Monday 31 August 2015

I was never a care leaver....

I am not a care leaver. I was not an abused or neglected child. My upbringing was by no means wealthy and the spoon in my mouth was more like tin than silver. Yes, I remember my mum going through my dad’s trouser pockets looking for change to buy the tea (we had tea not dinner where I lived in our little council house). What has this got to do with Every Child Leaving Care Matters you might ask – good question.

This blog is not an apology for me not being a care leaver – just in case what follows may at times make you think that.

I was the only member of the original group who established the campaign who was not a care leaver – though my esteemed colleagues were not and are not defined by that status but in what they have achieved despite being care leavers. I have – until recently – remained the only person not ‘care-experienced’ presumptuous enough to speak on behalf of our ‘constituency’. Why?

That I have been a social worker specialising in working with children and their families for a lifetime has some relevance. I have worked in residential and fostering services that were considered outstanding or at least good. I have been privileged to work alongside and even supervise some remarkably skilled and gifted therapists and health professionals. All of this no doubt shapes the person I have become and the opinions I hold but none of it is the essence of why I am part of this campaign.

I have worked with children who have been horrendously tortured and abused in almost every way we would rather not imagine. I have acted professionally with abusers, rapists and murderers though as a human being I found their actions inconceivable. I have been the only mourner (apart from a distraught mother) at an infant’s funeral and wept as I carried to his grave, at his mother’s request, the body of a young man who was murdered (by a group of lads who were not in care) before he could ever become a care leaver. Each one of those children mattered, as do the thousands of others who have filled my professional life with just about every emotion I can contemplate. Of course they mattered: but that is not the reason why I was privileged to be part of the founding group of this campaign and am privileged to serve it still.

I had a very ordinary life – difficult times as a child as my parents struggled to give me and my sister the start that they had never had. They did it – we both found a way into grammar school, higher education and degrees, good employment  and a secure base from which to leave home in our mid-twenties. Great parents – they devoted their lives to us. I would like to think that in some small way we repaid our parents as they glowed with obvious pride at their children’s achievements. Eventually the arrival of grandchildren brought them a reward that no-one could put a price on, though neither lived long enough to really enjoy their children’s children. My parents, then, gave my sister and me priceless gifts; not material things, as I could never recall just how much this amounted to; the greatest gift they gave us was our moral compass, our standards, the lessons of life in how to be the best human beings we could be. How to respect and value others; how to be confident enough to reach beyond the immediate, knowing that if we over-stepped and fell there would be arms waiting to break our fall and congratulate us for trying before preparing us to try again. How to be generous in thought and deed; how to serve others – it can be no coincidence that my sister and I became respectively a teacher and a social worker. As far as I am aware neither my mum or dad ever read a book on parenting and apart from professionally neither have I – my role models equipped me to do pretty well as a parent, as they did my sister.

I cannot speak of my ECLCM colleagues’ childhoods. I will however reflect on some of the children with whom I have worked since late in 1974 when my very first ‘case’, B, was just sixteen years old. If he were alive today he would have been 57 years old on 10th June this year. He is not alive; he was a care leaver. He was abused in care and became a ‘rent boy’ – a 1970’s euphemism for victim of organised sexual abuse by wealthy paedophiles.  And another B, also in his fifties, who when I risked being disciplined for showing him his records before such a right was granted to care leavers asked of me “Is that all I amounted to then?” A series of misdemeanours contained within a paper wallet ‘recording’ his childhood. “Did I never do anything good or get anything right?” he asked me. He wasn’t my case but I was thoroughly ashamed that I had no answer. Both boys were every bit as ‘good’ as me, just as ‘worthy’ and almost my contemporaries. One is dead and the other might as well have been for the ten years of his life he spent in care. They had parents but were not blessed with parents like mine. In the judgement of a court their parents failed to care for them, so they were given ‘corporate’ parents (though obviously not referred to as such in those days). Their ‘second’ parents failed too.

I could cite three decades of similar or worse examples of failed parenting by the state; of children abused in care and then cast adrift at sixteen or seventeen and condemned to prison, hospital, the streets, drugs or death. I have been part of that failed system and fought with all my ability against the system when it was failing. I have, along with others, witnessed and celebrated remarkable, successes.

My childhood was not remarkable; many could tell a very similar story. What is remarkable is the success that many care leavers make of their lives despite the system. Professionally I used to advise my teams that leaving care is something that we should begin preparing children for on the day they enter care. It is a process not an event; like my childhood it should be a learning process where children have excellent role models who they can grow to trust despite their having no good reason to trust adults based on whatever caused them to be in care in the first place. ‘Care’, be that in a foster home, residential home or with ‘significant’ others should not be a determinate sentence ending when the clock ticks into their eighteenth birthday. Mine wasn’t, nor, I suggest, was that the experience of anyone who may be reading this. Care should actually be for life – though that doesn’t mean that one should be ‘in care’ for life.

Why am I part of this campaign supporting care leavers? In my case it’s precisely because I am not a care leaver.

  Ed Nixon                                                                ...................................

(This blog was originally prepared for our friends at Children England and is reproduced on our blog page with their permission.)

Ed Nixon (Chair ECLCM)

Saturday 8 August 2015

To whom it may concern’

To whom it may concern’

I'm just sat at home thinking; thinking about how concerned those people who were supposed to be looking after me were when they got me arrested for refusing to go to bed after a difficult transition in to care from a home. Before then I had always lived at home and although it wasn’t always easy and I am certain there were nights when I had refused to go to bed I am pretty sure that the police were never called.

How concerned were those same people when I was in a cell in the pitch black with no bedclothes or even a cover, crying, traumatised and in need of support? Were they thinking about me being criminalised and developing feelings of hatred against the police? I don’t know – no-one ever said anything if they were.

How concerned was the state when I was sleeping in waste paper bins along with all the other ‘rubbish’, scared and hungry and a damaged young person aged thirteen years old? Not concerned enough to come to look for me I guess.

How concerned were they when I was missing from home and stealing peanuts to survive or eating out of a bin? I was such an unhappy and damaged young person. I became a re-offender on the basis of a 50p packet of peanuts. They were concerned enough to spend goodness knows how much on that prosecution. Maybe they thought that was ‘best value? How concerned was anyone that I was stealing because I was hungry and missing from home with no chance of stability? Not once was I ever asked if I was OK that's how concerned they must have been.

How sad I am looking back on my experiences of growing up in the care system and criminal justice system. I will ask again, how concerned was anyone for me? The best ‘therapy’ they could offer me was a move out of area, that would make things better surely? No it didn't, I went on to get physically abused by the foster carer. Something I don't talk about much as I don't want to be seen as being negative all the time. I was let down by my social worker. When I was abused I ran off to Liverpool, then I was caught and returned to the abusive foster carer. So I jumped a train back to Calderdale where I took an overdose and was admitted to hospital where I stayed for a few days. I was then taken to a video suite where they recorded interviewing me about the complaint that I had made about the abuse. After reading my care files, my social worker was told not to contact the foster carers as this was going to be done by the police and they didn't want the carers to know about the investigation. How concerned was my social worker for me? She was so concerned she rang the carers and told them about the investigation and then went off work – sick I guess. It makes me sad to read it in black and white from my files years later, I always wanted to know what happened to those foster carers and the investigation, that was the main reason I wanted to get my care files. After reading my files and doing some of my own research it turned out they aren't fostering anymore or even together - luckily for them and luckier still for any other children they may have fostered. The investigation couldn't be taken forward because of a lack of physical evidence. That makes me mad and sad because I still remember it vividly and the memories haven't gone away. I am concerned because no-one ever thought it would be the right thing to tell me what had happened – I was only the victim.

Then when I was sentenced to custody I was abandoned by my corporate parent, I guess they were happy to stop caring for me as I would save them so much paperwork and money. I was left in custody and when I was released from custody my transition was home for a couple of weeks, then to a bed and breakfast, then to a hostel and finally to a mental health ward. I never thought I would make it past 21 years old. How concerned was my corporate parent about this? If they were in court accused of being concerned and caring the case would be dismissed because of lack of evidence.

It makes me appreciate the life I'm making and to survive until 32 years old has to be an achievement in itself for me. I'm not sure many people can comprehend some of the experiences I had growing up and seeing some of the most tragic things anyone could ever experience in life. Am I unusual? No I don’t think so. I suppose I am not dead, homeless, taking drugs, on a mental health ward or in prison so perhaps I am a bit unusual – like most care leavers who somehow manage to survive the system and even succeed. But like them I am concerned that I have done this despite rather than because of the system. Now that’s a concern we should all have.

I find it disgusting young vulnerable kids can be abandoned as young as 16 years old, all looked after children and young people deserve to be treated fairly and equally. If the state is taking children and young people in to care then it has a duty to support them all. The options of aftercare support should be available to all of them, no matter where they happen to live. Are you concerned enough to support Every Child Leaving Care Matters?

Tuesday 4 August 2015

A guest blog from an adoptive parent - "Molly"

This is an anonymised guest blog sent to ECLCM by an adoptive parent. The names have been changed to ensure privacy. Although our campaign is solely to achieve "Staying Put" rights for all care leavers, we are publishing it without prejudice to share this adoptive parent's concerns and permit debate

"Dear ECLCM,

I'm writing to explain the bones of our case in the hope you might be able to glance over it and note where practice had gone wrong

We adopted our two older children when they were seven and five years old respectively. We were told they'd had some neglect and parents weren't very attentive. It turned out that this was far from true and both children had suffered severe and sustained repeated trauma due to violence, abandonment, feral living and sexual as well as emotional abuse.  Worse, these are the youngest of 13 children. It's been a long 20 years of Social Services’ involvement.

 Our eldest John was compliant and subdued, Molly acted out. Having between five and 10 rages a day and very much struggling with having any capacity to calm down. Normal parenting strategies had no effect. We joined ‘Adoption UK’ and learned quickly about trauma aware therapy and that we needed to develop therapeutic re-parenting.

We tried through a long and exhausting process to get any support. In the end resorting to complaints which yielded some help but by then Molly was 12 and it was all too little, too late. We had some life story work together, but she needed much more.

Her dissociation and violence were really extreme at that point. CAMHS diagnosed severe attachment disorder and post-traumatic stress disorder, but it became clear we were getting no help and neither was she. Living in a family was too hard for her and so CAMHS suggested a 52 week residential placement in a therapeutic community.  She lasted two and a half years there

Molly wasn't able to engage long term and began to abscond. The unit were not allowed by OFSTED to lock their doors and so Molly started to abscond further afield. One week she absconded to London and the police didn't bother looking for her as she was a ‘looked after child’ and didn't matter. We kept on fighting for her to be supported and found and she reported in of her own volition, she explained she'd been sexually assaulted.

On her return to the unit she became increasingly in trouble with the police for theft, taking other young people off, setting fire to the buildings. The unit managed to diagnose her with ‘atypical autism’ and for a short while we felt supported and understood. However due to her increasingly destructive behaviour and lack of engagement they gave notice on her bed.

My husband and I researched and looked round at other units that would off some secure accommodation for her. The day before she was due to move social care said she was going into foster care and if we did not like it she would be sent home to us. That would mean they would remove the other children at home here.

So we had no choice, we wrote formally warning Social Services of our concerns that she'd never cope and please don't place her with other children. This was completely ignored. They placed her with a family in a large town locally. It was a disaster. Molly constantly ran away, no school attendance. She began self-harming. The police kept picking her up with a variety of phones in men's flats and they were clear Molly was being exploited.

One meeting the foster carers said unless something is done Molly will be raped or worse. Then Molly escalated again, threatened to kill the foster carer and menaced them with a lighter, wrecking the house.

Molly found herself in police custody in a cell at the station aged 15. It was grim, not least because that we weren't allowed to see her as the custody sergeant assumed we were abusive parents because she was in care.

All weekend I tried to get Social Services to agree to a secure placement and eventually on the Sunday we got that agreement. Monday morning she appeared in court and as she was no longer on remand. Social Services washed their hands of their commitment to place her in secure and instead placed her in a children's home.

Her new home let her go out with no supervision and again we protested. We were told we were ridiculous; that 15 year olds all go drinking up the park etc. Tearfully I explained about the risk to Molly of paedophiles and rape. I was told that it was a nice area etc. Within 2 weeks she was raped, and then was raped again three months later. Suddenly having support going out was a good idea after all. Dreadful!

Molly got into more and more trouble and ended up in court expecting a custodial sentence for burglary but instead she got a tag,

During the last six months we were allocated a good post adoption social worker who had her head screwed on. She helped us apply for the new adoption support fund which paid for my husband and I to have psychotherapy. It was only 10 sessions but it really has helped.
It took us nine years of asking to get the children’s files from the placing local authority. In the end we had to take it to the ombudsman before they capitulated. The files aren't complete but even so betrayed 20 years of Social Services’ chaos as the children were said to be the Housing Department’s problem, then the Health Authority’s problem, then the school’s problem, or the responsibility of the older children’s team and not the younger ones, or else the younger ones, not the older ones....

The children disclosed sexual abuse and were described as feral children in a derelict house. The older boys were drug running and the birth mum making her living through prostitution. At one time the home situation was so awful that they took the dogs away – but they left the children.
These children are ruined by lack of care. They experienced too much of what they don't need and not enough of what they do.  I'm told that the ‘thresholds’ were high. To me, that seems to mean that child abuse is allowed in some rubbishy local authorities.

They then place these extremely traumatised children for adoption and wash their hands of them. If you dare to present to social services with any issues you are told clearly that this is your fault. They are ‘cured’ by adoption and all the rubbish behaviour they display subsequently is down to you. They are so punitive towards you that you are very reluctant to go near them again. If you then seek a diagnosis for your children's problems in order to achieve therapy or support, and go in with a good sound research backed argument, the social work team is intimidated by your knowledge.  They will suggest that you are over protective making excuses and have some weird form of ‘Munchausen’s by Proxy’.  They very much treat you as dysfunctional parents to a dysfunctional child, not as functional parents to dysfunctional children.

When Molly moved aged 12, Social Services were hellish. Despite her increasing violence & hurting our then two year old child, they insisted that she remain home but with the health visitor’s requirement that we be more vigilant. I have three children and cannot hold on always. I had to take our two year old with me when I went to the loo!

But it didn't stop Molly. Family was simply too hard for her. CAMHS backed us and Social Services were furious. To me, it seemed that they felt angry because we had achieved what they and their systems could not.  We had needed help badly, but it was not being provided. We went to see our MP in the end as the local authority wouldn't support us.  The MP set up a meeting and funding agreed by Health. It seems that Social Services have never forgiven us.  I believe that they lost sight of Molly’s needs totally.

When Molly moved my husband and I fell apart. He developed anxiety and had time off work and I was in hospital lots of times with an immune condition.  When asking for help we were told: 'You got what you wanted’.  I sobbed and was told that this was attention seeking ....

The last six months have been particularly grim with Social Services who not only investigated us for false accusations, then retracted them without informing or discussing it with us as protocol demanded, but gave Molly’s birth family ‘red carpet treatment’ to disastrous effect. The constant denigration of us in front of a very vulnerable ‘messed up’ young girl has contributed massively to where we are.

Molly is 18 now and we've lost her to the land of vice from whence she came.  As far as we are concerned much fault lies with social 'care' who do not seem to 'care' in the least.".

Sunday 2 August 2015

Ben's story

I remember when I was taken in to the care of the local authority. In some ways it seems like yesterday not over twenty years ago. It feels so real that it could be happening now. I phoned the operator on 999 “…my mom has abandoned me and my brother and sister, she hasn't been home for a few days, we don't know if she is dead or alive and we are alone at home!” The Police and Social workers turned up within the hour to see that we were all well and fit. We were, we had been eating jam sandwiches and custard creams.
The Social Worker ended up taking me and my brother to a Children's home a couple of miles away while my sister went to one of her friend’s houses to stay with them. It was only a couple of weeks away from Christmas and this is what we were faced with, being split up from my mom and sister for the first time ever. It was heart breaking knowing we weren't wanted or my mom just couldn't cope with us.

After arriving at the Children's home my behaviour was out of control and I was kicking off and joining in with the other young people who were misbehaving and refusing to go to bed. After a few days of being in the home I was told my mom had been found in Blackpool having a good time. She said she didn't want me and my brother back but my sister was allowed to return home. This made my behaviour even more erratic because I now felt un-loved and unwanted.
By the week before Christmas 1995 the staff at the home had had enough of me refusing to go to bed. I was warned on previous occasions that if I didn't go to bed I would spend the night in the cells instead. I'm 11 years old. My mom never threatened me with getting arrested for not going to bed. By this time I didn't really care if they rang the police, what could get worse? In the end the staff rang the Police and I was arrested along with two other young people for refusing to go to bed! I was then roughed up by the Police officer and handcuffed. Once at the Police station I was threatened again by the same officer “It's yes sir, no sir when you get in the custody area you little bastard.” I was shitting myself, I had never been in to Halifax Police station. I was put in to a cell with no mattress, no light or cover. Sat there in the pitch black crying because of how scared I was. I never thought this could happen to me and having been through hell the last few weeks I had thought it couldn’t  get worse……….it just had. But it was real, very real. If they were trying to teach me a lesson it probably back-fired. I hated the police officer who brought me in, how can I respect or even approach someone like him.
After I had been in the cells for hours in the pitch black I was let out of my cell and charged with breach of the peace, then told I am being split from my brother as the Children's home “..don't want you back there now.” I am now moving to Foster Parents eleven miles away in Todmorden. Now I have been split up from all of my siblings and mom. I am alone now for the first time.  I was quickly moved to another foster carer’s house also in Todmorden and then back to a different children's home. Over 1996 I had three Foster carers and four more children's homes and a couple of kinship placements that didn't work.
I was involved with the criminal justice system as I had started to offend on a regular basis and being moved from pillar to post, it felt like everyone was passing the problem - me! In 1997 I had 16 moves in a year. seven residential homes, ‘home’ twice, one foster home, one external and structured unit five times. My offending behaviour was getting out of control as was my self-harming. I was trying to take my own life at times and at other times I wanted attention. I had no chance of stability because I was constantly being moved.
I was being told that I will have a bleak future and have a life of being incarcerated if I carry on the way I am. I just didn't care about myself, no one else did so why should I? I was on a downward spiral to custody or a secure care centre because of my self-harming. I just didn't care, it was about the only thing I had any control of I would cut myself just to see if it hurt and get stitches. I would try strangle myself but this only led to one thing, no not seeing a therapist – being moved on.
I was taken to a secure care centre at Barton Moss on welfare grounds. The court had made the order for me to be there so I could have a full psychological assessment. It never happened and after three months the court refused to extend the order as the report hadn’t been done so I was discharged. Interesting that one, why didn’t they hold someone to account and get the assessment that was thought to be so necessary as to detain me in custody for three months? So then I was let out the moves and offending continued. I was moved from children's homes to different foster carers but it felt like everyone had either given up on me or that they could control my behaviour or both. I felt pretty much the same way.

I was out committing serious offences and taking drugs to numb the pain. Later I received a sentence in a young offender’s institution where I had my ‘light bulb’ moment in the court cells after being sentenced. I knew if I didn't change whilst serving this sentence then I would be involved with crime and drugs probably all of my life. I had seen friends die from suicide and drugs and feared that is the way my life would go. I needed to be strong and resilient to beat crime and drugs and to have a successful life.

By the time my sentence had finished I had been moved fifty one times and had thirty three convictions.
Has it been easy since? Never. Have I felt like giving up? Often. Have I had breakdowns? Several. I thought I would be dead by twenty one years old living the life I was. I'm not thirty two, a published author, campaigner, advisor and advocate who has been to Buckingham Palace as thanks for my services to children, young people and families. Is there to be a happy ending? Well, we’ll have to wait and see but I’m working and hoping for one.
At last I have been given the opportunity to do what has driven me on at times when giving up would have been so much easier. I'm currently waiting to start work as an intensive support worker with looked after children. If I can use my negative experience to make theirs a more positive one then that will be great.