Ellen is like any other 18-year-old girl, working hard to find a good school. Compared to many of her peers, however, her life has been quite different. After a pleasant childhood, her problems started at the start of secondary school.
“I felt anxious and the whole world seemed to be against me. No one was on my side. There was this inexplicable anger inside me, and I didn’t know what to do about it,” remembers Ellen.
“I did have a happy childhood. I grew up surrounded by a large group of siblings. I was a sensitive child who couldn’t stand injustice. Once the troubles in my teens started, by parents did everything they could to help me. I was out of control, both at home and in school. No one could protect me from myself.”
Finally, the authorities decided to place Ellen in a foster family. She was 13 years old at the time. Unfortunately, things did not work out, and Ellen turned to drugs. Next, she ended up in a children’s home. Then, she was placed in another foster family, then a foster home, and back in a children’s home. Ellen remembers going to seven different schools for her secondary school studies.
During secondary school, Ellen felt abandoned. Adults cycled in and out of her life. The past still has an effect on Ellen: “I find it hard to trust people.”
Happiness comes from ‘boring’ everyday life
Fortunately, Ellen now lives in her own home, surrounded by support. She is learning to live an independent life in Tampere in an apartment provided by the aftercare and follow-up services of SOS Children’s Villages. The adults at SOS Children’s Villages offer help and advice in tackling the usual tasks of adulthood, such as paying bills.
“If I’d been left to live on my own without any support, I might’ve simply reverted to my old ways. Adjusting to society after years in institutional care isn’t easy.”
Ellen has been successful in turning her life and mindset around, but it has been a long journey.
“The turning point was attending a family gathering. I saw how my loved ones suffered because of my choices and knew that continuing on that road would have an ugly ending. My will to live prevailed and I wanted to show myself and my loved ones that I could turn my life around.”
It was not easy, but Ellen was highly motivated to experience a normal life. SOS Children’s Villages provided the necessary services as well as foster parents who helped the young woman start a new life. They became a vitally important source of support for Ellen.
“I live a boring everyday life, but people often forget that that is exactly where happiness comes from.”
Ellen formed a strong friendship with the parents in her support family. In the future, she wants to study for a profession where she could help other young people and develop child protection services.
Support family makes everyday life easier
When Ellen turned 18, her foster family became her support family. Ellen still has her own room in her support family’s home.
“I can escape the chaos of everyday life by visiting my support family. If I start feeling anxious, they’ll come pick me up and I can spend the night with them. I still have a strong reaction to negative emotions. They listen to me, which helps me calm down.”
Ellen describes her relationship with her support family as a warm, genuine, solid friendship.
“I don’t consider them my parents as I already have a good, close relationship with my own parents. I visit my childhood home on a monthly basis. However, my support family helps me when I need them, and they always listen when I start to lose trust in myself and my future.”
When Ellen was younger, adults seemed like enemies. Now, in addition to her parents and support family, Ellen is surrounded by other caring adults whom she can trust.
“Johannes, my aftercare counsellor from SOS Children’s Villages, is the best! He helps me with social security matters, studying and everyday basics, such as cooking,” explains Ellen.
Ellen is surrounded by adults who make her feel safe. One of them is Johannes, an aftercare counsellor from SOS Children’s Villages, who helps Ellen learn basic skills needed for independent life.
Strength from peer support
Every Tuesday, a group of young people receiving aftercare services get together to have coffee and chat. They keep in touch every week and like to go out to eat every once in a while.
In the future, Ellen wants to make use of her background and help other young people struggling with their circumstances. She dreams of studies that would enable her to find a career in helping others. She is currently a member of the SOS Children’s Villages’ development group for young people. She also visits several peer support groups each week. She values a sense of community.
“I believe in the power of peer support. In the future, I would like to make use of my experiences by working in alcohol and drug rehabilitation services for youth and developing child protection services.”
At night, as Ellen sits down on the sofa in her 25 m2 studio, she feels deeply grateful to have a home. Sometimes, she can hardly believe it is true. She is in no rush to leave as she will be allowed to keep the apartment for years to come. Now, her thoughts are full of peace and hope.
“I have come to terms with my past struggles, but it has taken a lot of soul-searching. I’m strong and I survived. I can’t change my past but I can accept it as it was and move on – one day at a time.”
Helping children and families
SOS Children’s Villages help disadvantaged children and young people and promote the well-being of families with children in Finland and abroad. The organisation invests in early support for families, providing non-institutional child protection services and foster care services. The objective is to ensure that all children can live in a healthy, happy environment.
SOS Children’s Villages also provides studying assistance and other support for young people who have grown in foster care and are taking their first steps towards independence. The Children’s Villages are located in Espoo, Jyväskylä, Kaarina, Kuopio, Oulu, Punkaharju, Rovaniemi, Tampere and Vantaa. Fazer has been an official partner of SOS Children’s Villages since 1969. Find more information about the cooperation between SOS Children’s Villages and Fazer here.
Source: SOS Children’s Villages