Care Kid – Part III

I didn’t plan to have such a long break away from blogging – the days between my last post and this one have rolled into weeks without a moment to myself.

My original ambition was to blog at least a couple of times a month, but I’ve come to realise that my life as it is now just won’t allow for that level of consistency – as we speak (or more accurately as I type) work and life is getting the best of me. It has been all work and no play and finding the time to blog has been near impossible, particularly since the topic of my latest posts have been documenting my care experience (which is complex to say the least) and cannot be hashed out in an hour on the laptop.

There is simply far too much to cover; too many curves in the road, too many homes, too many social workers – just too much of everything to give the reader any real understanding of the reality of being in care.

There’s part of me that wishes I never started, not because I don’t have a story to tell – I do. I can tell stories for days about foster care, children’s homes and the care system as a whole – especially as I have been on both sides of the fence… the problem is, I don’t have the time to commit right now and with the little time I do have, I do not think I can do it justice. It’s completely frustrating because the feedback from my previous posts has been amazing. Goodness me, it has. I didn’t expect that my life experiences would translate so well and be relatable to so many. I have been truly humbled by your supportive messages and encouragement.

It’s funny because I don’t know what kind of reception I anticipated as to be honest writing ‘care kid’ was never about me. In fact, initially I began writing with the intention of using my experiences to highlight failures in the system and I thought it best to start writing from the beginning since children don’t just wake up one day and find themselves in care. There’s always a back story. Adversity, poverty, tragedy – some shit situation that precedes the “saving grace” of local authority intervention.

So I started with a condensed story of my childhood, which I’ll have you know is no poor me story; I am one of the lucky ones. My experiences both negative and positive made a strong woman out of me and as it happens I’ve had a pretty blessed life.

However, there are many a care leaver who did not find their feet, peace or healing and sadly never recovered from their childhoods. Many who still live with the devastating effects of their traumatic early year experiences and as a result found themselves in prison, addicted to drugs, destitute, suffering significant mental health issues or homeless as well as in many other unfortunate circumstances.

Not forgetting the thousands of looked after children leaving care each year who continue to suffer the same poor outcomes (a number that keeps growing since the number of children in care continues to reach record highs year after year).

I will be the first to say, care isn’t all bad, some people have good experiences, end up in great homes with good people and an amazing support system in their corner but my intention was never to tell a story about the successes of the system. The positive stories do little but mask the reality of so many; the uneducated, the unloved, the teen parents and drug addicts, the offenders and the homeless, the hard to reach and the forgotten.

I cannot forget them.

I want to tell the story of the many, not the narrative that’s sold to Ofsted to warrant awards recognising achievements that are hardly attained. This story is no misery memoir, it is reality. It’s about how outcomes for looked after children and care leavers are unacceptably poor, heart-breaking even. It is a story about how nearly half of under twenty-one year olds in prison have been in care as well as twenty-percent of the adult prison population. A story about how year by year nearly half of all care leavers are not in education or employment (that’s an average of five-thousand young people leaving the system each year to live independently with nothing but a care grant). Not a plan or a job, no education nor stability, non-existent support networks and very limited assistance. Virtually nothing but a parting grand to ensure that they have just enough funds to buy the essentials for their sparse and cold council flats; a bed, a cooker, a fridge – the money doesn’t stretch further than that. They are then left to their own devices to navigate life and independent living according to their “pathway play” which is the legislated bullshit that is prepared in the last two years of their journey for the benefit of evidencing positive outcomes for the government. And that is where their interests (their meaning the government) ends since that is all that is statistically recorded in regard to outcomes – local authorities soon lose track of care leavers after they are sent on their way at eighteen.

It’s easy to say looked after children (and care leavers specifically) are instrumental in their own shortcomings by not engaging with services – I’ve heard it many times before. However, when you’re unmentored, not prioritised, institutionalised, discouraged, unheard, abused, neglected and the list goes on. What hope do you have of becoming more than just a product of your environment?

Children in care are treated like a commidity. They are pawns in a business that generates millions of pounds worldwide at the expense of their development and outcomes. They are seen as service users before children. Cases to be managed and then closed. And the only people in the world who “care” about them, well, they clock off at 5pm.  In truth, the expectations of these damaged children are so low, that no one bothers trying. In care but no one cares, how is that for irony?

I apologise if this sounds bitter, but I guess someone has to be angry about this piss-poor under-funded, poorly resourced, overstretched system.

Anyway, I know you are wondering where the rant ends and the story starts, so I guess I should begin.

I was inspired to start documenting my journey through the system after bumping into a girl I used to live with many years ago. We grew up in care together and every time I see her I am met with the worst (yet sadly common) outcome growing up in care has to offer. The worst.

Telling my story was about telling her story. Documenting the failures and horrors of this system because what does 20% of care leavers in the UK are homeless mean to you unless you know one of those 20%? Unless you have seen their struggle, witnessed their pain, experienced their despair? Unless it is so close to home that you go to bed every night feeling so overwhelmed and heartbroken that it is simply not within your power to change outcomes or improve life chances? (At least not on the scale you would hope to)

It means nothing, it’s just another figure on top of a long list of figures that are undoubtedly more important to you like your bank balance or your earnings, the increase in your council tax or energy bills. And don’t get me wrong, some stats may even momentarily stop you in your tracks in sadness and concern for some of the most vulnerable in our society but the reality is, the horror is often fleeting because most of us are too busy navigating our own journey and struggles and are so far removed from being one of the forgotten.

The girl I used to live with. She has been forgotten.

I see this girl now and again, head lowered as she moves excessively fast through the neighbourhood, weaving in and out of pedestrians as she makes her way to her next fix. If you take the time to study her, the way she moves would most likely amuse you since it’s her speed rather than her stride that carries her so quickly. Her every move is rushed and determined and she walks with her upper body thrust forward leaning into her destination whilst her legs lag behind, working frantically to catch up.

I saw her again a little over a month ago as I popped out of work to go and buy some milk. As we passed one another I shouted out to her and watched as a brief moment of confusion wrinkled her brows before our eyes met, relaxing her face and slowing her to a stop. “Hey you” I called, opening my arms and taking hold of her, lingering in an embrace far longer than she was comfortable with. I say this because she is always the first to pull away and break our hug; and though I have learnt over the years that she doesn’t like to be kept for too long, every time we cross paths I offer up a cuddle anyway, willing her to slow down; if only for a moment.

I asked her how she had been keeping and she smiled her wonky smile in response, exposing a row of decaying teeth that always shock me though I’ve seen them many times before. “Things are good, yeah I’m doing alright” she mumbled twice, the first for my benefit and the second as though she was trying to convince herself.

I observed her closely as she shuffled around in front of me and noticed that her face had thinned out considerably since the last time I saw her. She had sores festering around her mouth and if her wrinkled skin could tell a story, maybe then you would understand why she looked as though she were in her late forties rather than her tender age of twenty-five.

She had never been any good at lying and if the rest of her appearance had not already given her up, rest assured her eyes certainly would have. The remnants of every crack spliff that had rested between her lips and every advantage taking man that had laid between her thighs in exchange for a rock were in those eyes. Her gaze tired and troubled, lonely and unbearably transparent; offering up her truth every time.

I’d met this girl close to thirteen years ago at a house party in the middle of an estate I pass often these days on my way to work. The first time our paths crossed I hated her; she was loud, mouthy, ignorant and overly eager to prove how tough she was. I was a couple of years older than her, with a bit of a “bad girl” reputation amongst my peers and back then, that had been good enough reason for her to arm herself with a knife and attempt to fight me.

I think back to this day often when I read newspaper articles about young boys falling victim to knife crime. An epidemic many can’t understand though it is happening right on our doorsteps and playing out in our newspapers and TV screens week after week and has been for years.

Young people perishing day by day on the streets on London, often because of some minor disagreement, post code wars or tension borne out of a desperation for approval and respect. I am reminded of myself and this girl, at the time a bad mix of egos to have in one room, though I was never a trouble maker. My biggest problem was; I was never one to walk away when trouble came knocking; even if it was holding a knife in its hand.

I remember my adrenaline pumping as I walked across the room ready to fight. Now I look back, it was completely foolish of me to even think I had any chance against someone holding a knife but ego and youth is a dangerous combination. In my mind my life was stretched out before me and death was never an option, not for a teenager anyway – death was an old people’s affliction. In my adolescent mind, this was just another day and another fight and my only worry was; I had to win it.

Fortunately, the fight never came to nothing as someone started screaming that the police were outside which quickly dispersed the crowd. Anxious to get out of the block and away from area before we were arrested, my friends and I wasted no time following suit, leaving the altercation for another day.

The next time we would meet would be a few days later outside a children’s home on the edge of the Peckham/New Cross border. I’d left my own children’s home on the opposite side of Peckham in the middle of the night to meet up with a couple of friends to go out joyriding when who should turn up but this girl who previously had tried to stab me for clout. Our mutual friend who sadly passed away some years ago after falling suspiciously from a tower block whilst being pursued by the police encouraged us to squash our “beef” and from that day onwards we became firm friends.

Fast forward thirteen years later and here we were standing in the carpark of a supermarket, her pretending that she was doing fine and me standing there thinking how the hell did life turn out like this? Whilst I rushed out of the office to buy some milk to feed my coffee fix, she rushed through Peckham for hers. Both clinging on to bitter addictions, only mine merely tasted bitter, hers had poisoned her life from inside out.

This young woman is twenty-five. She has been working the streets and taking class a drugs since she was sixteen. She has had three children, two of whom have been adopted and one of which is in foster care. And do you know what breaks my heart the most? Her story is by no means rare; nearly every single girl I grew up in care with ended up on the same or similar paths.

Most of them bar one became teenage mothers, myself included. Grown before our time, not just because we had babies in our youth but simply since we were exposed to most things far too early. We became adults prematurely; with no guidance or discipline we were running around London doing everything we shouldn’t have been before we were even thirteen years of age. Smoking cannabis, drinking alcohol, raving with people twice our age, staying out all night, hanging around with the wrong crowd, running away, not attending school – you name it, we done it. We had freedom long before we were mature enough to know what to do with it and there was no escaping from the cycle. Everyone in care seemed to know one another. I guess, no one fits like the people whose scars run as deep as your own.

I had friends at school, friends from my childhood, and friends from the local area but they didn’t understand me and my pain like my care family did and I was always aware of the divide. I wasn’t like my peers; I didn’t wear the latest trainers or have much more than the school uniform on my back. I didn’t go home to my parents after school or even to my family and I lacked the solid foundations that my friends had, or at least appeared to have back then. I was not allowed to have sleepovers or spend time with my friends outside of school, and I never invited them back to where I lived either. I was different and I felt it.

It sounds so trivial and meaningless now but when you’re a teenager your only concern in life is to fit in. Being socially accepted despite being so underprivileged compared to my peers was my primary focus and I worked hard to achieve it, it was more important than meeting with social workers, doing my work or going to school at all. I’d been thrown out of four secondary schools by the age of fifteen as a result of truancy or fighting and I could care less about the teachers and making grades or building a relationship with my foster families and then once I moved back into children’s home the support staff there.

Instead, I spent all my time with the young people from my care home and other homes in area. We’d spend our days hanging around estates or outside of various children’s homes in the borough, as well as youth offending and social services. Camberwell Green youth court was heavily frequented by the same crowd of looked after children, quite often for minor wrongdoings such as breaking the small panes of glass in the fire alarm boxes in order to trigger the alarm and escape the magnetic locked doors of the children home after lock up at 10pm. We were criminalised for being disobedient teenagers, arrested and manhandled for going out after lock up and other petty infringements. Police cells became our respite when other homes in the borough were unable to take us due to being understaffed or at full capacity. Being arrested was normal as were police raids in the early hours of the morning and as much as I hate to admit it, some of my fondest childhood memories end in cuffs. Not because we were criminal or particularly violent but purely because those were the tools used by staff to manage our behaviour.

Our “crimes” were plenty but comically petty like stealing the staff keys to break into the kitchen for mid night feasts. Barricading ourselves in the office if we were refused pocket money as a consequence of not tidying our rooms. Once my brother (who for some time lived in a children’s home with me before he was quickly moved on to another one following a particularly out of control in house water fight) was arrested for throwing an apple across the room as a member of staff walked through the door. Granted it hit her smack bang between the eyes and probably hurt quite a bit. However, it was not intentional nor malicious, yet he was arrested anyway for common assault. Our arrests for the most part were silly and unreasonable and as our criminal records lengthened so did the patience of the courts.

I was fourteen when one afternoon I walked into court and watched powerless as three judges turned whispering to one another for less than sixty-seconds and decided that this time, I would not be going home. In fairness I had much more than a third strike against my name and was frequenting court at the time more than I was attending my pupil referral unit (an educational unit for disruptive and troubled children) however I never expected I would be incarcerated.

To be continued….

 

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Care Kid – Part II

“As a child I felt myself to be alone, and I am still, because I know things and must hint at things which others apparently know nothing of, and for the most part do not want to know”    -Carl Jung-

The first months I spent in care felt like being trapped in an episode of Tracy Beaker, except there was no pretending my mum was a famous Hollywood star who would eventually come back for me; she was gone. My siblings and I had been taken back to London and placed in a children’s home in Bermondsey in an area known as ‘The Blue’. Bermondsey was one of Peckham’s bordering districts and though it was only ten-minutes by car from our childhood home the community was very different to its multi-cultural neighbour. The area had been heavily bombed during World War II and numerous council estates had been erected in place of the factories that had lined the streets pre-war. Its residents were predominantly the white working class and the area had a bad and well earned reputation of being extremely intolerant and racist. The Blue was at the heart of Bermondsey’s community and had once been a popular traditional street market in its glory days before the traders were pushed out by gentrification and big supermarket chains. By the early nineties left in place of the hundreds of stalls that had once dotted the high-street was a main road lined with run down shops and cafes and right at the end of the road nestled behind a pub, park and a shabby laundrette was the children’s home.

Roseberry Street children’s home was a modern multi-purpose building with spacious rooms, heavy duty carpet throughout and a generous sized garden. We had been accommodated inside a separate unit within the home isolated from the other residents and it was like having our own little apartment; with two double bedrooms as well as a kitchen, bathroom and lounge area. The home was your typical communal living residential care home, well lived in and devoid of any real comfort or character and though the staff had attempted to make it homely with well-placed toys and posters on the walls, the regimented daily time table as well as the high turnover of staff and regular meetings with social workers made it feel more like a youth centre than a home. We were no longer just children, we were now considered ‘looked after children’ – supervised, examined and monitored twenty-four-seven.

Outside of our unit there were multiple rooms for the other children who lived there as well as offices, a computer room and a bedroom for the staff who stayed overnight. We would spend the majority of our day playing with the other residents in the garden or recreation room downstairs and the staff for the most part would allow us all to run wild until lock up when we were marched upstairs and instructed to get ready for bed.

Bedtimes were deeply unsettling as I was plagued by distressing and repetitive nightmares virtually every night and I hated going to bed. It was not a place of rest and I would cause trouble and hide away from the staff on most evenings in an attempt to delay the inevitable. My brothers who needed little in the way of encouragement would join me running around creating havoc whilst the staff done their best to control us. I was soon labelled the problem child, naughty and unmanageable and as you will imagine the staff grew to hate me, picking me up and taking me back to bed a thousand times kicking and screaming before tiredness would eventually overwhelm me and I’d fall into a troubled sleep.

My mum had died two weeks before the summer school holidays were due to end and it was decided by social services that it would be a good idea for us children to  return to school once the new term begun. My first day back was one of the worst days of my life, I had always been a confident child, self-assured and accepted but that day was the very first time I had ever really been aware of what it felt like to be different. Our family were well known in the community and it was no secret that my mum had been killed, it had been printed in the papers and was talk of our neighbourhood. Our loss was everyone’s gossip and it felt like there was no one left in the world who didn’t know that our mum was dead. I remember feeling self-conscious especially at the end of the school day when all eyes were on us as we boarded the white mini-bus that had been provided by social services for the children’s home to transport us to and from school.

jaimee2
Gloucester Grove Primary School

Though I had always been fairly bright and fond of school when I returned I struggled to concentrate in class and would spend my days worrying about things far beyond my control or understanding. My teacher at the time Mrs Miller, evidently unsure about how to manage my withdrawal allowed me to wander out of class unchallenged and I’d spend my days sitting with the receptionist in the school office instead. Her name was Val and she was a kind elderly lady who reminded me of my great grandmother. She would tease and make light of the fact that I was skiving class again and it amused me that she would always look at me over the rim of, rather than through her glasses and jokingly remark “ohh Jaimee-lee, not again” whenever I appeared in the office doorway. In those early days she became my refuge at school  and I found comfort in the fact she allowed me to be present without expecting anything in return unlike the many new adults in my life.

There were plenty of them, from social workers to the police liaison officers, to independent reviewing officers and the staff both at school and at the children’s home, to the children’s psychotherapist and the court appointed guardian, as well as our solicitor. We were introduced day after day to one hidden agenda led adult after the next, making their notes and recording our every interaction and I didn’t trust any of them, refusing to be blinded by any illusion that they cared or could tell the truth.

“Because never in my entire childhood did I feel like a child. I felt like a person all along―the same person that I am today.” – Orson Scott Card –

I don’t know how I came to that conclusion at nine years old, I’d be a liar to tell you. Perhaps due to pre-conceived beliefs that social services were bad and stole children from their families or maybe because my own parents had failed miserably in their duty to protect us from the likes of these bad people and as a result I refused to trust anyone else? Or possibly because the children’s psychotherapist who’d been assigned to us through the court to establish the extent of emotional damage we had suffered following my mothers death was forcefully manipulating me to express resentment for my father that I didn’t possess. Who knows? The only thing I am certain of is in my young mind I ascertained that these adults were not to be trusted.

The first weeks we were in the children’s home passed by in a blur and the only real memory I have apart from the heavy handed staff, who would smack and throw us around and the other children a couple of whom I would meet years later in another home, was that I wanted nothing more than to go home. The overwhelming need to escape was constant and one day I decided that I was going to run away and persuaded my little brothers to come with me. The day we ran away started off as normal, it was a Saturday and the house was busy. I asked the staff if I could use the computer room and typed a letter to say good bye. I remember genuinely believing in my heart that going back to life before social workers was as easy as sending a letter and walking away – how wrong was I? Once it was written, we slipped into the garden to make our escape. It was a huge garden the length of the building with high walls on either side and bushes along the back fence and though we were not the tallest of children, the walls were no match for us. We were estate kids and had been climbing trees and fences since we could talk and were up and over in no time.

Hearts pounding, anxious of being caught, we hit the ground running for the majority of the half and hour race home, following the route the mini-bus had driven on our school runs. The closer we got the more convinced I became that the life we’d lost was just ahead of us and it was an enormous shock to get back and find our front door locked and the windows boarded up. Usually during the summer holidays our door was wide open and our mums’ friends would be in the living room whilst us children ran in and out all day with our bikes, toys and endless snacks. If you wanted an ice lolly our house was the place to be and if you needed to find your mum, it was a safe bet that you would find her sitting in our living room gossiping away as adults do. Yet here we stood, in front of our boarded up house, in our unusually quiet and deserted estate not knowing quite what to do; we had run away with nowhere to go.

Knocking on the door of our neighbour, I asked if I could climb over her back fence to get into my house. She was shocked to see us and asked what we were doing there & I remember brazenly telling her that we had run away. She was stunned and anxiously told us that we needed to go back but I was adamant about checking the back door so she ushered us inside and allowed me to climb her back fence. Unluckily our back door was locked and it was one of those defining moments when I realised that I wasn’t nearly as smart as I thought I was. Social services had infiltrated every part of our lives, there was nowhere left untouched by their control, even our home. Our safe, magical, full of light, love and life home was dark, empty and locked to us; and I was completely heartbroken that I had been robbed of the chance to outgrow it. My brothers, baffled by my tears were quite happy since the shed had been left open and was packed with our bikes and lifting them over our neighbours garden we cycled back to the children’s home with our tails between our legs. The staff were angry to say the least and we were greeted with a very harsh telling off from the local police who had been running around the area trying to locate us. I was distressed to be back and remember locking myself in the room crying, defeated and angry at the world and everyone in it.

That immense devastation at the unfairness of life would soon become a theme for the next few months as losing our parents and our childhood home was just the beginning. At the end of September we found out that we would also lose one another as social services had determined that rather than place us with either the maternal or paternal sides of our family we would be split up and placed into long term foster care. Our family did little to detest the decision though they had spent several weeks locked in a nasty dispute with children’s services about the long term arrangements of our care, neither side wanting us to be placed with the other. Social services had invited both groups to several meetings and with increasing tensions between them, they had done little but prove themselves to be incapable of putting their differences and ill feeling aside for the benefit of our welfare.

My mums mum, though very involved in our care proceedings had hardly been a source of support or protection for her own children and even in the event that she would have offered to extend herself and her home to us, she simply did not possess the ability or skills to raise a handful of bereaved children. And unfortunately, the same could be said for both my mothers and fathers siblings, who were all equally unequipped and disinterested in inheriting the responsibility of us and were undoubtedly relieved to not have been landed with the burden of six kids.

Consequently myself and my siblings, with our fractured and unstable family networks were condemned to the foster care system and though social services assured our families that there were carers on hand who could take us all, in reality foster carers available to house a sibling group of six just didn’t exist. Instead we were split into pairs and swiftly moved on to our new homes. My elder sister who was ten and one of my brothers who was eight were sent to live with one family, whilst myself, still nine and another brother who was six were placed with a third and the twins who were three and the only joy left in our lives were naturally placed together.

jaimee
August 2000 – Laying flowers for our mum at the site of her death

The loss was colossal, like another death and I don’t think I have ever truly recovered. There is no sense of reason when you’re a child being separated from your siblings. You cannot understand that there is no one-place where you can stay together or that your placements have been ascertained on account of your often varying needs. There is no logic or justification that lessens the trauma of being separated, and even now nearly twenty years later I consider our separation an unforgiveable betrayal by those responsible for preserving and maintaining our relationships.

At first we would still see each other at school and though it was difficult and upsetting to go home to different families, we would at least see one another from Monday through to Friday but a few weeks into our new placements that was all to change. My foster carer lived in Dulwich and it was decided that we would move schools to be closer to her home. It was heart-breaking to say good-bye to my friends, the majority of whom I had known since nursery and my last day of school remains one of the saddest days of my life.

My new school was in the heart of Dulwich Village an affluent area in South-East London and to say that it was a change is an understatement. The majority of the children in my new school were from white middle class backgrounds, a big contrast to the children of working class backgrounds I was used to; and I was conscious from the get go that I did not fit in. I had a foster-carer for starters, a completely alien term to most if not all of the children in my classroom who thought kids in children’s homes and foster care were purely fictions in the books of Charles Dickens and Jaqueline Wilson. They were posh, privileged and worlds apart from any of my former peers and I struggled to adjust.

I was so depressed that one day I cut off my hair, every last bit of it. I don’t know what came over me, in one moment I wanted my mum more than I ever had since the day she had died and in the next I had picked up scissors and through tears began to hack away at my hair until there was nothing left to cut away. I will never forget how my foster carer panicked, holding me in her arms with tears in her eyes when she saw the damage I had done. There was nothing but small patches of hair left and with no way to repair it, that evening I was taken to her daughters’ home where her boyfriend who was a barber shaved the remainder off.

I hated being in care and my foster placement was far different to those of my siblings whose carers were British and permissive, living lifestyles very similar to our parents, or at least my mothers whose culture was more dominant in our household. Our carer was Jamaican born, older than my mum had been and although she was nice and incredibly loving, she was set in her cultural ways; with customs radically different to the ones in which I’d been taught and raised. She was authoritative, stern and religious and we were expected to go to church every Sunday, complete house hold chores and used a living and dining room separate from her own. Obedience and submission were highly valued, and the freedoms and casual supervision that we had been used to growing up were no more. We were instructed to address our foster carer as “auntie” rather than by her name or “mum” like my siblings had taken to calling their foster carers and it was very much a foster rather than a family home and I struggled to adapt.

In contrast my siblings had settled in well at their new foster placements and in some respects had been more fortunate than my brother and I. I say this because their foster carers had been friends prior to their placements and as a result their close sibling bonds had been sustained. They would spend time at one another’s homes, enjoyed several holidays abroad together and were very much involved in each others lives. As for myself and my little brother, we had been isolated, always on the outside looking in and I have vivid memories of going to play in Dulwich Park, a popular park a short walk from our foster placement and coincidently bumping into our siblings there on several occasions enjoying joint picnics with their foster families and extended family friends. My brother and I were never invited though we lived less than ten minutes away and our foster carers made no effort to arrange contact between us. My siblings never came to our house and we never went to theirs, and as a matter of fact I remember distinctly being shunned by their new families and prevented from visiting our younger siblings in the playground of their infant school that was next door to ours.

Unfortunately this is not uncommon for children in care and it absolutely perplexed me then as it does now how adults in positions of trust and authority can be so far removed and insensitive to the devastation that separation amongst siblings can cause. It is not often that foster families are willing to interrupt their own lives and customs to make space for the customs or the families of the child/ren they welcome into their home. And as a foster child you are expected to mould yourself and adopt the practices and habits of the family you have been placed with. There is rarely room for compromise and foster carers are often resistant to change or rearrangement of their own lifestyles or schedules even if it is in the best interests of the child.

Likewise, social services are overstretched and understaffed and do little to support contact with families or siblings once they are satisfied that vulnerable children have been placed in safe and stable foster homes. Their excuses are many, from their limited resources and time, to the lack of emotional investment they make in the very children they work with. There is no consequence for the poor practice of separation, at least not for the professionals involved who don’t suffer the life-long damage or distress. In truth, though this is a statement that will most certainly sit uncomfortably with some,  our individual carers and social workers were by all intents instrumental in fracturing and alienating our close sibling relationships due to their own self-interest. It would become my biggest problem with foster care and social services, even as a child and it is fair to say that I believed instead of maintaining, prioritising and nurturing our sibling relationships; they destroyed and severed them.

I felt broken and alone, grieving the loss of my siblings and family though they were still alive. I was afflicted with shame and feelings of betrayal whenever I allowed myself to feel happiness or affection for my carer though she was a good person. It was almost a guilty pleasure to receive love, and though there were moments where I would immerse myself in nurture completely, open and childlike in my need for affection, generally, I would be completely detached and often destructive as a means to avoid attachment and the many risks related to trusting any adult in authority. I knew how it felt to be let down, to be lied to and mistreated, hopeful and disappointed, ridiculed and punished, controlled and powerless, unseen, unheard and unwanted, and I wouldn’t allow myself to be at the receiving end of anything that could break my fragile existence. Above all, no one was going to take the place of my mum..

To be continued..

Care Kid – Part I