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



Rae Sloan from Sheffield was placed into care at the age of 12. Despite the trauma she went through, Rae says the kindness, encouragement and support she received from one of her children’s social workers, helped her come to terms with her past and find her way in life. Now 26, Rae is a Voice and Influence worker for Sheffield City Council, ensuring that young residents in the city are heard and she says that life could not be better. She explains:

“About a year before I went into care my Mum had begun to struggle with her mental health. She did the best she could, always making sure the house was clean and that there was enough food for us. But increasingly, I found myself missing school so I could help look after her and my two younger sisters. At the time I didn’t know anyone else my age who was going through the same thing and I felt increasingly disconnected from school and my friends as my Mum’s health continued to worsen. In the end things at home deteriorated to a point where none of us felt happy or safe.

But any talk there had been of foster care felt terrifying to me, like it was there as a punishment for naughty children. Eventually, my Mum was admitted to hospital and I was placed into temporary foster care, but all the while I was thinking I’d be able to go back home as soon as she was better. But it became increasingly obvious that this wasn’t going to happen and I felt anger towards everyone around me. I had this idea in my head that everyone who was even slightly involved with children’s services was out to get me, but looking back I could see that they’d been doing what they could to help my Mum get better, so we could stay together as a family.

“It took what felt like an eternity of having nobody and a lot of trust-building, to realise that people were there to help me if I’d let them. There was one children’s social worker in particular who was pivotal in this. As someone who had been through the care system herself, she really understood what I was going though, never tried to distract from my emotions or tell me what to do, and she took the time to explain things to me. She’d always start by sitting me down and listening to me so she could see where I was struggling, then think of different ways she could help make my life better, whilst constantly finding things I might be interested in. It was those seemingly small things that made a massive difference.  

“Even though I’m now really close to my Mum and sisters, I remember in the early days feeling incredibly guilty that I couldn’t face the fortnightly visits with them. But my social worker explained I could reduce the visits if I needed to and reassured me that it was important I do what was right for me. She also recognised that my past had left me with my own mental health issues. Not only did she put me in touch with the right mental health services, she also arranged for me to have regular one-to-one visits with someone who could help me overcome my feelings of fear and loneliness.

“By the time I got to 14 I was with a long-term foster family who were amazing. On the one hand, I knew I didn’t want to go back home because I’d gotten used to a happy, settled home life where I wasn’t in charge of looking after anyone else. But on the other hand, I really struggled to make friends at my new school. It became the thing I didn’t want to tell people; all I could see was that they didn’t want to be my friend because I was in care, or that they were only my friend because they were told to be. It was only after my social worker suggested that I try the Junior Rangers my foster family’s son went to, that I was able to make friends with his friends, until we all became one big friendship group and things no longer felt strange or awkward.

“My social worker was the first adult I’d met who’d been in care and who was living a successful life, so I thought to myself, OK, maybe I can do that too. I attended the study groups she arranged for me and my school attendance went from 15%, to around 90% within a year. She also influenced my decision to study sociology and criminology, which has really helped me in my chosen career.

“I’ve come across many care leavers like me, who despite having been supported through the care system to overcome past traumas and who are ready to contribute to society, have faced some level of discrimination, which can be extremely disheartening. I was once told by a prospective employer that I wouldn’t be getting the job because I was a care leaver and at another interview the atmosphere completely changed as soon as I mentioned it. I hope that sharing my experiences can help to reduce any stigma towards children in care and care-leavers until one day it becomes a thing of the past.

“Similarly we often talk about nurses, police officers and firefighters, who put their lives in danger to save lives. But so do children’s social workers. They are good people who just want to help yet this isn’t always recognised because there is also some stigma towards the profession. For me, going into care was the best thing that could have happened and I feel thankful and lucky for the support, without which I know my life would have spiralled. My social worker was kind, even if I wasn’t always kind and she made me realise that kindness isn’t a weakness. This is something I still often think about and it only makes me want to do better by those I try to help in my job.”