Hi Daryl! Tell us how you came to join Extern …

At the start of the year I applied for job I am in now as a Peer Mentor. My social worker had seen it on Twitter and told me about it, so I thought I would go for it.

I liked the idea of working with children and young people who are in care because I have been through the care system myself, so I understand some of their circumstances

Tell us more about your experiences as a child.

I went into the care system from when I was 11, until I was 16 or 17. I had had difficulties in my home and personal life because I was dealing with drug and mental health issues. It was a lot to cope with and it made me grow up too fast.

How did going into care make you feel?

You just feel worthless, like nobody wants you in their life. I kept getting moved around, from foster home to foster home – I moved something like ten times in one year, so there was no stability for me.

So, your experience of the care system was pretty negative then?

It was very negative, yes. I felt like they were just moving me from pillar to post. And when you’re in that frame of mind you just can’t trust anybody. You don’t want to open up to anyone.

What kind of insight does that give you then when it comes to your role working with young people in care?

Well, I know what they’re going through, because I’ve been there. I know how hard it is to trust people when you keep getting knocked down all the time.

What kind of responses do you get from the young people you work with?

At first it’s daunting for us as workers as much as the young people themselves. They just think ‘there’s another social worker’, but after the first few weeks you see the relationship start to build. Now they tell me everything, or if there’s something wrong, which is nice

Describe the work you do.

I mentor two days a week, during which I could be seeing two young people a day, or even just the one, it depends.

At the start, we bring them out to do activities and work on building the relationship up. And then about four or five weeks into it, we do a My Star model through the Outcomes Star assessment system to see if there’s anything they need to work on.

I get on brilliantly with the young people. At the start it’s hard to try and break that barrier down, but as soon as you do that it’s nice because they see you as someone they can rely on.

How would Extern have made difference to your experience of being in care?

It would have made a big difference, I think. At the minute, I have a case where I’m dealing with drug and alcohol issues, and self-harm, in a young person, so if I had been on this programme back when I was in care it would have been so much better, because my drug and alcohol use was very problematic at the time.

I remember one of the programmes I went on while in care, the person I worked with was telling me I had to minimise my substance use, but it just went over my head because they weren’t looking at my past and seeing where those problems came from. They were just dealing with the surface issues.

What was the turning point for you in tackling those problems?

My current partner was a big help, but I also wanted to go into supported accommodation, so for me that represented a new start. I moved myself away from drugs, I haven’t gone near them for five years.

I have a clear head now and can’t picture myself back in that situation, or that frame of mind. I’m a different person now, a lot calmer.

What do you enjoy most about your work in the LAC Mentoring team?

I love taking young people out on activities. We started an angling group, which was great, as I love fishing. There was only one young person out of the twelve I work with who had done any kind of fishing before. Everybody caught fish, too!

Do those kinds of activities really make difference to those young people?

It helps them big time. Me and my mentor try and push their limits, because sometimes they need that, to get out of their comfort zone.

Also, many of them are in a situation where they can’t go out and do stuff they’d like to do. We bring one young person to the snooker hall, which he loves because he can’t go out and do it in the environment he’s in normally. It’s headspace for him.

You can see the effect it has in their faces, they’re so happy. I would have loved that when I was a kid in care.

What is different about what Extern offers these young people?

Other organisations do this, but only for 6 to 8 weeks. You can’t build a relationship up in that time, so six months to a year is ideal. It would take six months alone just to build up that relationship with a young person.

Why should a young person who’s had a bad experience of care trust Extern?

With Extern, once you get your set mentor that’s it, they don’t change. That’s a big thing because if a young person is where I was, and the mentors keep changing, then they wouldn’t feel like they could trust people.

What does the future hold for you now?

I’d like to be able to go full-time with Extern, or go to university and do community youth work. This Peer Mentor role is the foot in the door for me and I hope it will help open other opportunities for the future.