“Aspire To More” is a creative project delivered by Inspired Youth in partnership with the Children’s Rights and Advocacy Service which is part of City Of York Council. Voice for Children’s Liam Hill was invited to interview. You can read this below:
Introduce yourself please…
Hi, my name is Liam Hill. I’m 25 years old; I’m the CEO & Founder of a social enterprise called Voice for Children. I have 2 beautiful daughters who are 7 and 6, running the business hasn’t given me much spare time over the last few years but I’ve just started back at the gym, Thai Boxing & MMA which was my past hobby.
Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
So some may or may not be aware but at the age of 5 I was placed on a full care order. The reason for my care order was severe neglect and abuse. My mum had an addiction which took over her ability to care for me and my siblings, my dad wasn’t on the scene at this point so therefore the local authority had no other option than to take us into care.
Going into care is probably one of the most traumatic experiences of my short life
How did you feel about going in care?
Going into care is probably one of the most traumatic experiences of my short life, everything was new, I never understood what was happening. I explore this more in a blog if you want to read that; www.voiceforchildren.org.uk/my-first-foster-family/
What is your favourite childhood memory?
One thing I struggle with even now as an adult is when I’m asked what my favourite childhood memory is, I have memories from the ages of 2+ but the majority of these were negative or traumatic experiences. Since I lost my mum in 2013 due to an overdose I sometimes wish I had more positive memories of her- regardless of her parenting she was still my mum, I felt she was also let down by a system that was also supposed to be there to help her. My favourite childhood memory was probably my last Christmas at home, there was me, my brother and my baby sister, we didn’t get a lot, but it was my happiest as it was the last day I remember all of us together, laughing, having a fun time, moments like this should be cherished.
Voice for Children… it’s given me a platform to help professionals, young people and organisations improve the lives for young people they work with.
What is your biggest achievement?
I would probably say my biggest achievement is turning my life around and starting Voice for Children. It has not only enabled me to stick on the straight and narrow, but it’s given me a platform to help professionals, young people and organisations improve the lives for young people they work with. Also, a massive achievement for me was co-chairing one of the biggest conferences in youth justice which was organised by the Youth Justice Board, and also being interviewed and being able to have a voice on national news platform. You can see my interviews with BBC & ITV on our YouTube channel; https://www.youtube.com/channel/UCVYh69DjsSSw9x88evSEWQw
Overall, what has your care experience been like?
During my care experience I was moved 64 times, the overall experience for me was negative. I was never listened to or consulted around decisions which would affect my life and my life only. It’s crazy looking back at all the different social workers who would rarely visit me, to consider that they would be making decisions which would in turn effect my life and future life, but they never really knew me or really had an idea of my best interests. I feel I suffered more neglect and abuse whilst in the system than I did at home, which to me was ludicrous, my mum who is the person who brought me into this world, someone who I have a connection with like no other, you remove me for my safety but then put me in environments which were more unsafe. I could go on all day about the negatives of my experience, but I like to move forward and have an attitude of ‘it is what is it, I can’t change my past, but I can help change a system so other young people don’t experience the same’. The main positive of coming into care was the fact I’m alive, as due to the circumstances and some situations I was put in as a child, it was only a matter of time before we were found dead from some freak accident.
I’m a true believer that you create your own future.
Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I’m a true believer that you create your own future, yes circumstances can affect your future but ultimately, I believe it’s down to you as an individual to determine your future. Nothing in life is easy and its especially hard for us who have been in the care system, you can either dwell on the past which you can no longer change or grab the bull by the horns and go and chase your dreams and become who you want to be. The negatives my past gave me in my future was knowing how to exert my emotions, but over time I’ve opened up and began to love and trust, as I said earlier, I feel your future is determined by you and you only.
From a young age I’ve literally had to fight just to survive, I’ve always been driven to be the best I can.
What has driven you?
Sometimes it’s hard to pick out something individual as a driver, there are many things, wanting a nice house, car, clothes, etc but all my life I’ve been a fighter, As an adult the main drive for me now is being a father, I want my children to have the best start in life and to never experience even 1% of what I did but also another thing which keeps me driven is the fact that I’m making a difference and helping other young people, to me it’s the best feeling in the world.
Who is your role model?
I never really had role models growing up; I had met 1000s of different professionals and never really knew any long enough for them to be considered my role model. My grandad and Nan were my ‘Mum and Dad’ figure and they were there for me throughout my whole experience in care and that is something I can never re pay them for and they truly were my rocks growing up. This may sound crazy but a role model of mine was the rapper Eminem, he had a troubled childhood, he came from nothing, I was obsessed with his music and would literally spend months and months on my own listening to his music, it resembled so much with my life and as I got older things began to relate so much more. Yes his music and what he spoke about can be distasteful to some and he may not be considered the best role model, but that was entertainment, his music actually sometimes gave me a reason to carry on and fight. He came from nothing, but the fire he had to make something of himself, to make a better life for his family that’s a role model.
Have you ever felt like giving up?
Growing up in the system and in some of the establishments I did, there were many times I felt like giving up on life, at the age of 8 I tried to kill myself ad on a couple more separate occasions I tried to end my life, I was in a dark place, I felt I had no one and I felt that things wouldn’t of got better and that the world was an evil place and I didn’t what to be in it, but when I look back I’m so glad I was never successful in these attempts.
How much have you changed since you left care?
Since leaving care I haven’t really changed much in terms of me as a person, the main thing that has changed since I left care was that my life and the choices were solely in my hands, it taught me that I couldn’t just blame the local authority for bad decisions or bad situations I was in, yes they could have prepared me better for adult life but I could flip the coin and say that I could have engaged more, I’m in a system and that was never going to change, I just wish I used the system to my full advantage as when care works, it works really well, but in turn when its bad it’s really bad.
In life everyone is judged and labelled, that’s life, but I just try my best to remove stigma.
Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
I was definitely judged and labelled because I was in care, but I am someone who would never hide this, when I was younger I wouldn’t always tell people that I was in care, but now I shout it from the rooftops, its part of me, its my heritage, it’s a part of my life, its made me the person I am now, I am very passionate now about raising awareness of my care experience and also working with organisations and the public to show that being in care isn’t a negative, if anything we should be looked at positively, we were VICTIMS and put in to care through no fault of our own, but we have come out of the system, that is an achievement. In life everyone is judged and labelled, that’s life, but I just try my best to remove stigma.
Did your foster parents help you?
Fostering never worked for me, I felt no foster parents helped me at all, they may have in other peoples eyes but not mine, that isn’t because of their ability, it was literally because I didn’t want another family and wouldn’t even open up to the idea. It took me over 30+ failed foster placements, multiple exclusions from school etc. for the local authority to pay the extra cost to put me into a therapeutic children’s home where they could really work on me and help with the trauma I faced, little did I know that these placements would add to my traumatic experiences, but overall they worked better for me, it was very institutionalised, very impersonal which is what I wanted, I didn’t want to be close to anyone unless it was my family.
Keep those fires burning; you can become anything you want and can achieve so much.
What’s your message to children in care?
My main message to children in care is to keep going, I know first hand things are hard, it’s not ideal and I think everyone always wants this ideological upbringing, both parents, loved, kept safe etc. I’m a firm believer in never dwelling and moving forward in life, you are your future. I would just say keep those fires burning; you can become anything you want and can achieve so much. If you ever want someone to speak to or advice myself and Voice for Children are here.
If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
I wouldn’t change anything about my life or my experiences as it’s made me who I am. It’s also give me the experiences to help others s sometimes as horrific as my experiences were, it’s a blessing sometimes.
How did it feel proving people wrong?
Many times, during my life I was told I would either end up in prison like my parents, or I wouldn’t amount to nothing, it feels good proving people wrong sometimes, but I do this to prove to myself that I’m being the best person I can be, if this proves others wrong I suppose that’s just a bonus to me. It’s a satisfying feeling when social workers or professionals in the past said I wouldn’t be anything and now I’m actually training them or working with them to show them how they can be better, quite ironic really.
What do you think about the care system now?
I hated the fact I was in care, I wanted to be at home with my family, but when I reflect care saved my life and it’s made me who I am today and for that I’m grateful, I think the system is broken and needs looking at, I wish more and more care experienced people would speak up about there experiences and work together to improve the system for all.
What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?
I faced many challenges growing up, enough to write a book, but to keep it short my main challenges were my emotions, I was a very cold young person who possessed little to no emotion, only anger. You can read about this I another one of my blogs;/. Challenges were also about how well equipped I was to go into adult life, my biggest ambition was to give my children and myself a life I never had, so I became fascinated with quick money which led to me beginning to sell drugs, this led to me getting into fights. Another challenge was being arrested a lot so I struggled to gain employment due to my convictions. It’s hard sometimes to put into words how I overcome a lot of my challenges, most of the time it was just the fire inside of me to want better for myself, the resilience you build up through a lifetime in a broken system gives you many attribute and abilities which help you almost overcome any situation. It’s also human instinct, to survive and to live regardless of the situation you are put in.
I feel being in care should have no effect on how successful you can become
How do you become successful despite a care background?
How someone becomes successful is a very difficult question, I feel being in care should have no effect on how successful you can become, I think how you become successful is based on you as an individual, your determination, anyone can be successful, but I think sometimes it’s what’s meant by successful. Someone going to uni especially in care is seen as being successful, but I also feel someone who completes functional skills in maths is just as a successful, I think people should concentrate less on being ‘successful’ and just concentrate on being the best they can be, success is only measured by the person who’s making the judgement.
Is there something you’re most proud of?
I’m just proud that despite all I’ve gone through, I’m doing something positive and making a difference to others.
What is your message to professionals and foster carers?
My message to professionals and foster carers is that you are in a very privileged position to influence and be involved in children’s lives, listen to them and involve them in all you do. I know many of you come into this line of work because you care and want to make a difference but it’s important to remember that these are children you are dealing with, I would leave you with one statement “If it’s not good enough for your kids its not good enough for us”. To some professionals who worked with me, I want to say thank you, one for saving my life but secondly your actions whether positive or negative has influenced who I am today.