Monday 27 July 2015

A little bit of me....

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.


Let the next box (because there will always be one), hold different tales, different words.

Every child leaving care matters!


Thursday 23 July 2015

Swings ‘n’ Roundabouts

Firstly let me explain the title for this blog.

‘Swings ‘n’ roundabouts’ refers to your actions and reactions to other people  based upon the actions and reactions you interpret as inflicted upon yourself.

It is a truism that the way that you are treated very much depends upon how you treat others. That being so, in my eyes compassion breeds compassion. If I expect to receive compassion from others, I must first treat others compassionately.

It follows then that if you are treated like rubbish and belittled every day of your young life, that will elicit a negative reaction.  In fact, I suggest it might result in two different reactions.

One reaction stems from your self-belief being totally and utterly destroyed such that you become convinced that all you undertake (if you ever deem to undertake anything that is) is doomed to failure. With each resulting failure, the impression grows progressively stronger and more self-destructive

The second reaction is that you treat people around you with utter disdain, belittling those around you and bullying your way through life. You pick on the vulnerable and weak in society, much like you were once picked on yourself

Of course, the people I'm referring to here are children. Children in care, ‘care’ being the operative word.

Most children in care are nurtured and helped in as much as time and resources will allow. Staff being loving, caring and committed is not enough if they are not given the time and resources to do their job.  They can only spend so much time sharing a limited amount of love amongst a large group of love –starved children. Every child matters; every child is an individual and needs and deserves individual care. Sadly, the reality is that time and resources don't always allow for them to be treated as such and to receive enough of that loving care from their carers.

Children often enter care for their own protection having been the victims of abuse. They sometimes come from a bad environment and it is not uncommon for them to bring that bad environment into care with them. Like a malevolent ghost it can haunt them throughout their childhoods. The lucky ones get help with their demons. Many don’t, and remain very vulnerable.
This vulnerability is particularly acute when it comes to the time when they need to leave care.
 Leaving care itself can be one of a series of serious childhood upheavals that the child doesn't need and sometimes just can't cope with.  It is made particularly more acute because what help carers were able to offer previously is too often withdrawn at this time.  You will notice that I am not politically correct – I refer to the ‘child’ and not the ‘young person’.  I said ‘child’ because that is what they are - children.

They are still children in the eyes of the law - they can't vote, go into a club or pub, can't drive, can’t marry without parental consent, etc. Yet they're expected at sixteen to cope with the adult world – to work, feed and clothe themselves and to cope with all life will throw at them. “So what?” I hear you say. "That is what all children have to do." That’s often true, except that children from care cannot just turn up at mum and dads for help or support, to borrow money or enjoy a roast dinner on a Sunday. They can’t leave a week’s washing and ironing for mum to do.  Such luxuries are not there for these vulnerable isolated children.  These children have nobody to turn to for a hug or to help them out when things go wrong. Under such pressure, the child can all too easily go off the tracks, resort to crime, hurt themselves, hurt other people, or just give up trying and disappear into hospitals or on to the streets.  Only then if they are lucky might they get the help they so desperately need. 

Tragically, by then it is often too late, because once they have started that downward spiral and finally reached out for help,  it is sadly too damn late.
Now to me that can't be right and I'm sure it’s not ringing too well with you either.
Why not break that cycle? Why waste resources and money on throwing children out at sixteen. Why not just give them that helping hand, that guiding hand, and let them go into the world a few years later? 21? 25?

It makes perfect sense to me and I hope to you. Because these children are potentially such valuable members of society, given even half a chance ... Give them that chance; give them that chance to shine and know just how good a feeling it is!

Please! I beg you all - let's lobby the government and sign the petition for every child leaving care. For every child to have that extra few years, a few years in which to find themselves and to learn safely just what the outside world is about.

Sixteen is a very dangerous age. It's an age where we experiment. It’s an age when we take on board just what's going on around us; it’s an age at which we like to think that we are adults and that we know it all. Of course, we don't and no one does.

So there you have it! That is my case for extending the age of Care Leavers to a minimum of 21. Let these kids whom life has treated so badly have a chance to put something back. Give them the chance to prove that they are or can become a valuable link in Society’s chain.

Thank you for reading and thank you for your support.

Kev Edwards.

Thursday 2 July 2015

The ugly truth of a care leaver

"Life is hard, life has challenges. We all know that. It's how we approach those difficulties and deal with them that shape us into who we are.

We all have inner strength and as humans can adapt to survive in this world.
In life we want to be happy. We want to feel love. Love is what gets us through life. The love and support of our families, the encouragement and care of those closest to us. Growing up those elements are vital for us to develop as healthy human beings.
What about those who never had love? What about those who never had encouragement? What about those who never had support?
Forgetting about what some people never had what about those people who had the opposite, damaging end of the spectrum?
What about those who had hate? What about those who had neglect? What about those who felt abuse?

Well I'm aware first hand how those who did have that negative upbringing are stunted from healthy, mental development.
Lots of children who were bought into the world in troubled homes do end up in the care system. Often in multiple foster families and sometimes children's homes.
What I want to focus on though is what happens when that child becomes an adult.
At seventeen that child is on their own. Chucked into the world on their own with the occasional superficial advice from a support worker.
But hey, they've had a rough start in life but it's what they do now that matters right? You get to hear people say 'well I moved out when I was sixteen and I made it OK'.
Or another thing that annoys me is people who get nice things and go on holiday all the time and are like 'well if you work hard you get nice things'.
The thing is, is that these people do not have the slightest clue.
Physically, most care leavers are on even grounds with everyone else. Mentally, people have no idea how much on a different wave length some of us are... and not by choice. People say 'just choose to be happy' or 'just get on with it'.
How many charity's and support is there for older people who are now alone and have no family? How many people feel so sad for those people? A lot of people do because dur it is sad.
How tragic is it to have that same thing at eighteen? To be completely alone. To have to figure out everything. To have the same cycle of waking up, going to work and then going home to be all alone.
Those people who have all those fancy materialistic things and go on great holidays blah blah can claim what they like about how hard they work but I'd like to ask - would they have the same motivation if the following factors applied?

1) Your family no longer exist
2) You don't have a nice home
3) Most of the money you get from your pay has to now go on living
4) You go home to be alone
5) In fact most of the time you are alone your own
6) Also your head is so messed up from all the traumatic childhood experiences you've had
7) Oh and also you get to look at your arm every now and then and embrace the scars that will never go away
8) and the stretch marks and excess weight from all the times you were so alone you ate for some kind of comfort
9) You're so stressed all the time you feel like you are dying

I could go on and on and on but I think you get the idea. 
Let England continue to fail care leavers. Let England continue to have unrealistic expectations. Let the system fail the most vunerable people.

Because I mean of course with all the above issues care leavers can:
1) Find somewhere to rent at 18...because of course they know so much about tenancy agreements and contracts etc and aren't bound to end up in some sort of financial trouble
2) Oh and let them do that while they legally still have to be in school
3) and have that full time job on the side
4) Yep, they can make great decisions on their own, no help required at all
5) Oh, finances...yeah paying rent, studying, working...eeeassssyyy.
6) But when we do have to drop out of college of course we can get to Uni with no A levels
7) Homeless? We'd never become homeless...

So yeah we can be successful right?...
We don't have to practically half kill ourselves doing so?

That is all"

Blog by a care leaver Hannah Lucy Ide, 
(Reproduced with her prior permission)