Own two feet


Up in the air

I wasn’t prepared for the Panorama programme ‘Kids in Care’ as it flashed on my television screen.

The blur quickly fixed itself in the eyes of ‘Connor’, an angry fourteen year old in care. In the short clip, no doubt shown to jack up audience numbers, Connor is shown attacking his social workers car and leaving its window smeared with blood (at least I think it was blood).

His rage caught me off guard, not out of shock, but more from a forgotten familiarity. I remember that rage and then I remember the vacuum. The hole in my childhood that screamed out to be filled. I often reached for rage. 

When I sat down to watch the full documentary last week I armed myself with a pen and a pad to create a little distance. I spent the whole time scribbling… recording statistics (seventy thousand kids in care, a forty per cent increase of kids in care in the last two years – there has been no increase in the number of foster carers). I scribbled down names and ages, older Connor 14, younger Connor 3, Shannon 14, Hezron 15, the social worker Chris Rogers 21.

I took down why the kids were in care; drugs and alcohol, a murdered father. I wrote how long they had been in care; 5 years, 14 years… it started to become a form filling exercise, an exercise I have criticized in this blog before and yet here I was doing it myself. It’s easy to create a gap with ‘facts’ and keep young people in care at arms length.

But kids in care have to be more than what Connor called ‘just a name on a list’. Underneath the screaming and shouting, the blood and the spit, the drinking and the drugs, the swearing and the ‘I don’t cares’ they are screaming out for understanding. They are screaming out for love… they are not screaming out for adults surrounding them with forms and clipboards and stupid questions.

They’re screaming out for more.

It’s the same scream we all scream out into this world at times, but most of us are able to fall into the arms of mums and dads and brothers and sisters and aunties and uncles and other family members and friends for kisses, cuddles, comfort and understanding.

This goes for children and adults alike. If this support is missing and there is nobody else ready to hear that scream and catch them as they fall, then they will keep falling.

As Jacky, the children’s home carer, says we just need a lot of love and a lot of trust and when kids know they’re secure everything starts coming together, without that it often feels like its always falling apart. Trust isn’t easy to get, it takes time and it takes consistency and kids being constantly moved destroys any chance at gaining this trust. The system is broken and has been for a long time regarding the number of moves young people are involved in care.

We need more from help and drive from those in the higher echelons of our political system. Connor said ‘we are second class’ and it hurt because I remember feeling just that and it’s a hard feeling to shake as you get older.

We deserve more. We need more. My words feel like a broken record spinning round and round and it’s a record that has played during both the times of the Conservative and Labour Governments. Can this new coalition Government spin another tune? Or will they comfortably settle into a blame game of who didn’t do what?

A good start would be a real push for recruiting foster carers that goes beyond a poster campaign and an advert on a cheap cable channel. We need something like the recruitment campaigns rolled out for the army and the teachers because this is just as important. Is there anything more important than feeling safe and secure, loved and wanted? Shouldn’t everything else come after this?

I also think there must be other models of looking after young people in care than we currently have. Are there any pilots currently happening? Help me out there, or does anybody know of any other countries doing it different, doing it better?

The above was pretty much written the next day after the programme aired. I’ve now had a few days to think the whole thing through. There is no doubt the programme was important, but I do fear that whenever kids in care are on television it’s always the same kind of story…dysfunction in all its guises. It almost feels like exploitation.

Maybe I’m part of that in some way with this blog telling my own dysfunctional story, still I think it’s important that rather than always perpetuating the stereotypes we need to see more of the other side to life in care. We need to see how life in care has been positive for many people, both children and carers.

I remember standing in the playground as an eight-year-old boy staring at planes as they left their vapour trails in the sky. I dreamed of one day being on one, but never thought I would. I never cared about being a pilot, I just wanted to be as high as those planes and look down on the world.

I remember my first time flying to Majorca on Britannia Airlines with my foster family the Halls. I remember how amazing it was to get plastic blue cutlery and food on a tray in little compartments. I remember take off and everything shrinking as we climbed. I remember flying through the clouds and I remember looking out of the window into the darkness and seeing a storm rage in the darkness.

It was beautiful and is still one of the greatest moments of my life… can’t say I remember much of Majorca.

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7 Comments so far
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I was really interested to read your comments about the way young people in care are so often stereotyped. As someone who had a family to fall back on – but still screwed up a lot of the time – I never cease to marvel at how young people cope on their own. In my novel Control Freak (published Monday 25th Oct) I’ve tried to challenge the stereotypes about what young people in care are like – and I based this on the experiences and stories of the many young people I’ve met in my work with care leavers. I’d be really interested to hear what the writer of this column thinks about my portrayal of the characters – let me know if you’d like a review copy. (And for anyone else who’s interested the book is now available on Amazon – ignore the incorrect info about it not being available til March 2011) or directly form BAAF. Henrietta Bond

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Comment by Henriettaq Bond

Hi, I think we’re all part of the dysfunction, it exists throughout homes across the country and not only foster homes which can often by comparison seem almost functional despite an array of heavy challenges. Your blog is great and a testament to your character and ability to stay sane despite circumstances.

The coalition will almost certainly want to drive efficiencies and lose dead wood in the sector (of which there is sadly plenty) but hopefully they won’t make things worse.

Change is needed – Change is coming – We’ll have to see if it’s for the better.

Keep up the good work, I think that many will benefit from your ability to articulate what drives many in and around the care system crazy.

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Comment by Mike Dennis

Your blog has really moved me – you are right the media do only present the really negative stories, which I think in turn reinforces the stereotype. I am a student studying Broadcast Journalism at Leeds, and I am in the process of submitting a documentary proposal on Care Leavers and the problems they face when they leave the system. If you would be willing to talk to me I would be more than grateful (the doc will not be made, it is just in the proposal stages). I do not intend the documentary to do what others have done before, and I also want to look at the changes that should be made to the system. If you could get in touch if you are happy to chat that would be great. Best wishes, Emily Cadman

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Comment by Emily Cadman

Hi Emily,
I am very sorry, but have only just seen your message…if you contact the ‘who cares trust’ and give them your details to pass onto me I’d be more then happy to contact you.
Take care
John

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Comment by john

hi guys and gals,
i live at the grange (the kids home that featured on the programe)
i have lived here for nearly 8 months now.
before here i was at a place called wisteria lodge for 3 1/2 months (it’s been knocked down now).
just to say that being in the care system is hard, no-one understands that we do need a hug once in a while or to talk or maby just to go out for a drive but being in a kids home is a nightmare. forexample staff are always stuck in the office doing paperwork for the big bosses in the council .ect.
Then there is a new problem that will be revealed very soon (well april to be precise) as the new finacial year comes nearer we all dread it less money is highly likely and here at the grange we all think that the days of the grange are numbered just like wisteria.
all the goverment are thinking about is ticking boxes and money well sorry but we need some-one when we feel low and we need money to go out for the day or something.
And we do need more foster carers there arent enough currently me and my social worker are looking for an outer city placement.
sorry about that just needed somewhere to vent if you no what i mean

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Comment by Aiden

Hi all I’m “big conner” the grange is a local authority home which means it is directly run by the concil so you wouldn’t see exactly what care is like in the 2010 doc, it’s institutionalised there, you get controlled to what you do as a whole rather then a case by case system, what the doc didn’t show the public is to what could have happend to me if I was aloud contact or to go home ect for the record I was never aloud, I smoked weed big deal if I was with my birth mum I would be on harder drugs I would get made to steal ect I would be locked up due to the prevention of the care system I never did go on to anything harder then weed I never went to prison, at the end of it it’s down to the indevidual to make that change no one els is capable apart from you I did it I have my own place paid for by myself I work full time and completely inderpendant. There’s allways someone more worst of then yourself.

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Comment by Conner b

Hi Conner,
Thank you so much for posting on my blog. It means a lot when someone who is right in the middle of it all, or has been, takes the time to write something here.
I remember looking through my files when I got them (have you got yours?) and seeing how the local authority started cutting my visits down to my mum down and how they aimed to break the contact and how difficult that was for me. I have worked through a lot of that, but I do remember feeling so helpless and mad. It must have been tough for you.
It has really made me so happy to get your message and to hear how you’re getting on. It is absolutely great that you have beat the statistics and not gone to prison and are working full time. It is kinda sad that is a great thing because it should be normal, but it just isn’t for people growing up in care. It really is wonderful to hear from you and I wish you all the best for the future my friend. Keep on keeping on!

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Comment by whocarestrust




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