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

21-year old TJ Austin is looking forward to starting a new chapter in his life following a recent move to Pickering with his girlfriend. As a trained Barista, his love of both coffee and his customers, have led to aspirations of him one day owning his own coffee shop.

But anyone meeting TJ for the first time would never know the challenges he’s overcome. At the age of two he was placed under the care of East Riding of Yorkshire Council’s Children’s Services as a result of neglect. He was later adopted by a local couple but was then faced with the break-up of their marriage, the untimely death of his Dad and attachment issues with his Mum, before he went back into the care system at the age of 17.

He says that had children’s social workers not intervened at various points in his life when they had, and had he not received ongoing guidance from the local authority’s support services, he would not be here to tell his story. TJ explains:

“For the first two years of my life, and despite the best efforts of social services, the place I knew as home had become unsafe for me, so going into care became the only option. After being fostered for a couple of years, I was adopted and at the time this felt like perfection to me, almost like these were golden years.

“Because my Mum had a demanding job and worked long hours, it was my Dad who would take me to and from school, cook and do most the fun stuff. Practically and emotionally he was there for me, but unfortunately he had some personal issues, which made things increasingly difficult at home.

“My Dad eventually left the family home when I was ten and after that I didn’t get to see him much. With me having formed a much closer bond with him than my Mum, him leaving had a massive impact on me. When he died five years later, I cried and said my goodbyes, but I never fully dealt with the grief or trauma of losing him and went through years of living in denial.

“Throughout it all children’s services were there for me, from working with my parents to try and get them the help they needed, to arranging therapy for me after my Dad left and then after he died. My social workers were like a massive safety net because I knew that if I had any problems I could pick up the phone and someone could be there the next day, and this was something I felt very grateful for.

“Over the years my Mum continued to work long hours and emotionally I felt that I wasn’t getting what I needed. Things came to a head when I had to be discharged from my residential army college after just a few months, because of a debilitating knee condition. Unfortunately my Mum told me I couldn’t come back home, so at 17, I found myself stuck living at the college and with nowhere to go. It was at this point social workers had to intervene and once again I was placed back into care.

“I soon went to live in the home of a trained support worker in Hull who was so kind and so welcoming. During this time I also had the support of my children’s social worker who would always make a point of visiting me regularly to try and make sure I was moving forward with my life. She always asked me what I needed and what she could do to help me.

“At this point the country was entering its first lockdown, so there was no chance of college or a job and given recent events, my mental health continued to suffer considerably. I started drinking heavily developed an eating disorder, but I was soon pointed towards a Council-run, community support facility called The Warren, which was to become a real lifeline to me. There I could access a brilliant team of therapists and in time, I was able to start making small, positive changes in my life. I also made full use of The Warren’s amazing facilities, where I would play the drums in its recording studios and paint as a means of expressing how I was feeling and coping at that time.

“After I turned 18, I continued to be helped at another supported lodgings in Beverley through the Council’s Pathway programme, to aid my transition into independent living. Still depressed and exhausted, both mentally and physically, I had no aspirations and knew nobody. But I was assigned a phenomenal support worker who I grew to trust completely and I felt like a huge weight had been lifted from my shoulders. He helped me find that fight in me again, that little spirit I had left to drive me and keep pushing me forward. He also helped me with my Art College application and with my CV, which got me my first coffee shop job.

“Although I didn’t complete my art course, my job as a Barista made me realise, not just how much I adore coffee, but also the wonderful personal connections I was able to make with my customers. Thanks to my friends, social workers and all my support workers, I’m now an entirely different person compared to a few years ago. Before I wouldn’t talk to anyone, but these days I can’t walk through Beverley without stopping several times for a chat with my old customers, many of whom I now consider to be friends, which has been a huge confidence boost for me. Also my mum and I are now working through our past issues.

“Inevitably, there are many care-experienced people who have mental health issues, but this is not without good reason, yet they’re often perceived in a particularly negative light. There are also misconceptions about children’s social workers, who are often judged on the very rare, unfortunate instances where things have gone wrong. But in reality that’s not what the profession is like.

“As someone who has been through the care system I’ve seen just how difficult and intricate their work is. Not only do they need to protect vulnerable children from potentially harmful, traumatising environments, they then have to do their best to piece their lives back together again. Had I not been placed into care as an infant I would not be alive today, and I would never have got through the past few years were it not for the guidance, the support and the sheer will of my social workers.”