A second Chance: the rocky road to my chosen career path
Longford scholar Toyah shares her journey
Just when I thought I had explored all options I re-evaluated my path at a crossroad. The road to the left was the golden road to social work, which is what I’ve always had my heart set on. The road to the right led to criminology or youth justice. Knowing that I always wanted to work with vulnerable people, children, young people and families I embarked on the journey with one of those destinations in mind.
Determined to stay on course, whilst in custody I was sponsored by the Prisoners’ Education Trust to do a distance learning degree in Childhood and Youth studies. I enjoyed studying and using my custodial time constructively, it confirmed I wanted to work with clients who are deemed to be challenging. But I was worried that the nature of my offence would ruin my intentions. My studies took five years of distance learning through the Open University whilst in prison, with a final year after release. I completed six long years, graduating with a BA (Honours) in Childhood and Youth Studies. I was SO proud of myself, the journey and struggle was real.
Then reality hit, it was over. But I decided I did not want to stop there.
I decided to apply to mainstream university and apply to do a BA (honours) in Social Work. I was so excited. This excitement rapidly disappeared. I was told it would be pointless to study with a professional qualification in social work in mind. Confused, upset, I questioned why? My conviction did not relate to children or vulnerable people, so why could I not pursue my dream career? I was told I would never be granted registered status by the professional regulator for social workers, even if I presented a good case, waited a few years and had experience. I was devastated.
What to do now?
What do you do when a 10 foot lorry drives over your career path, and breaks down half way? Back to the drawing board. Trying my luck I applied for a MSc in Crime, Violence and Prevention (similar to Criminology), which I studied at London Metropolitan University. I studied part time and knowing I couldn’t afford it financially I applied to the Longford Trust for funding. I was ecstatic when I received an email stating I was awarded financial support. I successfully completed this qualification over two years part time, receiving a Merit award.
So now with a BA and Masters degree to my name, time once again to consider my path forward. Social work kept beckoning. I looked up social work training programmes like Step Up to Social Work, Frontline to Social Work and others. Unfortunately, no luck. So I decided to apply for a Masters in Social Work at university again. Similarly, to a previous conversation, I was informed by two heads of department that I would be waste my time and money. The same obstacles were listed again.
Frustration set in. I just want to be a social worker. Why am I not being supported to fulfil my vision? I want to make a change.
Back to that crossroads, determined not to see it as a dead-end.
I had an idea.
Time to think of a different career path. My jobs as a keyworker with teenage females who are care leavers and as a women’s advocate for females who have been through the criminal justice system, I realised how rewarding my role was. I’d received lots of compliments about how well I was doing my job. That’s it! It dawned on me. Why not combine something I’m good at and something I’m passionate about and work towards it?
Fast forward to today. After speaking to multiple universities, mentors, professionals and staff at Longford Trust, I decided to pursue a Youth Justice qualification. Social work feels too big a risk, despite being encouraged by a head of children and families service for a local authority, to chase my dream. There are just too many obstacles stopping me from becoming a social worker. A role in Youth Justice allows me to work with vulnerable young people whom have been affected by the criminal justice system, just like I had.
‘What is for you, will never miss you.’
So here I am about to start my youth justice qualification course, again as a Longford scholar. I am a strong believer in the saying, ‘What is for you, will never miss you.’ No matter how many times I’ve been knocked down, doubted myself, wanted to give up and been rejected… The best way to maintain hope is get up and do something. I would not be able to swim for new horizons until I have courage to lose sight of the shore.
Youth Justice Qualification here I come. My Destination? The options are exciting and many: preventing Child Sexual Exploitation, gang and violence reduction specialist, YOT team worker, rehabilitation worker and crime reduction within families with young children. I am determined to see obstacles as an opportunity.