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


Ryan Branson from Wakefield was placed into foster care at the age of ten after experiencing periods of neglect, domestic violence and emotional abuse in the family home. Now 23, he’s turning the positive experiences he had with his children’s social workers – who he says played a pivotal role in his life - towards a career in children’s social work. He explains:

“My family’s involvement with children’s services began before I was born. My Dad had left the family home when I was still a baby, so over the years social workers would be in and out of my life, trying to give my Mum the help and support she needed so that we could stay together as a family. By the time I got to about ten, my Mum had become increasingly poorly, both mentally and physically, and I’d effectively taken on the role of carer for my then two-year old sister.

“It was around this time that my sister and I were placed into emergency foster care. It was a Friday night and I remember feeling anxious, frightened and distressed. But in that moment, one of the social workers turned up having gone back to my house to pick up some of my belongings and I felt a glimmer of reassurance. This is something I’ve never forgotten and up until that point in my life this was one of the kindest things anyone had ever done for me.  

“Because of what I’d experienced at home, I’d been left with some behavioural and mental health issues. I had a few foster placements and moving around was always tough, but the one constant that remained throughout my childhood, was my social workers. Whatever else was going on in my life they would always be there for me, a calming presence to steady the course and help me through. What I took from them, was first and foremost, kindness and honesty. And now as I train to be a children’s social worker, I apply these core values to my own practice.

“There was one in particular who took the time to really listen and to understand what I was going through. But there was never a time during my care when I didn’t feel listened to, or that I didn’t have a choice in decisions that were being made about my future.

“About a year after going into care I made the decision that I didn’t want to go back home because I knew in my heart and my head that it wasn’t good for me. By this point I’d experienced stability and a loving home-life from those around me, and I’d come to see them as positive role models and ultimately, as parent figures, which is all I’d ever wanted really. At first I felt scared about being taken into care, like it was a prison sentence and that my life would go down the drain.  But in reality, going into care was the best thing that ever happened to me.

“When I left foster care, my leaving care worker arranged financial aid to get me through university and she helped me with my personal statement. But there were also words of encouragement and reassurance; little things which made a huge difference to me, like praising me when I’d done well on my assignments, because I didn’t have any parents who could do that for me.  

“I still have some issues from my past but to help me overcome those I try and have a positive outlook on life and see everything as an experience. I like the challenge of seeing what happens next and although my work can reopen old wounds, this too has become a part of my development, both on a personal and professional level.  But I can never take full credit because I know that if wasn’t for the professionals involved in my life, who valued me and still value me to this day, I would have ended up a very different person. I might have been without qualifications, a house or job. I might have ended up in prison, or even be dead.

“Choosing to become a children’s social worker is one of the best decisions I ever made. At first I wanted to avoid it altogether. But then I felt that by going into another field of work my experiences would be wasted. In the end it was my leaving care worker who encouraged me to go for it; she believed in me, supported me in becoming the best I could be and crucially, saw beyond what was written in my file.

“I’m now in my third and final year of my social work degree. A big part of the reason I chose to work at Wakefield Council was because of the many positive relationships I’d built with my social workers and other professionals. It might sound like a cliché but it is like being part of a big family.

“As a care-leaver, I’ve experienced some stigma and was once referred to as a charity case. I’ve come across people who believe children end up in care because they’re naughty, when in reality issues almost always stem from parents who are struggling to cope with issues such as poverty, poor mental health and substance misuse.

“I sometimes used to self-stigmatise. But over the years, I’ve realised just how valuable my experiences have been as I would not now be in the privileged position of helping children who are growing up in similar situations. Rather than my life being over, going into care gave me a second chance at a childhood and life, which is why I’ve used my experiences to talk about the many positives of the care system.

“Children’s social work is fundamental to our society but as a profession, this too carries some stigma. I believe this is partly to do with the perception that children are either being unnecessarily taken from their families, or that social workers don’t act quickly enough. But as someone who’s been through the care system and has gone on to work in that very profession, I can honestly say that I count myself as someone who owes their life to children’s social work."