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As someone who left care with no exams or a proper place to live being dumped by the care system I wandered through life taking small dead end jobs while caring for my children, when they became old enough for me to plan what I really wanted to do all the time thinking I could never work in children’s homes I’ve no experience and no qualifications. I was encouraged to put in an application form in and just try, she said, nothing. I sent it in and hoped with everything in me to hear something back.
The day of my interview arrived, so nervous, feeling so out of my depth, I’d never had a proper interview. I was called in and you put me at ease straight away listening to me as a person not an application form, I went home and waited…. I can still remember the call from you to say I had the job I was in my garden. When I put the phone down, I cried and cried not only had I been given the chance to totally financially provide for my children I was going to do my dream job.
You guided me through and believed in me and made me know I can do this. I’ve never told you that before, but I’d like you to know that you believed in me when I didn’t believe in myself and gave me the opportunity to help other children in the position I was once in. I look in my memory box at cards and trinkets young people have given me over the years and know I did help I was there when they needed someone but if you had never believed in me I would never have had that memory box to look in.
Your Life Your Story 2017 brought care experienced adults and are givers together with published authors to learn the techniques of storytelling. What happened was much more than that…. connections were made and RELATIONSHIPS flourished and a sense of family emerged. The soundtrack to this video written and performed by Tasha Rowe celebrates those present at that first event. It is the perfect accompaniment.
When Janet Rich, founder of The Care Leavers Foundation, approached me about running a writing event for care leavers during National Care Leavers Week 2017, I jumped at the opportunity. My business partner and I were long-time supporters of The Care Leavers Foundation and the year previously, at Janet’s request, I had organised the National Care Leavers Week Conference.
I had, by this time, already met Rosie Canning, co-organiser of Your Life Your Story 2017 and 2018. Rosie was raising funds to finance her research into the representation of orphans and care experience in literature. I made a small donation to her cause and suggested she apply to The Care Leavers Foundation for a grant as I had wrongly assumed her to be a young person, not a woman near to my own age who had lived a life beyond the care system. Our separate journeys had brought us to this meeting place in 2015 and as soon as we began talking, I knew we were on the same page…. Go to Orphans & Care Experience in Literature. .https://careleaversinfiction.wordpress.com/2019/09/22/stories-shared-with-amanda-knowles/
Child of the State
17 Unheard Place,
Why Bother Land.
Dear Child of the State,
It must be very hard for you so far away and I am very sad to hear that you are worried but please don’t run away.
You were right to speak out about the worker who left you on your own in a place you didn’t know then told you he’d been drinking before he drove you home.
We both know you’re not the liar but that’s so hard to prove when hiding this, matters far more to them than you.
I know how angry it’s made you, to know he’s coming back, but getting mad will only reinforce it’s you not him that’s bad.
It will be hard to accept that justice won’t be done but we both know another move’s not good for you.
So, hang on to your potential, protect it with your life and the day will come when you can tell them all you survived.
The Caregiver x
To those of my generation, mention foster care and the world of Tracy Beaker comes to mind. Tracy has to deal with her share of hardships of course, but everything turns out well in the end, right? Oi You Fucker is a far cry from Elaine the Pain and the Dumping Ground, instead, it exposes the childcare system as
“a system of brutally horrific regimes, founded upon extraordinary levels of inhumanity, cruelty, violence, fear and intimidation, propagated against some of the most vulnerable people in society”.
The story of Snowball, the protagonist of this brutally shocking memoir, is a hard one to stomach. Removed from his abusive, drug-addled mother at an early age during the 1960s, he makes a miraculous recovery against all the odds. Moved into foster-care, he ends up on the Fylde Coast with a loving family and the life that you’d associate with a picture-postcard seaside town. But after an incident with a foster sibling, he is ripped from his parents’ care, and taken to Melbourne House, an abysmal foster home run by the positively evil Mr and Mrs Rivers. Mrs Rivers makes Miss Trunchbull look like a loving, caring woman.
A sadist of the highest degree, she beats children to within an inch of their lives, and her evil is matched only by her husband, who is a sexual predator, and Snowball’s anecdotes of the young girls he abuses hit particularly hard. Managing to survive the unsurvivable, Snowball is moved to a family group home in Stockport, where conditions are far better. However, I found sections such as these hardest to read. Despite the glimmers of hope, you know that something terrible is around the corner (in this case it’s a prison-like foster home called the Manors in Manchester), and often, because of the narrative style, you have to keep reminding yourself that it is not fiction. Even when it seems like Snowball seems at least temporarily safe, you can see the profound impact of such a broken system on such a young, vulnerable person. When talking about Aunty Beryl and Aunty Anne, his carers in Stockport, I was almost moved to tears when he confesses that “there were times when he wanted them to hit him, to abuse him”, so entrenched in abuse is he. The punishing detail of Snowball’s suffering never lets up and is needed in order to convey truly just how endemic abuse was and is within the childcare system. The only thing that the book needs at points is an edit. Punishing detail sometimes turns into meandering trails of thought, but despite this, Snowball’s often witty tales of the children he grew up with make you laugh out loud at points. My favourite depiction in the entire book was that of the Smithers twins, who
are described as
“the human manifestation of mumps and measles”.
One thing is present throughout the book. Hope. In defiance of all the times he falls, Snowball picks himself up and continues to fight against the ‘fuckers’ time and time again. Bleak though his world is, he keeps going, never giving up, never be broken. Oi You Fucker is a much-needed tale of resilience in the face of adversity, and although it leaves you feeling sick at times, you cannot help but join Snowball in saying
“fuck you” to his oppressors. But this was the 1960s! Surely things have changed! Although the constant headlines of sexual abuse were rife in that era have faded, a different problem faces the British childcare system, one that may even lead to a relapse into the past. Cuts to foster care mean that there are less social workers to visit more children, and more and more quality childcare professionals are jumping ship to private agencies. Although Oi You Fucker may be a cautionary tale from decades ago, reading between the lines, it is an essential call for change.