‘Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder’ – We have all heard of this. We recall how our veterans returned from the battlefield traumatised by the horrific things they had seen, and how that trauma blighted their future lives. A little known fact is that some people who grew up in the care system may also suffer from very similar disorders that don’t stop when they leave care in their teens but haunt them throughout their lives.
Most children are taken into care for their own protection as a result of abuse by adults. That was what happened to me. For many of us, the nightmares began there. They should stop there, but sadly, for some they are reinforced by abuses within the care system. That was my experience as I was abused at the hands of thoroughly evil men who were supposed to be caring for me.
Post-traumatic stress disorder is completely debilitating for the sufferer and will usually have life changing effects long after the original trauma has ceased. Some people will rely on medication to manage the symptoms for the rest of their lives. Too often, once it has started it cannot be stopped, but fortunately that was not true in my case. With support I have regained control - no more waking at night screaming, not knowing where I was, not being able to communicate, not being able to enter a crowded room.
Granted, these things have not disappeared completely - I can manage my demons with support, but I am by no means cured - but I am getting better. I am better to be around, better to talk to and most importantly better to listen to. I don't ramble ... Only in writing I suspect.
During my childhood in care I saw two children take their own life - a girl aged sixteen and a boy aged around fourteen. In fact, he was a friend of mine and his death hurt me really deeply. I was told later, his family didn't even attend his funeral…but I'm rattling on. Sorry.
My original point was that children can suffer with PTSD symptoms as children which can continue and even worsen into adulthood. If this is not identified quickly enough, the outcome can be truly devastating; to not only the poor individual who suffers not knowing what is wrong but also their new family. Loved ones often bear the brunt of the mood swings, the suicide attempts for no apparent reason. They can't comprehend the crushing feeling of worthlessness that envelops the grown up child from care, who are reliving the agonies of years before dragging them once again into further despair.
My condition was not recognised until I was 58 years of age so you can imagine the devastation that I endured during my life. Not just me, but also my loved ones and the people around me. To love someone but feel unable to express that love, to struggle with expressing emotions and the strong feelings inside can be so destructive. People see you as cold and unapproachable when in fact the truth is the exact opposite. You want to be needed; you want to be touched; you want to be able to approach and enjoy the company of others and to be able to join in the fun, but you are emotionally incapable of doing so.
How on earth can a child of 10 year old be so affected? Horrible isn't it? It is horrible for the child, horrible for the teachers, the social workers and all who try to care for them. It is horrible for everyone who participates in the child’s lonely life. For the child, this is a life of being locked into your mind, locked into a world you think is fantasy but in fact is a cruel and cold reality. The turmoil in the child's mind then manifests in their actions and how they relate to other people and other children. I was going to say’ ‘play’ with other children, then but there's very little play in the life of an abused child.
The next time you see a child in the corner of the playground not joining in the fun, spare a thought for that mite who might be facing demons that you could never comprehend in your worst nightmare. It’s a short life to that point but it’s a life that will have seen more than most people see in a lifetime.
I’ve not mentioned the anger. When a child is unable to express how they feel because they don’t know how, don’t have the self-esteem or their feelings are in turmoil, that can escape in an explosion of anger which will surprise and horrify those around them. This is described as ‘challenging behaviour’. When a child is abused in a relationship where they are powerless and impotent, where their feelings and well-being don’t seem to matter, that also gives birth to an intense anger, which can live just below the surface for many years to follow if not addressed.
What has all this to do with ‘Every Child Leaving Care Matters' you ask? Helping children make sense of their lives and learn to face the world as a happy and fulfilled adult takes time, sensitive care and support. This is particularly true at certain times of life – adolescence for example. The teenage years are traumatic and difficult for most children. For many children in the care system, they can be living hell.
This is a time when children need security, continuity of care, caring relationships. Yet for many of the most vulnerable children in the ‘system’ in residential care, this is a time of life under ‘Staying Put’ when they may be compelled to become ‘independent’. Is it any wonder that so many care leavers struggle as adults? Reflect on these words:
Every child leaving care matters