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Why do I still have to fight for everything when my conviction was almost 4 years ago?

Whether you’re applying for a college/university course or a job, disclosing a conviction could potentially make it more difficult. Is it any surprise therefore that some people with a criminal record never reach their full potential simply because the fight goes out of them.

In 2015 I came to the UK from the Czech Republic where I’d taught 1st grade primary school children. Although I was a university graduate with a Master of Teaching in the Czech Republic, I had to demonstrate that I was able to teach in the UK and not long after I arrived, I was awarded the Qualified Teacher Status. It felt incredible and I was so happy.

I was offered a job working as a general teaching assistant and, only a few weeks into my new job I was given the task of working on a one-to-one basis with a 4 year old boy who was on the autistic spectrum. He was finding it extremely hard to settle into the school environment and needed extra support.

Lucas (not his real name) could be quite difficult to work with; he was aggressive towards the other children and me, and there were times that he would be a danger to himself. As he got to know me, we started to gel but I had never worked with children with special educational needs before or experienced such behaviour and there were times when I found it quite shocking but, I persevered.

Six months after I’d started working with him, his behaviour suddenly escalated to a level that I’d never seen before and I didn’t know what to do, he was totally out of control. As a last resort, I smacked him across the bottom. I realised straight away that I’d made a huge mistake and immediately went to find my manager and tell her what had happened. I thought we’d be able to talk through the situation and then decide a course of action (more training, a warning etc). Sadly I wasn’t given that opportunity, just suspended from duty.

It took 5 months for the school to conduct a fact finding meeting and in that time I was told that I couldn’t go near the school. Colleagues who I’d thought of as friends ignored me. In the May of that year I went to the police station to give a voluntary statement and in the September I was charged – assault by beating. My case went to court in January 2017 and I was found guilty. The magistrate expressed his disapproval at the lack of training the school had provided me with.

After the court case I had to wait another 6 months to find out that the DBS were not going to add me to the children’s barred list and this gave me a glimmer of hope that my career wasn’t finished.

For the next two years finding a full time job was almost impossible and so I cleaned houses whilst also working as a very part-time nanny. As it became more and more difficult to earn a regular income I signed on with the job centre and, after telling my ‘story’ to the work coach she arranged for me to meet with a recruitment agency.

The meeting couldn’t have gone better and the agency took me on. It took 3 months for my DBS certificate to arrive but once it did, I started working as a nursery nurse.

Whilst I’d been doing my cleaning job I’d been accepted onto a level 2 counselling course at a local college. I’d disclosed my conviction and been told by the course leader that it wouldn’t be a problem for the course but may present some difficulties in the future if I wanted to work in this field. I decided to face that bridge when I came to it and so I started the course.

I found it really interesting but also demanding and not everyone that started it managed to finish. However, I felt quite confident going onto level 3. I was surprised therefore to be called in to see the course leader who told me (in an extremely hostile way) that my application to move onto the level 3 course was being refused on the basis of my criminal record.

As part of my course we’d had to work through our own personal issues, be open about ourselves and learn what it’s like to feel vulnerable. Maybe that’s why I’m so surprised and disappointed that a trained counsellor and course leader could have spoken to me and treated me in the way she did.

I want to appeal the college’s decision but I need to mentally prepare myself first. I’d really like to use my own experiences to help others but sometimes you just get dragged down with having to fight for every chance or opportunity.

By Galina (name changed to protect identity)

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