Tuesday, 24 April 2018

My daughter won't have to eat frozen chips like I did

My daughter won't have to eat frozen chips like I did

A WOMAN who grew up in foster care after escaping her abusive family has been honoured for her personal and professional triumphs.

Emma Lakin, 25, from Highmoor, has been presented with the Fostering Network’s outstanding achievement award, which recognises those who have built a happy life for themselves in spite of their difficult childhoods.

She says she feels honoured to have won and that it’s important to recognise children who are and have been in care.

Mrs Lakin, who is expecting her own child with husband Chris, was removed from her birth family when she was only four following the death of her mother, who was an alcoholic.

Social services wouldn’t let her father bring her up as he was unstable and prone to violence.

Before they intervened, she and her older brother Glen, now 31, were often left unsupervised for long periods and had to fend for themselves, sometimes eating frozen food directly from the freezer as they were too young to cook.

She was fostered by Michael and Lynne Moore in Uxbridge and stayed with them until she was 18.

When she first arrived, she was so afraid of men that she could not look at her foster father for the first year and would hide if she saw anyone resembling her real father while out in public.

However, thanks to the Moores’ care and patience, she enjoyed a happy childhood and obtained good grades in school before going on to university.

She now works as a sales negotiator at her husband’s estate agency and the couple are looking forward to the birth of their daughter early next year.

Mrs Lakin was put forward for the Fostering Network award by the Moores and collected her trophy from Kevin Williams, the charity’s chief executive, at a ceremony in London last month.

She said: “Chris was very happy and so were my foster parents, probably more so than I was.

“Chris lost a parent when he was young so he has some idea of what it’s like to meet adversity at an early age. It was an honour to win but I had slightly mixed feelings because I know there are people who’ve had it 10 times rougher than I did.

“It’s not that I don’t feel I deserved it because I’ve had to work hard to get where I am in life but there are people who’ve struggled even more.

“It’s important to acknowledge children who are or have been in care because, unlike me, many aren’t lucky enough to get an amazing family and a placement that lasts their entire childhood.”

Mrs Lakin and her brother were born in Uxbridge and were first placed with the Moores when she was three and her mother entered an alcohol rehabilitation programme.

The couple, who are now in their sixties, had three daughters of their own and had previously only fostered on short-term placements.

However, they agreed to take the children back when they were taken into care by Hillingdon Borough Council, which prevented them from being split up as Glen was then too old to be adopted.

The siblings were raised by the Moores as full members of the family alongside their girls, Alanna, Georgina and Joanna, who were of a similar age.

Mrs Lakin recalled: “It was a major commitment as they had to extend their house but from the very start they made us feel like part of the family and we’ve been very close ever since.

“The first time I celebrated a birthday with them, which wasn’t too long after our mum died, they took us to Walt Disney World in Florida for three weeks.

“I really enjoyed it because I was too young to take everything in whereas Glen needed a distraction to take his mind off the situation.

“I’m so glad that we were able to stay together as Glen could have lost his sister as well as his mother, which would have been absolutely devastating.

“I got on much better with Lynne from the outset because of the trust issues, but after a year or so I started to build a relationship with Michael.

“I also saw a counsellor until I was about eight but that didn’t help much because I was so little when all the bad things happened.

“Lynne and Michael have done so much for us and it’s frustrating that so much media coverage of fostering focuses on people who’ve done bad things.

“It does happen, of course, but many get involved for the right reasons and that’s crucial because children need stability.”

Mrs Lakin, who remained in contact with her birth father until she was nine, when he turned violent towards his new partner and then vanished, remembers her childhood as a happy time.

Mr Moore, a director for Renault, would take the family to events such as Royal Ascot and Formula 1 grand prix, where they could access the hospitality suites.

There were regular holidays abroad and Mrs Lakin fondly remembers one at an all-inclusive Club Med resort in Italy.

She said: “It was pretty mental, looking back. Christmases were always really big because of the size of our family. Half the living room would be full of presents and we would spread the opening throughout the day instead of doing it all at once.

“It wouldn’t have been anything like that if I’d stayed with my birth parents. My aunts, who I’m still in touch with, would have done their best to make up for it but it could never have been the same.

“Lynne and Michael always had lots of people around at Christmas, which was very positive and I think children need to have experiences like that.

“We’re actually spending this Christmas with them, which could be a little strange because their two eldest daughters are spending the day with their own partners and children.”

Throughout her teenage years, Mrs Lakin had to attend regular review meetings with social workers and could not stay overnight at a friend’s house unless the family had undergone background checks.

She said: “Looking back, I guess I was quite lucky. As a teenager, a lot of my friends would stay out late drinking and smoking in the park.

“At the time I felt it was incredibly unfair that I couldn’t join them but those firm boundaries were really healthy for me.

“I was also privileged in a lot of other ways as I enjoyed holidays and trips that my friends’ parents couldn’t have afforded.”

Her foster parents encouraged her to achieve academically and she attained 13 GCSEs with grades between A* and C.

However, her A-level results were not as good because social workers were encouraging her to leave the Moores to make space for another child, which neither she nor the family wanted.

She said: “Lynne and Michael could see I had potential, though I was a little bit lazy at school and never used my full brain power, which is probably still true today.

“They were determined that I was only ever going to university, not that I was ever forced, but Michael knew I was more than capable of doing it and he was right.

“It was frustrating dealing with social services as I was approaching 18 and the family were happy for me to carry on living with them. We almost had to fight for me to stay, which I did.”

Mrs Lakin moved out after turning 18 and was allocated a flat in Northwood by the borough council.

She enrolled at the University of Westminster to read biomedical science but it didn’t suit her so she switched to a business degree at Bucks New University in Uxbridge, graduating in 2015.

She said: “Independence was difficult but I managed to get by. It was scary and I do think there needs to be more support than just literally dumping young adults out of care and letting them get on with it.

“It’s not easy learning to manage your finances and I didn’t get much help other than a bursary of £600 a year, which doesn’t go far in London.”

She met her future husband, who is six years her senior, at a mutual friend’s party in 2013. While chatting, they realised she had been friends at school with Mr Lakin’s nephew Tom Hyde, who is now a sales negotiator at Savills estate agents in Bell Street, Henley.

She started working as an administrator at Mr Lakin’s business in Uxbridge, which he launched in 2007, while still a student.

The couple were married in Bicester last December and moved to Highmoor as they were seeking quieter and more rural surroundings. They now enjoy regular walks in the countryside and eating out.

Mrs Lakin has been studying for a masters’ degree in human resources at Bucks and is due to hand in her final dissertation next month.

She is considering a new career as a human resources consultant after their daughter is born.

Mrs Lakin said: “It’s a tough decision because I want to support Chris with the business, which he has built up over the past decade.

“However, it’s never easy working with your partner and because it’s his ‘baby’ he has a particular idea of what he wants to do with it.

“I was thinking of working in HR but I don’t fancy the confrontational aspects of it, like disciplining someone or letting them go, so I might look at consultancy.

“We’re lucky to have that flexibility as some people can’t afford childcare and have to drop their jobs whereas I’ll be able to work from home.”

She still regularly visits the Moores, who now lives in Chinnor and have fostered another young boy.

Mrs Lakin said: “It’s an incredibly important role because no one else is looking out for those kids. There’s only so much that social workers can do as they have such large caseloads that their role is largely paper shuffling.

“To have a family behind you that cares and pushes you in the right direction is immensely important. There are people who grow up to live successful lives without that but it’s a good deal harder.

“You see people in care who still have contact with their birth families and that’s not always a good influence so they can end up getting into trouble.”

Mrs Lakin admits the prospect of motherhood is daunting but she will draw on the positive aspects of her own upbringing to give her daughter a good start.

She said: “It’s definitely scary and I suppose my experiences make me think about it more because you realise how wrong it can go but I’ve learned some valuable lessons and remember a lot of really enjoyable things that I can pass on.

“There are things I want to teach my daughter like the importance of eating fruit and vegetables, which I still struggle with because I was never exposed to that when I was little.

“Lynne and Michael slowly introduced us to new experiences but some things never changed and I still struggle to eat healthily because that just wasn’t part of my very early life.

“Glen often had to sort out the food even though he was very young himself because there wasn’t an adult around.

“I look back on things like eating frozen chips and think, ‘wow, my gosh’. You don’t always realise how much these little things change you.

“When you’ve had very traumatic experiences in early childhood, you remember them more vividly than some people recall that period of their life.

“However, it’s made me more independent and, as awful as those times were, it’s part of who I am.

“I would encourage anyone thinking of fostering to look into it because there’s a lot of support available. It’s tremendously rewarding and your own family will benefit from it as well.

“I’m so happy to see Lynne and Michael fostering again because they’ve got a lovely little boy who has really settled with them. As far as he is concerned, they’re his parents.”

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