How children's social workers changed my life for the better - Sam's story
Published Tue 12th Mar, 2024

The names of the interviewee and their social worker have been changed to preserve anonymity.

Ten years ago, Sam, fled to the UK from Afghanistan, aged just 13, alone, and in fear for his life after witnessing his Father being killed in an unprovoked attack. After being placed under the care of Kirklees Council’s Children’s Services, Sam met children’s social worker, John, who, for the next five years, took him under his wing and supported him in moving forward with his life. And whilst nothing could ever replace the father he lost, Sam has described John as both a hero and a father figure. He explains:

“There have been three people in my life, without whom, I would not be alive today. From the age of five it had always been just me and my Dad. Like his own Father, he had once served as the head of his community and over the years, he kept me safe from those who would come to see him – and by association me – as a threat. There was also the family friend who’d acted swiftly and selflessly, to hide me from the men who came looking for me in the immediate aftermath of my Father’s death, despite the very real risk to their own safety. And then there was John.

“I met John on the first night I arrived in the UK. It was the middle of the night and I’d voluntarily made my way to a Police Station in Huddersfield, having just spent the past seven months making the gruelling journey, mostly on foot. I was scared, confused, starving and almost sick with exhaustion. It was John who came to assess me at the station that night and through a translator, he asked me about what had happened to me and then about my Father. For the first time in a very long time, I cried because I knew I was finally safe.  

“From that moment, John became my children’s social worker and within hours he’d taken me to a local children’s home. It was a few days before Christmas and the other children there were happy and excited but I felt very alone. John would visit me regularly and he’d spend many hours with me, finding out about me, what I needed, what I liked and didn’t like, and would tell the care home, because I was quite shy. I barely spoke any English and because I didn’t want a translator to know my story, we communicated through an app. To the other children I must have seemed quite strange and I didn’t mix much with them; I only wanted to talk to John.

“It was a conscious choice not to be fostered or adopted. I’d had many offers, including from my teacher, one of the dinner ladies at the home, a neighbour and a local family who’d heard my story. As grateful as I was, I knew I couldn’t be happy in another family setting because it felt almost like I’d be betraying my Father. John would sometimes take me for a drive and he’d say, just tell me how you feel, try it, go for a night, but he understood and respected my decision.

“My past had left me damaged in so many ways. I didn’t know it at the time but John knew. As soon as my Father died, I wasn’t able to speak for about two weeks. During that time, I’d look forward to going to sleep because I could escape to a happy place in my mind where, in an almost trance-like state, I’d be at home, having a lesson with my teacher, or playing a video game, with my Father cooking in the background. But then I’d wake up and the reality of what had happened would hit me.

“On my way to the UK and after I got here, this would happen more frequently and that safe place would become so vivid and so strong that I would hallucinate in my bedroom. Sometimes I’d wake up in the morning and not know where I was. Other times I’d be in the classroom enjoying a lesson but would hear a certain noise and suddenly feel very unsafe, so would have to leave the classroom to get some air because I couldn’t be in a confined space any more.

“After a lot of encouragement John eventually persuaded me to get the help I needed. Together, we watched a film about a man in therapy and he even translated news articles to make me realise just how important it was. I ended up having two years of specialist PTSD therapy, without which I know I never would have recovered.

“Growing up, I made some mistakes. I’d gotten into a fight and at one point I started smoking. But instead of punishing me, John taught me the importance of learning from my mistakes and I found myself being more disciplined with myself, going to bed by 10pm, sometimes earlier, because I knew I had school or was playing football the next day.

“In time, John also made me realise just how important it was for me to make the most of the opportunities I was being given, even if at first I didn’t want to. One year, he persuaded me go to a summer school and it was there I met my best friend who is now like a brother to me. There was also the prestigious mentoring programme I’d shown no interest in, but which had resulted in a surprise school visit from an Olympic Gold medallist and a trip to meet the London Mayor and other well-known athletes. Seeing all these successful people around me really made me want to go on and achieve something in my life, just as my Father and his Father had. I realised that education was the key and I recently completed my degree in International Business Studies at the University of Greenwich.  

“I never wanted anyone to feel sorry for me. Rather than automatically being seen as the poor disadvantaged child, or at the other extreme, a Tracy Beaker-type character, I actually had more support than most and in many ways, I feel I’ve been very lucky.

“Without John’s guidance, I’m certain my life would have gone off the rails in one way or another. I would have had more fights, ended up in prison or I’d be dead. As I got to know John over the years, all I saw was someone who had devoted his life to helping vulnerable children and I knew this wasn’t just a job to him.

“Back home, my Dad also used to sponsor vulnerable people, including children who had lost their families, because there was no support system in place there. So I feel that this good karma has been reflected through John being my social worker. My Father raised me to be a good man, but John really shaped me to be a good man. Even though I’m now leading an independent life, we’re still in regular contact. He’s the reason I’m here and the reason I talk about my story.”