Own two feet


For the record…

I’ve been told second posts are ‘infamously difficult’, so I’ve given a lot of thought to what to write, but as these words appear I hardly know where they’re heading so bear with me, we’ll get somewhere in the end.

First of all thank you to anyone that read the last post and for all your comments. Since I started this blog my insecurities haven’t shut up (they’re big talkers) – they said nobody would read it and if anyone did they would think it was rubbish, but over the years I’ve built up quite a healthy relationship with my insecurities… they shout I can’t do and even though I often think they’re right, I try to show them I can. Sometimes they get it right, sometimes they don’t, trick is to keep trying to prove them wrong.

Recently I’ve started writing about my experience in care. I don’t know what all the words will become, but I’m enjoying doing it. As a kid I was never a big writer. I liked writing when I had to do it for school, but that was about it. But what got me putting pen to paper was getting my care file a few years ago.

Let me take a step back… one day I was sitting in a training session at work, one of those ones you have to go to that is normally a waste of time. It was on data protection (making sure you kept people’s addresses and dates of birth and stuff like that safe). I didn’t think it meant a lot to me, but in the session the trainer said everybody is entitled to see any data that anyone holds on them.

It got me thinking. I realised there must be loads of stuff held on me from when I was in care (social worker reports, carer reports, police reports, psychologist reports, school reports etc). I was living in Birmingham at the time, but phoned up Wandsworth Social Services and asked if I could have all the information they held on me. The woman didn’t have much of a clue what I was talking about, but said she would look into it. Time passed and I forgot about it.

About six months later a parcel arrived. I was late for work, quickly signed for it and stuffed it in my bag. That day it was pouring with rain. Typing now, it seems like yesterday. I remember I was still drunk from celebrating a promotion the day before. In the rush I put on the clothes I was wearing the day before. Great way to start the new job. Anyway, I ran for my bus, got it, sat upstairs at the front and remembered this random package in my bag. I opened it up and inside was a red folder. I was confused and wondered if it was for me. I began reading.

It was my life in care written by other people. It started with a chronology of all the places I had been and then there were pages and pages of different reports. I wasn’t ready for it. I put my hood up and sat on that bus for an hour and cried my eyes out. I read the whole thing and cried all the way to work.

When you live in care you block a lot of stuff out. Any of you reading this in care will know what I mean. There’s so much stuff to deal with that some things you just have to block out. It doesn’t stop it happening, but you make a place for it and you stuff all that shit in there (you don’t have to be in care to have that place, we’ve all got it, but some are just bigger than others). I’ve still got that place, but more and more as I get older I find myself visiting that place and remembering, trying to work stuff out. Some stuff I never will, but I think when you’re ready it’s good to go back and look at things with fresh eyes.

So back to the file. I got off the bus, dried my eyes and went to work. I hid the file away and didn’t look at it for a long time. One of the things that hurt was that in all the words that the file possessed, mine were missing. There was hardly anything from me. I don’t know, have times changed now? Do young people fill out their own reports to add to all the other people’s reports? Someone out there please tell me? Do young people get the chance to have their say and to write that say down on paper?

Words said out loud often get lost in time, but words on the page stick. These words in my file have certainly stuck with me and are still a big influence on me. But as I’ve got older I’m starting to find my own way around them and around my time in care.

I’m starting to build my own history. I’m more than the file. I’m more than someone that was in care. I once let being in care define me, but now I’m much more than that.

But the file is still important to me. It’s like an anchor to my childhood. It’s like a map of where I’ve been. So I started this blog saying I wasn’t sure where I was going and here we are and I think I’ve already written too much. I just want to finish by saying to anyone who is in care that you have the right to see all the stuff people write about you. That’s your right. But be careful if you ever want to see your file. I wasn’t ready when I got mine. I didn’t get any warning and to be honest it messed me up for a bit. But now I’m so glad I did get it and still have it. Now I see it as a gift. It’s not an easy read, but as much as there is a lot of pain in there, there is also a lot of joy. I’ve been given memories that would have been lost.

Now I’m not saying that I agree with everything in the file, some of it is outright lies. You know how social workers and foster carers can be. They don’t always get it and their version of things is sometimes not how it was, but nobody’s perfect. I know my version of some things is definitely not perfect. It’s funny looking back now at the file because sometimes the people writing the reports so didn’t get it, so I would advise maybe keeping your own file, writing down your own thoughts (of course just for yourself, you don’t have to share them with anybody) so that when you get your file one day like I did you can have something to compare it to.

Well that’s me and the ‘infamously difficult’ second post. If you keep reading I’ll keep talking. I’ve got loads if you’re interested, but I would really love to hear from any young people who are in care. I’m sitting here tapping on the keys for you. If I don’t hear from you then I might as well stop.

I want you to tell me how things are in care for you. It’s been a while since I was there. I’d like to think it’s changed and the clothing allowance I used to love has gone up (though looking back at the silk shirts I bought I’m not sure I spent the money very wisely!), that they’re paying for holidays to Hawaii at Christmas and everyone gets a car when they leave care… it’s a hard life living away from home, we at least deserve a car for our troubles!

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10 Comments so far
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this made me cry too for the missing voice and the “coldness” of being in care. Glad there was some joyful memories.. and we can all learn from this.

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Comment by Carole

KEEP TYPING!!! Hey, lots of us listening and lots of us learning and your words will reverberate round the web and down over weeks and months and years and become such a resource for so many people. People such as yourself, who need to know they aren’t alone. And people such as myself, who are advocates and need to hear from you to fuel the work we are doing. Alas, as far as i can tell too little has changed and we need your voice – your eloquence and your knowledge and your passion – to help all of us make a difference. Your point about reports from those in care to be in the files as well as those administering care is well made – I’ll chase up The Who Cares Trust about that issue.
Oh – and btw; delighted to know some of the clothing allowance went on silk shirts! Everyone deserves silk shirts in their life! And if i had my way, yes it would bloody well be Hawaii at Christmas; it’s the least anyone in care is owed, although i suspect you’d have far preferred a rainy UK city somewhere if it had been in a loving and close family, wouldn’t you? And that’s the goal we all need to work towards, propelled by this blog. Bravo, and I’m looking forward to post 3.

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Comment by suzie hayman

Brilliant – your ‘infamously difficult’ second post was beautifully written, very touching and very insightful – keep it up!
As for children getting their say, we certainly ask the children involved in our project to give ‘feedback’ on the support we provide – but this is different – and its certainly the case that in the child protection cases we work in, all parties are given a regular say – the parents, the schools, social services – EXCEPT the children, who are consulted now and again. Obviously this is a different situation, but does reflect the real need to engage with children and young people in all of these situations, and shows how some of these huge decisions need to be made with the child having their say.

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Comment by Mike

But it’s not just about listening to the child and supporting them in having a say on all the big decisions, is it? It’s about giving them the space and opportunity to tell their story themselves, from their side. How many times does a young person in care get stereotyped as sullen, lazy, uncooperative, etc etc ad nauseam because no-one has bothered to ask the child themselves what they think happened or they felt or thought? It’s not just about the big decisions, it’s about the day to day occurrences that are noted and interpreted by adults, and that build up to a large body of evidence that at best labels the child, at worst damns them, with nothing written down by the child in explanation or mitigation. It should be SOP that any and every report written by an adult should be accompanied by a report by the child giving THEIR side.

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Comment by suzie hayman

Amazing blog. please keep posting.

Everyone has something to learn from this. Plus you are an amazing writer!

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Comment by Sarah Morris

I wasnt in care, but my family and I am involved with social services, and no they don’t put “my” side of things in the file, especially in their reports, its very much she said he said, so i make effort to write in letters clarifying where i stand and how i think on matters. MY blog gives a thorough insight to how the system works now, not so much in care terms but it covers enough to show how its still failing children.
I was very moved by your posts, and have added you to my links, im trying to build a better collection/network of fellow childcare/social services bloggers, past and present experiences.. id love to hear from all of you!
Keep blogging, i look forward to reading your next posts! X

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Comment by helpmestopher

a brilliant blog & a big reminder of how little record there is of the young person’s voice in care… thanks for writing – looking forward to your next post.

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Comment by Fiona

Really good blog. I have been a manager in social services in wandsworth and I was researching services in birmingham so that’s how I came across your blog. ”Access to records” is something that should be happening throughout the whole period a young person is in care, it should’t arrive years later as yours did. I hope you were at least offered the opportunity to meet with someone suitable in wandsowrth to go through your record – its really brave of you to have done what you did.
I think things have improved a bit over the years but a long way to go. there is still a lot of rubbish written in the records of children and young people.”Professionals” generally do their best but, yes, they often get it wrong. Unfortunately they don’t often enough learn just how wrong they got it so that they can learn and develop. I have often urged social workers to share their records with the young person but this seldom happens.
Well done for getting this out – I hope you will keep blogging and using your experience to help other people who have been through the care system.
Best wishes
Paul

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Comment by Paul McCarthy

Hiya John
Truley amazing and so usefull words you speak. Your question on having your say. Yes children do get the opportunity to have a say.
However in my experience It can be a major struggle to encourage them to excercise this right, and to highlight the importance of them putting their point accross especially as you say in writing to evidence theirs needs and wants.

Only a suggestion but perhalps you can help young people reading your blog understand why it is so important, please,
Excellent work keep it up
Kind regards Sharon

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Comment by sharon

I never,ever comment on blogs .. i have come accross this kind of by mistake. I am a youth worker .. a step mum, a granny and a fostercarer .. so much of what you are saying is helping me to understand the young men (difficult to place) who come and stay with us .. you write beautifully (my art is our words!). Please know that we encourage every young man who becomes part of our family to see all of the reports that we have (supporting them in reading them and understanding them) and they have heaps of opportunities to feed back in the weekly reports that we do .. sometimes, however they choose not to

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Comment by mads.morgan




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