up, and with the help of my Employment Consultant and the wider Drive Forward team I was able to request to be placed into another department where my status could be accepted. And by the end of January, it was confirmed that I would be redeployed to the Ofsted department and would be starting on February 15th. Given my previous experience and degree this could not have been a better fit for me. I have worked hard and tirelessly to achieve this position and I hope my future will be bright.