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.

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