This letter is a typed and author approved copy of the original letter written by Jackie McCartney, a care experienced adult and caregiver, to her corporate parents on 18 July 2018.
WHAT IS A CORPORATE PARENT?
Looking after children and young people is one of the most important jobs the council do. When a child for whatever reason, can’t stay safely at home, it is up to the local authority to step in and give that care, support and stability that they deserve. Being a parent is to look after, take care, raise, rear, nurture, love, discipline, give direction, strictness, be there good and bad, for the whole of their lives. So, Birmingham corporate parent where were you when
At 17 I had my first home (yes homeowner) but suffered domestic violence when I moved in, daily beatings because I had cooked mash and he wanted boiled.
Where was you when…
I cried every day because I was in so much pain from the violence. I got pregnant by him and in one of his rages he pushed me down the stairs and kicked me so many times I lost my child. A parent would of told me to get out, it was unhealthy and no good for me. Yes, I went back because I had nowhere else to go, no one to turn to. After another beating, I walked out. I walked to the only home I had ever known (name removed) I knocked on the door asking for help, only to be told for insurance reasons they couldn’t help.
I was 17 years old and my corporate parents turned me away to be beaten again by that man. I went to Cannon Hill Park and slept there for the weekend. I went to work, very smelly and unkept. A lady there asked me about it, I told her about me and my life. She took me to her home that night and for a short while after until I was back on my feet and so I could heal.
Where were you my corporate parent when…
I got made redundant how was I going to feed myself, pay my rent, searching for jobs. I was lucky yet again to meet a good landlord who said I could walk his dog as payment until I found something but now my landlord was selling his house. Yet again alone, scared, worried. Once more looking for a roof over my head an no one to turn to for help and support. My parent should of been there.
I found another shared house with some girls, but was still alone, they visited family and friends. I had none. I did not trust people, I did not make friends easily. Always on your guard, not letting people in too much. You was a care kid, people still thought you was trouble, that’s why you had been in care. But at 5 what had I done to deserve it and the treatment I had received.
Where were you my corporate parents?
I held down two jobs one in finance and one at a petrol station, just to make ends meet. I made a friend who invited me to her home in Ireland I had nothing to lose no one to care what I was doing.
Where were you my corporate parents when…
I started my life over in Ireland I was there for eight years. During that time, I brought a second home and married. I suffered 4 miscarriages, fertility treatment (paid for myself).
Where were you my corporate parents?
I finally had a child after so much heartache, so happy, so proud, so excited but I was also so scared, how could I be a mom, a good mom. I did not know what that was I had never seen a normal family home. I had only seen children degraded, bad mouthed, humiliated, beaten, abused. Made to sleep in the hallway because we dared speak in bed. If we carried on we would have to stand in the matron’s bedroom all night. I had to make my bed every morning as did the other kids because we would not get breakfast otherwise. If you did not finish a meal you got it at the next mealtime and did not get anything new until your plate was clear. You did not make friends in the home, as it was a sign of weakness and would be used against you at any point. How was that a normal family life? How was that teaching you how a family function.
Where were you my corporate parents?
I loved my son so much, I fed him, kept him clean, he wanted for nothing, but I had no family to share this moment with, no family of my own. I finally realised one day there was something missing, love, cuddles, kisses. Everything I never had. Everyday thereafter I learnt to hug and hold him. But not before going to counselling (paid for myself).
Where were you my corporate parents?
I thought nothing could split me and my husband up after everything we had gone through
Moving country/ miscarriages/fertility/money worries/no family/my breakdown but we did. So once more I was alone no home. I wanted to come back to the UK. I had enough strength to start again for me and my son. As he was born in Southern Ireland, he had to give permission for me to take him. He would only do that if I signed over all we had together. I walked away with my son.
Where were you my corporate parents when…
I went to the local housing office ready to start over. Only to be told I had been out of the country for 5 years I should go back.
Where were you my corporate parents when…
I told them I was not leaving until I had a bed for the night. The joys of a B&B on Hagley Road, not ideal. But beggars can’t be picky. 4 week later with the help of local MP (name removed) we were offered a 3rd floor flat 6 flights of stairs, no lift. Signed, paperwork, got keys. A roof over our heads, no bed, no cooker, no food. I had become at 33 everything you said I would be, on the dole, single, council tenant unwanted yet again.
Where were you my corporate parents?
Slowly me and my son got up on our feet, charity shops, food near sell by dates. I did not realise when I left my husband, I was pregnant. How the hell was I going to do this. I had my baby, a little girl, I was overwhelmed yet again by emotions and feelings.
Where were you my corporate parents?
My lowest night Iay in the bath, an told myself I couldn’t do this anymore I had no fight left. I worked out how to end it all. But not just for me for my children. Because there was no way I was leaving them to the system. To be neglected, physical, emotional abuse or sexual.
Where were you my corporate parents when…
I lay there for hours in the cold water, crying scared and alone. I don’t know what brought me back, but I did not go through with it. I knew my children had not asked for this and I had to better than the life I had, had. From here on in we took each day hour by hour, each day I went to bed was another day I had survived.
Where were you my corporate parents when…
I lied to the health visitor, I said all was okay and on the surface it was. I could not reach out for help. I was a care kid and you the system would take my kids away. I was already 3rd generation care kid. I could not let it happen again. Every day I took a breath got up and did it. So tired, so worn out, so lonely, so scared. No one there for me. But 2 children depending on me to make things good.
Where were you my corporate parent ?
There have been many times I asked “where were you”. But you never came, you never fulfilled your obligations to me and turned up to offer understanding and support. You were never there to replace my biological parents you had removed me from. Sad really after all said and done you are my corporate parents. I never left care you left me.
Even more recently where were you in the good times and bad, for example my concerned parents when…
– my son had a cancer scare
– both my children buying cars outright
– my son passing A levels, his apprenticeship and graduation from National Grid (CADENT) as an engineer
– my daughter’s cancer scare and sexual assault at school
– my daughter passing her GCSE’s, prom and getting a job offer on the same day
– my 22 year old son buying his own house
Where were you my corporate parents?
There have been so many more, good, happy, sad, emotional days that needed sharing, supporting, caring, you were not there.
I would like to challenge each and every one of you. You can’t change the past but, you can have a positive impact on so many of your children for now and the future.
Are you serious about your parenting role for either your own biological children or these wonderful children who need you to show how much you really and truly care so that their daily lives and futures are happy, carefree and supported and they are able to grow into strong confident adults because of your love, encouragement by having a system that actually does care.
Where to begin? I feel as though I must go back to come forward; so I will! October 2018 I attended my first ever Your Life Your Story event following a chance encounter on twitter and somehow following the remarkable Amanda Knowles MBE. Filled with anxiety, trepidation, nervous apprehension I made my way to Cumbria University. I had only just begun to get to grips with my story, my truth, myself; this felt like a massive dangerous leap into the unknown. All of the ‘what if’s?’ had gone around in my head and I’d ruminated over me as a being, my writing, and if in actuality I was kidding myself; my inner critic resounding and ever present. I was reassured however by knowing that Yusuf McCormack would be attending, and I’d previously visited his art exhibition ‘No Colours for My Coat’ on my stomping ground Chelmsley Wood; and then proceeded to steal 6 hours from him over coffee after stalking him on Twitter. With that in mind I ventured into the unknown and made a commitment to myself that I would not allow myself to be dictated to by fear and leave; a pattern of behaviour all too familiar to me as flight is much easier…safer… than facing what I’m afraid of.
I bit the bullet…The next couple of hours getting familiar with my surroundings, wondering how on earth students live in those tiny cells without being creatively oppressed; and smoking where I shouldn’t – some things never change! The event encapsulated the kind of energy where I instantly felt connection. Met with smiles, laughter, friendly banter and the kind of dark humour that I am very much accustomed to; I figure it must be hardwired into our survival. Throughout a full and thought provoking programme voices were shared, the power of our truths unleashed and relationships developed as if we had somehow been there for much longer. The space we held for each other felt safe, honest, un-questioning, non-judgemental and like you were never no more than an arm’s length away from people who just ‘got it’, the facts were unimportant and the connection came through feeling, knowing and the shared threads of existence. We all became more than we were before we arrived, taking away not only the practical writing skills we had been developing but a sense of being in it together.
Leaving and returning back to my reality evoked a mixture of feelings and in the days following my return I felt like I was processing thoughts at warp speed. I was elated at how successful the event had been in terms of learning, that id managed to stay, write, read a loud and that my anxiety hadn’t prevented me from being sociable. However this was coupled with a feeling of being bereft, that something was missing and it conjured up little connections with the past of feeling lost and alone. Luckily once I had given myself time to process all of this and talk it through I realised it was normal to feel that way when you have been somewhere that you have felt truly accepted, connected, where there are no judgements, unrealistic expectations or conditions and I wrote this extract; which now resonates even further following my return from Your Life Your Story 2019.
So now we jump forwards twelve months which is a relatively short space of time in the grand scheme of things, but time in which I have spent generating ideas, exhibiting artwork, creating more pieces, attending Wrexham University and The National Diversity Awards with Your Life Your Story; and ultimately making decisions meaning that Yusuf and I would build upon our connection and work towards developing an arts based training and consultancy project – Artifacts.
October 2019 and this time around things were a little different. My second Your Life Your Story Event, and back to the beautiful Cumbria University with its Harry Potter esc buildings and tree lined grounds. Notwithstanding the sense of familiarity in the surroundings, I was still very much filled with anxiety and nervous apprehension however, this time as we’d been given the honour of delivering our first workshop as Artifacts ‘Reclaiming Our Narrative’; and despite us planning with military precision and having an entire car full of goodies, the incessant and unremitting internal critical monologue was omnipresent throughout the journey. Seeing familiar faces and catching up was incredibly reassuring and knowing that I had connected and stayed in touch with many of the group via social media meant that there was very little ice to break once we’d come together.
Naturally food was the first item on the agenda after all not feeding Yusuf and Dave the fudge termites and Taz the human seagull could only go one way, and would most certainly result in a mini riot!! Soon the sound of our group filled the canteen, with banter and chatter steadily building in eagerness of the opening gathering where we would all join together for the first time.
The bringing together of this year’s group was most eloquently facilitated by none other than our beautiful Dame Longstocking A.K.A Rosie Canning; no address would have been complete without the obligatory headwear to bring regal definition to proceedings!! With her opening remarks in full swing and the gift of a fabulous journal from Amanda the group very quickly began to develop its own energy which felt welcoming and surprisingly familiar; considering this was the first meeting for many of those in the room. After handing out literary quotes to inspire and softening us up with the lovely gift of a sprouting seed pencil we were off with our first little challenge. I’m certain Rosie could be a headmistress in disguise, and Mr Jackson is very adept at story telling managing to involve half the room in his tale of plane flying international smugglers. Time was spent laughing, chatting through the weekend’s program, getting to know one another and the room was filled with the buzz of anticipation for the new day.
Now how do you even begin to introduce the undeniably compelling force that is Mr David Jackson…the answer is you don’t… He does!! The group were treated to a writing structure master class in which Dave explored a very clear and simple yet effective structure with which to approach the task of writing. Dave’s no nonsense approach injected with sound advice and humour made for a productive and interesting workshop and set the tone for a positive, creative and accomplished morning. Tips were shared for breaking down the task of writing into manageable chunks, and an overview given of techniques that were successful when writing his published book Oi. Dave’s approach is incredibly accessible making the daunting task of writing a whole book seem far more achievable for other individuals who have very little literary experience. Dave alluded to the importance of the role that music plays in his writing journey and swiftly gave a rendition of a song that he finds uplifting when he is having a break from being immersed in the writing process. Dave’s workshop demonstrated that although we feel we might not have the time to fit in writing, if we break things down we can find space to write. It was also acknowledged that the writing process can be tough especially when recounting personal histories, and to ensure there is a positive network of people who ‘Get it’ to seek support from, reflecting the importance of relationship building and connection; and it became clear from the feeling in the room that our Your Life Your Story network had already begun further developing. Overall the workshop was a resounding success and gave many of the group food for thought on going forward with their own writing journey, with methods shared that can be easily adapted and combined with other writing tips and techniques.
Whilst absorbed in engaging with Dave’s workshop my mind had been distracted from the reality that we were next, so when the group broke for refreshments the realisation struck me; all that myself and Yusuf had planned for over the previous weeks and months was now upon us; that, and we had to unpack the trolleys of treasure for the first part of our workshop. My tummy was doing somersaults and my legs had begun to shake a little, but then the group embraced us with their reassurances. The familiarity of beautiful Mel and her supportive smile, Amanda with an encouraging nod, Dave who’s heartening humour cut though the nervousness I was feeling, the entire group Taz, Chris, Jamie, Katrina, Ian, Nickie, Jane, Angie, Davie, Rosie and my Fairy Godmother Jacquie all inspired the confidence that it would be okay, we could speak freely and share our truth together, reclaim our narrative together, no-one was judging or giving the side eye because we were amongst our people; our tribe. I also knew that Yusuf my brother from another mother and I had each other’s back and his presence provided the encouragement needed that even if I was liken to a blancmange at points, we could do this together; and the sweets on the table were a tactical move that were sure to go down well and help things along.
Stood listening to Yusuf delivering his Narrative piece and verse, the group sat intently, emotion washing over them as recollections of the shared threads of our histories struck chords. Our shared knowledge and experience of injustice apparent through the resonance of Yusuf’s words, that lingered in the air in juxta position with the man he has become; a powerful demonstration that the narrative others ascribe to us as care experienced individuals is their version of our narrative, their perception, their interpretation of events…We have our own, and it’s about taking that back ‘Reclaiming our Narrative’, and working to remove the power of the labels and stigma we were branded with by the words of others, turning the negativity into positivity, being defined by self and not others; a thread that very much continued through the delivery of my own narrative and verse.
Nerves still ever present but suppressed by the supportive positive energy that had created an aura of absolute acceptance within the room. I could not have imagined being in this position twelve months previous as id sat and watched Taz so confidently deliver her spoken word piece with such conviction. My delivery no comparison to others, unpolished and gathered up from the handout clutched in my trembling grip; for me…enormous…like climbing Kilimanjaro in stilettos…blindfolded!! I can’t comment on the delivery of my narrative or the verse Different & One which I had written following my first encounter with Your Life Your Story. I experience incredible anxiety when I am in the metaphorical spotlight which meant my reading became a bit of a blur, I’d done it…and this time I didn’t need a chair to hold me up!! With creativity on the other side of the blur like a beacon I’d spoken my truth and was looking forward to seeing others unlock their imaginative, creative, free selves with our activities.
We began with a literary exercise and writing a positive and affirming acrostic poem. In hindsight we could have unpicked this task much further if we’d of had the luxury of having more time, not only exploring the acrostic as a writing prompt but also a vehicle for expressing ones inner voice, the things we think but do not say, words we have held on to through shame, fear and pain and channelling this by writing powerful pieces of poetry using words that resonate deeply with us and our truths. It’s also important to acknowledge that we do not have to be writing for a particular reason or purpose, just to see the words held there upon the paper, even if never shared beyond this and your pen; there is something incredibly cathartic and empowering about being the master of your own truth. The break quickly approached as we wrapped up part one and we eagerly encouraged everyone off to lunch so we could transform the tables and festoon them with the treasures from our trolleys, beads, glitter, glue, markers wires and ribbon. Visual artwork was on display around the room and all the pieces for a planned collaborative installation were in place; to add colour, fun and creativity to the graveyard shift after lunch.
Following a promptly issued public service announcement from Dave regarding the consumption of His and only his Black Jacks; everyone was on to further reclaiming our narrative by reflecting on how we define ourselves and how we should reframe or reject the labels used by others to define us. Now for all of us this will be a lifelong process, in some cases some words travel deep, some labels become so engrained within us we look at ourselves as through we are a stick of rock. The purpose of the shredding of the dead wood and the negative labels that represent this dead wood that prevents us from growing to our full potential is symbolic of the continuous effort we have to make in flipping the perspective and looking for the positives even when things seem incredibly bleak and negative. With the power of positive words in mind we were on to creatively speaking our truth, creating the collaborative piece of art the ‘Positivitree’ and individual personal talking sticks that were a visual representation of assertiveness and courage in sharing our experiences, telling our stories and speaking our truth out loud.
We could have almost predicted from the beginning that Rosie and Mel would be like two five year olds as they clambered for glitter and sparklyness; anyone would of thought that we had magpies at the table as the power struggle for pink pearl glitter ensued. In all good humour materials were shared around and discussion developed around the messages shared on the branches of truth. Each individual branch a celebration of the person it represented from Angie’s playful sombreros, to Nickie’s threads that danced around her branch, Katrina’s flash of gold reminiscent of the superhero inside us, Jacquie’s bright green beads of hope and messages of being enough, Rosie’s beautiful glitter adorned wand, Mel’s shiny moon on a stick Amanda’s hearts and unwavering belief, Dave even had a go wrapping ribbon and copper and joined in; although it’s debateable he was only there for the Bostik. We had expressions in threads feather’s ribbons and powerful words from Jane, Ian and Taz, Davie and his creative expression in copper emblazoned in authenticity. As the ‘Positivitree’ came together a vision of our collective creativity, adorned with the positive labels, and expressions of the self, our tribe felt united. You could feel positivity in the room, creative energy flowing and smiles and laughter abound. The realisation that we don’t lose our creativity even if we’ve stuffed it to the back of a dusty cupboard inside our adult self; we just need to make the time and provide the opportunities and space both physically and emotionally to be creative. That art and creativity doesn’t have to be perfect as it’s an extension and expression of the creator; and none of us are perfect….we are perfectly imperfect…Different & One.
To draw a close to the day the final workshop would be delivered by the remarkably powerful Taz Trevorrow who expresses her words with such passion, sincerity and absolute conviction, with reflections on addiction, exploitation and loss being felt throughout the room. Taz shared helpful techniques in prompting the writing process which may be useful to move past creative blocks; kick starting the imagination by using tangible objects to create a piece of writing or to build a character. We looked at putting the self and others into a piece of writing, and using existing pieces and images to aid the writing process. The mixture of laughter and tears in the room indicative of the power of words and language and demonstrating the value of being able to express your inner world creatively; with the exercises opening up new avenues of exploration for people to test out along their own writing journey. As the weekend had progressed it had revealed new opportunities for people to explore their creativity, in a safe, supportive and nurturing environment; with realisations being made that actually we might just not be kidding ourselves and that we can share our truth our way!! And more importantly with the unwavering support of others who just ‘get it’. Going back to the point that the connection is made and relationships built on feeling and shared understanding of those feelings and not facts and the minutiae of experience or circumstance.
On to our final full day and warm up writing exercises before the eagerly awaited master class with Joelle. We’d had pieces preformed to music, been gobsmacked by the bravery and courage taken by Chris in his vocal expression of feeling to the group and the laughter and tears had continued whilst sharing our insights, reflections and experiences through our creative pieces, and whilst developing our writing. Despite the fact that by this point Rosie had to leave us her ‘All writing is rewriting’ was a phrase that was never too far from our ears, like recounting the words of a much favoured teacher; a comforting reminder that nothing we do is complete rubbish as we always have the opportunity to make edits, improvements and redefine the ‘dodgy’ bits; just as we do with ourselves on our own journeys…mistake, modify, master.
So after a full morning and the first Sunday roast of the day, we had the incredible opportunity not only to hear but feel the incredible force and awesomeness of Joelle Taylor slam poet extraordinaire and genuinely ‘sick as fuck’ human. Joelle shared some great tips and techniques for using imagery, metaphor and visualisation in our writing; with our visualisation being Ian delivering his second horizontal soliloquy. There were individuals in the group who had expressed they could not write and then delivered a deep, meaningful, heartfelt piece of incredibly personal writing. Again the workshop developed its own energy as it was very clear that it was a safe creative environment where things could be said without question, we were all together in supporting each other; with Joelle becoming embraced by the group immediately as the threads of familiarity were woven through all of our truths. Joelle who between sharing her wisdom throughout a fantastic master class, stunned the entire room with her raw, emotive, evocative, powerful truth. Soon time for the second roast of the day and with everyone feeling like they have never eaten so much in their lives we de-camped to the pub; does anyone else get the impression that Amanda is a bit of a feeder…
After food and a little fruit infused lubrication we were back in the room for an absolutely stunning performance from the wonderful Joelle, her words reverberating and resonating throughout the room. All sat in complete awe of how she had commanded control of the power of language in tackling the complexity, horror and injustice of lived experience; developing a war cry, a call to arms against the abusive forces that have had significance in our histories. Joelle delivered powerful words reflecting loss of self and others, of adversity, of harnessing the strength of rage, injustice and experience through poetry and spoken word; speaking our truths out loud and un-ashamed. My words cannot do her words justice, it is a case of having to not only hear them but feel them to understand their significance and power; I’d urge anyone to witness this incredible woman in action. I only needed to take a glance around the room to see the impact that feeling those words had for all present. The intensity and passion with which the pieces were delivered is telling of the personal emotion and raw, honest feeling behind them. It was an absolute privilege to witness. And with the power of Joelle’s words resounding through our beings it brought about a certain unquestioning confidence that we can share our truth however the fuck we like, we don’t need permission from anyone; because it’s ours.
So to our final day with Dr George, A.K.A Picasso and a self care session as a big hug to wrap up the weekend. We had experienced laughter, honesty, raw emotions, hugs, tears, truths, full tummies, signing from both Dave and Chris, interpretative dance from Mel and Taz, powerful spoken word and poetry from all, poetry delivered from the floor…Ian again on the floor!! There was conversation, connection and an abundance of tissues, talent and tremendous creativity. We heard the power in the voices of our new tribe members Angie, Davie, Nickie, Katrina, Ian, Jane, Jackie and Jamie and we learnt more about each other and the power of our feelings in self expression through the arts. The room was noticeably emptier now as Rosie, Ian and Katrina were no longer with us, and conversation drifted in the direction of the event coming to a close.
When you go from spending the best part of your life feeling isolated, rejected, lost, misunderstood and always on the periphery, to feeling like you have found your people, it is an overwhelmingly liberating feeling. Knowing that you are not the only one who thinks and feels a certain way and that there are people like you out there that get it…it brings about a sense of unity and connection. Knowing that it is possible that you will no longer be on your own in the world, this is the power of genuine authentic relationships, relationships where there is a feeling of belonging, that you can find the missing pieces of the puzzle, that there are people who can relate to you unquestioningly because you have at some point in your journey felt the same hurts, lived the same pain, anger and disappointment; knowing those shared feelings from lived experience and being willing to hold space for others and support them through. So with a commitment to keeping the network alive and being the difference for each other, the event was bought to a close until next year. However, each person leaving knowing that over this very short but significant time they had each become more than they were before they came…not just facts…but feelings; finding home in ourselves and others.
First published in Career Matters June 2019 / Issue 7.3
Autoethnography – a form of self-reflection and writing that explores the researcher’s personal experiences and connects this autobiographical story to a wider cultural, political, social meaning and understanding.
“There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.”
It’s been 25 years this July since I was officially ‘relinquished’ from care. I didn’t ‘leave’, it wasn’t a choice, but I have always striven to make a difference despite the issues that predisposed my life as a care leaver.
The lived experience
Now writing as a care-experienced academic/researcher, I want to write my story from the inside; to inform, make an impact, change perception and contribute to research policy legislation and guidance practice. I also want to raise awareness of the complexities and barriers faced by career development professionals working with this group. Writing from my own personal experience and perspective is known as the ‘lived experience’.
When I started my MA on ‘The sociological and psychological barriers to care leavers in career guidance’, I wanted to encapsulate and consolidate my employment background and gain a qualification that reflected this professionally. This followed years of short-term contracts in welfare to work and advisory capacities, redundancies, private renting moves and single parent responsibilities. Having suffered a mental breakdown in 2015 and a diagnosis of ‘complex post-traumatic stress disorder’ CPTSD) in 2018, this qualification enabled me to have a focus in my recovery. My MA dissertation now forms a cathartic facet in which I am able to articulate the sociological and psychological barriers that have affected my life and career history.
I was born in the West Midlands, the youngest of five siblings. I was fostered 13 times before I was adopted at 18 months old. My adoptive mother passed away when I was 11 and I was then returned to care age 14 as a result of a broken down placement. My transition to adulthood and independence did not include career guidance. Having passed four GCSEs with a disrupted year and change of schools, my first role was on YTS as a travel agent. My foster placement ended within that time,
and I was placed in supported lodgings, and then into independent living. I attended college until I was 19 whilst working part-time in retail and catering. I found it difficult to mix with my peer group at college as they all went home to their families. I went home to a flat and felt isolated so this affected my attendance. I moved to Birmingham at 19 working as a residential support worker at a children’s home, had my daughter at 22 and returned to work when she was 18 months. She is now 20 with a career in property management and lives away from home.
Our children, their future
In September 2000 I delivered a speech at a fringe event at the Labour Party Conference; ‘Our children, their future’. I delivered my manifesto as a young person supported by a Barnardo’s project. The statistics for care leavers I quoted were that they were:
50 times more likely to go to prison
60 times more likely to experience homelessness
88 times more likely to abuse drugs.
In my speech I highlighted the need for basic support resources for issues such as mental health, poverty, and housing, isolation from peers, securing childcare, networks, guidance and information. All of this was drawn from my own experiences. I do not feel that my voice had been heard nor my contribution valued. At the time these statistics made me determined to prove people wrong. The most recent figures provided by DfE (2014):
In 2010 25% of those who were homeless had been care at some point in their lives
In 2008 49% of young men under the age of 21 who had met with the criminal justice system had care experience
Only 6% of care leavers are in higher education.
These are not inclusive of mortality rates, mental health issues, benefit sanctions and the day-to-day challenges faced by young people currently leaving the care system. There are far too many negative statistics, outcomes and there are 1000s of care-experienced professionals who defy these as I do.
I attended the Care-Experienced Conference in Liverpool in April 2019. This was the first of its kind for care-experienced professionals to meet and network. Care-experienced professionals in every profession trade and occupation you could name were represented. The age range was from 17-65 and proved that the decades of negative statistics, did not speak for the successful achievements of care-experienced adults including myself. This event has also motivated me to complete my MA and continue further to PhD study in the future.
I want to represent a positive statistic and contribute to wider research for care leavers. When I began to investigate the data from 20 years ago, there was little or none to represent the careers of care leavers, yet I have discovered care-experienced academics from UK and international universities. Since I attended this event, I have become part of this huge community and network. I have always helped others, fought for others, striven for better quality services and treatment of others,
advocated for others, motivated others, inspired others, and used my negative experiences into positive realities with myself as evidence in my roles. When it was suggested that I use autoethnography as a methodology, it became an ideal opportunity to write my ‘lived’ experiences into my research.
As a qualified careers guidance practitioner, I am able to use my experiences to relate to and motivate others and have a positive enthusiasm for the careers and futures of those I work with. Young people are motivated by role models, people who defy odds against adversity, real life experiences, and I am a good example of this. I enjoy identifying the potential in every person I interview, showing people how to turn disadvantage into opportunity, and I make a difference. Despite everything
I have encountered in my life, I am still determined to make a positive difference to the lives of others. I have never been ashamed of my background or my upbringing. I am learning to be proud of the obstacles I have overcome, I am not defined by statistics, I refuse to be stigmatised or stereotyped. For me this qualification is a continuing journey of self-recognition, development and learning.
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/
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.
Your Life Your Story
Posted on October 27, 2017 by Rosie Canning
Home! Hiraeth! A fantastic few days running Your Life Your Story as part of National Care Leavers Week 2017. A trauma informed writing workshop with Lisa Cherry and organised by Amanda Knowles, Trustee and Director of The Consortium for Therapeutic Communities and Richard Rollinson, The Barns Centre Executive Director, in Toddington.
We had 14 care-experienced adults with an age range from 18-59. They were described as: “…extraordinary, and courageous people”. They were this and much more. Inspiring and inspirational. Warm and funny. Resilient. Beautiful human beings giving to the world and living truly exceptional lives.
It was a strange feeling running a workshop for care experienced individuals in a building that was once a children’s home. This was our Hiraeth, we had come home and the air was filled with expectation.
Writing our personal stories is the most vulnerable kind of writing we can do. We fear being laughed at, rejected, or that our words will be met with silence. And in turn, we ourselves remain silent.
There are a lot of care-experienced people who want to share their stories, for all sorts of reasons. Personal, therapeutic, for family, for history and publication.
When I started the PhD, looking at the representation of care leavers in fiction, there was very little published about care leavers, but over the last few years there has been an explosion of new stories, new voices, often finally being heard after years of being invisible.
Some of the books I used or referenced in no particular order, included:
My Name is Leon by Kit de Waal
Island by Jane Rogers
The Panoptican by Jenni Fagan
All the Good Things by Clare Fisher
When God was a Rabbit by Sarah Winman
The Seven Sister by Alex Wheatle
Lost for Words by Stephanie Butland
Plot 29 by Allan Jenkins
The Looked After Kid by Paolo Hewitt
Fifty-One Moves by Ben Ashcroft
Non-fiction or Informational Text:
The Brightness of Stars by Lisa Cherry
Books about writing:
Why Be Happy When You Could Be Normal by Jeanette Winterson
Bird By Bird by Anne Lamott
A Novel in a Year by Doughty, Louise
We tell bits of our story in order to have relationships. It would be difficult to have relationships and friendships without having some version of a life story floating around. The act of telling our story acts as a framing method or even a re-framing of previous life experience. YLYS
I’m interested in re-framing, whether that is fictional, autobiographical, memoir, or nonfictional. It gives a semblance of making sense of the chaos left behind. Stories are life, life is stories.
A life story is written in pencil, not ink and can be rubbed out and changed. You’re both the narrator and the main character of your story.
It’s also important to realize that you’re not just living out your story, you’re actually in charge of it. Even if it is a terrible story, which is hard to share; the act of sharing, writing and rewriting gives a new realisation and possible resolution. That awful sense of being unable to change what went before can suddenly be lifted. For example, a simple act of changing point of view, can suddenly release a narrator and give them a distance and freedom to write their story.
We can take control of our narratives – our stories, by how they are told, what’s included, what’s left out. We can change the ‘single story’, the single narrative. And the truly exciting thing about this is that you can put out a new version of yourself and live your way into it.
A young man who didn’t want to hold a pen, let alone write his story, transformed into a confident person who stood up and read out his writing.
Watching people change their ‘I’ into ‘he’ or ‘she’, third person narratives and finding their voices and freedom from their pasts.
Hearing a woman and mother, give herself the words that meant she finally found the words to write about her inability to honour her mother’s tragic death.
Seeing a man who could only doodle his thoughts and feelings suddenly break through and not only put together sentences, but paragraphs, chapters and is now half way through a novel.
#NCLW2017 Your Life Your Story. The story starts now and is written in chalk not ink. Changing the narrative.