Big Sisters are care-experienced young women who have developed confidence and resilience and are now ready to provide structured and sustained peer mentoring for younger women.
Big Sisters receive accredited training in mentoring to build the knowledge, skills and attitudes for this role. Before matching Big Sisters to mentees, Sister System carry out thorough assessments informed by an understanding of the strengths, needs and risks of the cohort. Big Sisters will be offered regular reflective supervision by qualified practitioners in order to ensure the safety of all the young women involved.
'Shafia', a Big Sister shares her story with the hope of empowering other young care effected girls. Since working alongside Sister System not only has Shafia been able to further inform our co-production model, as a lived experience user her time with us has also changed her self perception from a victim to a survivor.
'I used to refer to myself as a victim, since working with sister system I now see myself as a survivor, I want my story to be shared so other girls can too say ‘I'm a survivor’.
I grew up in a normal British Muslim family, I suppose. Looking back I was a happy girl, I had lots of friends at my local school which I loved. I did well at my primary school and was really excited about going to secondary school.
During the summer holidays, just before I turned 12, my uncle came to stay with us. He was funny and used to show me and my friends magic tricks. He was really liked by everyone in our community and at the Mosque. Him and my Dad were, like, best friends. I was his magic assistant, which I loved to do! We would put on shows for the whole family.
He looked after me when my parents were at work and took me to our Mosque. Then things got weird, my uncle’s magic tricks, we had to practice lots before we showed people and …….as his assistant, I had to do everything he said. Sometimes I didn’t like the things I had to do.
So, I told my Dad...
My Dad got really angry and told me I was lying. I can’t even explain how shit I felt, I stopped eating and couldn’t sleep; I hated myself and got these urges to hurt myself which, when I did, made me feel better. When I began at my new school my form teacher, who was really nice, one day kept me behind and asked me what had happened to my arms? I ran off, but she kept asking me every day if I was okay and if I could tell her what had happened. So, eventually when I was in Yr.9 I told her about my uncle’s tricks. Miss got real serious and took me to this room to tell someone else. I didn’t go home after that.
The woman I met told me my uncle had been abusing me and that it was not safe for me to go home. I had to go and live with a foster family. I didn’t like them very much and missed my family and my bedroom. I really wanted to go home but every time I would try and call or saw my Dad he was really angry and told me I could never come home again. At school, some of my friends from primary school started being really nasty, spreading rumours about me and saying that they were not allowed to talk to me.
I wasn’t allowed to go to my Mosque anymore and when things got bad between me and my foster family, I moved somewhere else.
I stopped enjoying school, it took so long to get there from my new place so sometimes I just wouldn’t go in; actually, I began missing lots of school because even when I did go in there was always someone who I had to tell my story to again. I did try when I got into Year 11 as I really want to work with computers but I felt stupid in lessons. I had missed so much work so I just stopped going all together and thought I could have a fresh start at college.
By this time I had lost track of the number of professionals that came to see me. I liked the visits with my family even though my Dad never came but it was always really hard at the beginning and the end, my mum just cried and so I decided it’s better for her if we stopped, I didn’t like seeing her upset.
During the court case, I began getting threats from people I didn’t know and so the police and my social worker decided that it was best for me to move out of the area completely. I didn’t agree and still think that it was a bad decision but like a lot of stuff I said, they just didn’t listen. They told me it was best for me but I was just feeling worse and worse. I hated my new foster carer and she hated me, she used to search my bedroom and throw away my fags, the only thing that calmed me down and when she saw the cuts on my arm she just made everything worse by telling my social worker who left really soon after that anyway.
After the court case which was both horrible and kind of good at the same time, I decided to go back to college to get my GCSE’s, begin that fresh start I had hoped for. I met a really cute boy there but when he wanted more I got really scared and dumped him, I keep doing that, with friends too. It was so embarrassing so I stopped going. Now I’m 19yrs old, I live on my own and work at a call centre. I did get my Maths and English GCSE and hope to get onto a tech apprenticeship scheme, I want to learn and still want to work with computers but I need to live and don’t get any more support from, well, anyone actually. I’m often late for work because some nights I can’t sleep.
I’m not sure what will end up happening to me and sometimes I don’t really care.
Shafia continues to work alongside us, she has also secured employment and is considering going to university.
"The family I never had"
‘A place to feel safe and secure’
‘I've found my voice’
OD: Explain why you think Sister System is needed?
I believe it is needed to help protect young adults either in care or in difficult circumstances that is ideal. It is to teach women about their rights, what they are capable of, as well as giving them opportunities that they would unlikely to receive without the help of the sister system or because of being in care may scare potential opportunity’s.
OD: How would sister system positively effect your experience of being in care?
If I had a person to talk to while I was going through a difficult time at the placement I was in, that would of listen to what was going on regardless if I had proof or not, it would of helped me mentally and emotionally. But the fact that I had clearly asked for help from my social worker at the time and was rejected the part was probably the most painful. However, if I had the sister system to talk to at the time then maybe I would had stood a chance to switch placements, as well as having someone who understood what I was going through.
OD: Why do you want to be part of the sister system?
I believe that everyone should be able to follow that dream of being whoever they want. Me being able to be a part of someone’s life and being able to help them progress to where they want to be would have a positive impact of me. I want to be able to help the women of this generation and break all stereo types on us.
OD: How would you want to be part of the sister system?
I would like to talk to other females in a similar situation to where I am. I would like to keep inputting my ideas and my experiences to make sure that nobody has to go through what I went through and that I can do whatever I can to support young adults.
OD: Do you feel that you have had the support you need and want from social care?
Honestly before when I first came into care there was no support what so ever. I did have a social worker at the time but she had so many kids that she dismissed me in a way, it felt like rejection. The one person to make sure I was happy and safe didn’t listen to me, she didn’t believe me however right now I believe that I have some support but it would still be nice to have someone that would hold my interest at heart and can speak of my behalf, as most children or young adults may find it daunting sitting in a room full of professionals where there are all eyes on you.
OD: Are there any other agencies you are working with that are supporting you?
Not that I am aware of.
OD: What do you think are the unique challenges to being a girl in the care system?
The stereo type that girls are over dramatic and to emotional needs to be broken. I feel like as long as this stereo type exist the girls would find it hard to achieve and aspire that whatever they want, because of certain limitations which isn’t right. What also isn’t right is to have meeting where professionals talk about the individual on what’s right for them and what their next move is but how would someone else know what’s the best for that individual, other than themselves. In a way they would feel vulnerable in that situation because they might not be able to speak out.