True partnerships: ‘We were guinea pigs and believed in each other’

Joy Ehiobuche, 19, nominated Angela Duffin, her leaving care worker from Barnet, to become one of the 20 national winners of the Believe in Me Awards 2007 because she felt Angela’s “belief and encouragement” had made a major difference to her experience of living independently.

Joy Ehiobuche, 19 student and care leaver

“When I first met Angela I was very wary of adults. I’d had a lot of workers coming and going so I wasn’t prepared to open up to her. But I realised that Angela was someone who was prepared to listen rather than tell me what to do.

Angela is a person who does what she says! I started to trust her and this trust has grown into a friendship.

Before I met Angela I hated where I was living and felt I had no support. I was nervous about looking for my own flat but Angela really helped me. She was very hands-on, coming to meetings with me and helping me fill out the forms. She found out about the bidding system and put in bids for me, and kept my spirits up when I didn’t get flats I wanted.

Angela often did things outside office hours for me. When I got my flat she came round and helped me scrape off the wallpaper.

I was doing a BTEC at that stage but I was losing motivation, and was worried I was going to turn into another statistic. Angela told me not to give up because she saw so much potential in me. She encouraged me to do something I wanted rather than something other people thought I should. She believed in me. That is why I’m going to university in September to study law.

I know that I was the first young person Angela worked with in her current job. I think we were guinea pigs for each other. I believe she is the model of what a leaving care worker should be. People like Angela are hard to find so they should be appreciated for what they do.”

Angela Duffin, leaving care worker, Barnet

“Joy was quite reserved when we first met. She’d had a few workers, and I’m sure she thought ‘here’s another new person in my life, how long are you going to stay?’ I needed to prove myself by showing that when I said I’d do something I did it. That was important for both of us. From that the trust started to develop.

The biggest crunch in our relationship was when I supported Joy in the transition into her own tenancy. I accompanied her on looking around flats and it was then she started to open up and to let me in a bit closer.

I was really shocked about how difficult Joy found the move into independent living. She’s such a mature, articulate young woman and I hadn’t anticipated her struggling so much with the isolation and her studies. We did a lot of work around timetables, including making sure Joy had free time. Also I kept reflecting back to her the confidence I saw in her that she had lost touch with for a little while.

Working with Joy has informed my practice considerably. You could say Joy was the benchmark for my work with other young people, who often aren’t as competent and focused as she is. We learnt from one another.

I consider myself a toolkit for Joy to use. She has the skills but needs to take something from me to bring out what she already has. That’s the same with every young person, but some need to dip in and out and some need more time.

I’m thrilled that Joy is going to university – she will be a success, I don’t doubt that. It’s a privilege and honour to work with a young person like Joy.”

The Believe in Me Awards 2007 are run by the Who Cares Trust in partnership with SCIE, OLM and Biking for Children in Care

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