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From Care to Defence: A Personal Journey of a Care Leaver and DIO Training Safety Marshal

Shaun Howe, Defence Infrastructure Organisation (DIO) Training Safety Marshal, reflects on his experiences in Defence since joining the Army while still being in care.

Tell us a little about your experience in care …

I went into the care system at 12 years old. I was fostered for a short while, but when that failed, I spent time in between two different care homes. I had a very difficult time at school, as teenagers can be very cruel when they know you’re in the care system. But I often reflect on how well I was cared for by the staff, who did their best in supporting young people with their challenges.

I do not have any negative memories of my time in care, and indeed, I got to do things that other kids at school were jealous of.

What’s it like to join the Army after leaving care?

I can never recall the reason for going into the Army careers office, but one Saturday in early 1986, aged just 15, I walked into the Army Careers Information Centre in Manchester city centre. Being a Ward of Court made my situation extremely complex.

I was still in care until approximately halfway through my Army training. By being discharged from the guardianship of a Crown Court Judge, I was essentially going to be alone in the world, with no guardian, at 16 years old.

I realise now that the Army effectively became my guardian by a Crown Court Judgement. The Army has supported me since 1986, as I’m sure it continues to do for other care leavers.

By the age of 20, I realised that the infantry wasn’t for me, but I did enjoy the feeling of belonging that came from being in the Army. Since then, I’ve held a variety of roles in Defence.

I am not sure if I ever had any expectations of what the Army could deliver to me, personally, as I had no idea what I was heading for. This aside, I have had some bittersweet experiences, but I am truly grateful for everything that the Army has allowed me to train as, experience, and live through since 1986.

What’s been your most enjoyable moments in the Army?

Where do I begin? I have had so many enjoyable moments, and now that I work for the MOD again, it continues! Training and learning new skills always seemed like a chore when I was in Service, but in hindsight, I realise that all these courses were enjoyable.

The first course I ever did was learning how to drive a Warrior AFV – which was a brand new vehicle in the Army – alongside a raft of new equipment. It was a privilege to be driving this at just 17 years old!

I am also very proud of the ceremonial roles I was involved with, such as the Trooping of the Colour (twice), guarding the Royal Palaces and other parades such as the Lords Mayors parade! Combine this with all the fantastic opportunities and adventurous training – parachuting, potholing, and coast-steering – that would have otherwise cost me a fortune.

What would you say to someone who has experienced care and is thinking about joining the military?

The armed forces are not for everyone, and I would advise anyone interested to get well informed about the options open to them before committing. The careers centre staff are the best placed people to support you and can help you realise your potential. Do not be afraid to also ask people who have served about their experience!

Do you have a message for those that manage or work with care leavers?

Care experienced individuals may have had a complex and challenging upbringing and may not have been part of a family unit for some time. This may be more pertinent to younger individuals.

Shaun Howe

While many care-experienced individuals may never dwell on their past, some events or circumstances could lead others to relive negative experiences or become insular. This is a protective mechanism used by many in care.

Being aware of an individual's background can help peers and managers to understand and give appropriate support. We all have families, but many care-experienced individuals may not want to reach out to their siblings, parents, or wider family. Some may look at their colleagues and friends as a surrogate family, and if they do, support that notion!

What are your hopes for the future?

I completed a Bachelor of Science degree at 47 years old and am now 53. No-one in my extended family, that I know of, has ever gained a degree. I don’t think I now have too many aspirations other than trying to deliver in my current role to the best of my abilities and supporting the current generation of our armed forces with training!


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