A little of me….
There’s a box in my room, a box that holds my past, all typed up in fonts of sorts and thoughts of others who were acting as a mother. These others were busy defining my behaviour, deciding my fate, acting upon their theories, their knowledge and at times my wishes….but only at times.
I am shocked and heartened by the fact that at times someone did listen; someone did act and shout on my behalf about a system that was ruining me. Sometimes they used my situation to complain about a system that was failing, shouting to the gods above, those invisible people who make the real decisions, telling them what we know now is still happening. They shouted about a system that was underfunded, under resourced and so far from recognising us children as individuals. It was and remains a SYSTEM.
This ‘system’ was taking me away from me, moulding me, shaping me into this “damaged” person. Apparently for one foster carer I was the most damaged person she had ever encountered?! This is actually stated in my care file. I read those words, written about me by some invisible other who ‘cared’ for me, but burning into my eyes all these years later.
It didn’t seem to matter what had been, what had happened to me before, she just saw the NOW. She wrote about being confused that I wouldn’t show emotion; that I didn’t talk of relationships; didn’t join in; that I was always on the periphery. I read these words and felt a swell of maddening rage and sadness re-emerging in me from a time in the distant past. I had read the pages before I saw it coming, I understood why - I don’t remember this person they type about. I was just going through each house. I didn’t see what they saw as the’ problem’. I didn’t understand why this was a problem, or understand why crying, laughing, anger, happiness or the range of childhood emotions had to be shown just in order to keep my place – just to keep a home. How could I know that this was the expectation? I didn’t realise this was a norm.
I have to admit I didn’t feel safe within these bricks. There were too many people, too many things going on. I couldn’t make sense of what was happening when he did the things he did - the other “damaged” kid. He was OK, but we were lost together, drawn together, trying to get through. We were doing what we needed to do just to make it through these bricks. I don’t know his “before” only the ‘now’ - but that’s another story - one that is not typed in a clever font, or even held within anyone’s memory - just mine and his. Many of my most intense child hood memories are intimately linked with others – times when we were so happy; so sad; so enraged - so anything. I shared in theirs and they shared in mine, our roads our etched in my head.
Reading my file I wonder was I always a target that they didn’t always reach? Was I bought and sold for the price of belonging? I can now hear the alarm bells ringing, the signals for abuses to follow in the future, of grooming, attention seeking, and the naivety of a child desperate to fit in. The muted screams of a child who just wanted to be wanted, who needed so much to feel wanted just for herself, just her.. just for me. Was I worthy? Am I worthy? What does ‘worthy’ mean? Can anyone actually want ME?
As I read on I see the change… the acknowledgment of myself finding myself part of something, a home, a sense of belonging, of becoming someone who would be understood. Understood perhaps, but not in the functionality of a family. I was defined and understood as one with others in homes, one of numerous young people, each with their own personality, each with a ‘before’, all with a part of me that I recognised at times in my life - my day, my soul.
I ‘belonged’ in kids homes, I got ‘me’ in kids’ homes because in that setting I could actually see myself running - running round, sitting off, kicking off, shouting crying, talking… through the mist of events and feelings I could finally see ‘me’.
I felt safe with these kids, but not with the staff. The staff were a different entity, a 'THEM', but the kids, ha, I was with them, part of them all the way. Even the shit dynamics and sociological expectations of this systematic community I understood instinctively. We at times were one! We were united. We were solidified in a strong but silent way by our ‘befores’, our unknowns, our unspoken understandings. We the powerless shared a common need to rebel against and hold power for once. I felt this strongly then and I feel it now. I wear a badge that I hold no shame in wearing. I AM A CARE LEAVER.
There have been different times in my life when wearing that badge has brought me shame, happiness, anger, and a range of emotions, but it has also always brought me a sense of belonging.
This strong sense of belonging is one that carers and social workers could not give to me no matter who they were and who I was at that time. These care kids gave it to me. A hilarious journey of defiance, comradery, unspoken understanding.
The fonts on my file keep on appearing, being signed off by names and people I once spoke with. Each page is littered by words describing my linear experiences of the physical aspects of my life. They record ‘things’ events, happenings. They don’t reflect what my heart and soul were doing or how I was really growing and developing. They are a litany of acts, moves, changing faces of interchangeable people …many, many people. They are as a novel of a life that seems so long ago, a novel of developing emotions, never written but that the enlightened can read easily between the lines.
Many bricks held this girl. There were 72 places made of those bricks, 72 places, each built with the expectations of the system and its norms, 72 places of bricks and mortar. Each place was physically real but was not tangible to me. Each was just another font in that box, but each adding to the burden I carry today. Most things if not all I accept as things that cannot be changed but these things have made me the person I am today. They have shaped me into this person who knows and understands, and who more often than not can see between the lines. I fight with myself with this skill – and it is a skill. It’s a skill that can be draining; that can harm if not careful, but can help if used correctly.
There’s a box in my room, holding pages of font that were types by many, written by some. A box that I sought in earnest to help me to get to know me, but which slapped me down as an adult. There’s a box in my room that holds in font the reasons why my paths were trodden as they were, a box which holds the insights of my heart and my head. There’s a box in my room; a box that most care leavers seek to find and discover at some point in their life.
Each care leaver hopes that their box will hold an explanation, will bring reasoning to their life. They hope their box will explain their ‘nows’ and perhaps even what went before? Why what was was; and what is is? Why they are what they are, and what is ‘now’. Once a care leaver always a care leaver.
Those days of leaving care I would say were my darkest, most lonely days of my life. They were a time I wouldn’t wish on my worst enemy. I was so, so, so lost, and I question now if the fonts in that box read differently to others, or even if those fonts were actually ever read by the gods above, those faceless decision makers busily pushing their pencils. If they really knew what happened to me, would they have let me spend so much of my young life in that awful, awful black abyss that is leaving care? Would I keep being smacked in the face and let down so hard and so often? Or is that just normal? All in a day’s work in the life of the gods?
May I just say here now that I did struggle hugely leaving care. I probably was included in every care leaver statistic at some point - apart from going to prison. It was a dark time. It was lonely. It was harsh beyond the capabilities of clever fonts and invisible gods to explain. But I am here now with that all too familiar sense of resilience to succeed.
Now there’s an oft used word that I have issues with -resilience! That’s a discussion I will save for another day.
I still have that box in my bedroom. I visit it now and then, but never for long. It angers me but it also makes me smile. There were some bloody good people out there who really got it, who really got me! There are memories that remind me of who I am and fundamentally that I am a good person. I fought back then for the children with the muted voices, on roofs and in font. I always fought. I continue to fight now and will stand with ECLCM until we succeed.
I won’t ignore the 9%; I won’t see another box in a room holding a whole host of questions and answers in font. Action is needed. I ask you to please join us.
BE THE FONT THAT COULD CHANGE THINGS! SIGN THE ECLCM PETITION.
Let the next box (because there will always be one), hold different tales, different words.
Every child leaving care matters!