Apparently I’m known as ‘Lac’, was ‘CIN’ and then ‘CP’. There’s many different ways that people try defining me.
They say I could be challenging ‘cos often I’d “kick-off” But you don’t feel the pain I feel or know how much I’ve lost.
My life’s a rollercoaster and that’s how it’s always been, you’d never understand the loss and sadness that I’ve seen.
Yes my mum enjoyed a smoke, she also liked her booze, but I say “how dare all of you for asking her to choose!”
I know now that I’m older she had stuff to deal with too, She needed help to keep us but instead you let her loose.
Dad left when she was pregnant; I don’t even know his name, Then Mike arrived and from that day things never were the same.
My mum was beaten black and blue; she said the drink would help. It blocked out just a little pain; she tried to save herself.
No-one even noticed ‘till the day I crossed his path, I went to school with blackened eyes – you saw the aftermath.
Then all at once, a broken heart when intervention came, our family was torn apart and I was left with shame.
My name was changed to ‘CIN’ and then it soon became ‘CP’. Apparently my mum was “not prioritizing” me?
They said she had to leave him, stop all contact right away, But never did they know the evil things that he would say.
Mum felt that she was doing right; to deal with it alone, As he said he’d kill us all the day she kicked him out our home.
But then one day I lost it all; my home, my name, my life, I changed to ‘LAC’, no going back, the pain cut like a knife.
A black bag of belongings, that was all that I could take, Never in my years had I imagined this was fate.
I wonder if you’ve ever lost your family, your home, had to live with total strangers, left to deal with it alone.
Of course they just expect that you will settle right away, You’ll be polite, you’ll sleep at night and go to school each day!
Well I’d love to see you do that and pretend it’s all alright, I have to say, I coped my way; I’d cry, I’d scream, I’d fight!
When I ran away, or punched a wall, or broke a thing or two, Never once did someone ask me ‘why d’yo do the things you do’?
Of course I got expelled a lot (“too challenging to teach”) I’m sure that people felt success was not within my reach.
When other children bullied me, I smacked them – that is true! But when you live with violence then it’s what you learn to do.
If only they had questioned why I fought – (it wasn’t pride!) It’s ‘cos every single bully triggered memories inside.
But seven placements later, and I feel I am ok. It’s still not always easy but I make it through the day.
I haven’t mentioned yet that I was not an only child, On my long line list of losses was my baby brother Miles.
Apparently no carer would accept to take us both, So he’s somewhere in the country and that loss, it hurts the most!
But I want to give the message that I do deserve respect, I may have made mistakes at times when life was such a mess.
So help me be the person that I know I can become, My future’s not defined by my mistakes, or by my mum.
I am not just a ‘LAC’ child, or a ‘Care Leaver’ to be, I have a name, a history, I have a family.
I’ve made it through the trauma, and I’m never going back, So I ask you now to tell me please, what is it that I ‘LAC’?
Consultant Social Worker and owner of A Way With Words poetry (inspired by Children in Care and Care Leavers) January 2019
I was placed into foster care when I was two-years-old because my mum suffered with poor mental health and severe depression. My mum had been a victim of domestic violence from my father, which led to her having a mental breakdown. An incident led to intervention; my father was deported to Pakistan, my mother was hospitalised, and I was placed into the care of the local authority.
My mum has several siblings. Some of them were estranged and others had their own mental health issues so I couldn’t live with them. My grandfather was in his 70’s. He is a retired pensioner and is separated from my grandmother (who also suffered from depression), meaning there was no extended family to take me in.
Due to the ups and downs with my mum’s illness, I kept being returned to her and then returning back to foster care between the ages of two and fourteen. As I’m sure you can imagine, this was very unsettling. As a young child it was a lot for me to process. It was often overwhelming and it was always distressing to experience another move back into foster care. Inevitably I did everything I could to prevent returning to foster care, whether that was by trying to support my mum with her health, trying to prevent my social worker from finding out that my mum had a relapse, or when I was older I would try to evade my social worker altogether. I recall walking to school on my own as a young child, hoping that the teachers would not find out that my mum was too unwell to bring me in. They always figured it out though, and it would mean a visit from my social worker by the end of the day, leading to yet another move to a new foster home.
My earliest memory is when I was very young and the social worker came to collect me. I remember packing a backpack and waiting in the hallway, knowing that I was about to be moved again. It is a defining memory from my childhood and I expect it has formed a core aspect of my identity. This was consolidated by a childhood of instability and uncertainty, moving to countless foster homes. Another vivid memory was a time when my mum became very unwell, put a knife to my neck, took me onto the street and shouted out that she would kill me. Thankfully our neighbours intervened and again I was placed back into foster care. I understand that this only happened because my mum was so unwell and I don’t hold any resentment towards her at all – in fact I think she knew deep down that she didn’t want to hurt me, hence she went onto the street and shouted out for help. As an adult I also reflect on the gaps in mental health services and how far some people have to go in order to get the support that they need.
I had regular contact with my mum when I was in foster placements and I hold on to very fond memories of contact. I remember that my mum would overcompensate for her absence in my life and she would buy me the latest Gameboy, PlayStation games and pretty much anything else I asked for. My mum had two sides two her personality – a great big heart, funny, confident and so loving, but then when she was not well she could become the opposite. This is something I’ve had to learn to live with, but this has never decreased my love and support for her as a mother and I respect her journey and all the effort she has made to be the best she can be and to give me the best she has to offer.
Due to the constant changing of foster homes it becomes quite blurry how many different homes I have lived in. All I know is that until around age fourteen nothing was stable and I was in constant fear of being picked up and moved again – either back to my mum’s home, or back into foster care.
I know there were good foster homes and there are some good memories, like birthday parties at the foster homes and at mum’s home. However, I recall more bad memories than good. For example, in one placement the birth children would be given better presents than me, the foster parents wouldn’t support me when I missed my mum, and it was clear to me that they didn’t value me like they valued their own children. In another placement I was bullied by the children and I remember hoping that my social worker would speak to the family about it, but they never did and the bullying continued.
At around age eleven I was placed with a strict Christian African Caribbean family, who would take me to church with them on Sunday. Overall it was a good placement and I would say I was settled, but I was spending time with friends who were not a good influence on me. I would always get into trouble and miss curfew. I eventually started to abscond, running away to live with friends and missing school for nearly seven months, which led to an appeal to search for me on the news. During this time I would meet mum randomly, but on one occasion I told her in advance and she contacted the social workers. As I arrived to meet her at her home the social workers were there with the police and they escorted me to my new foster home. This was the shortest but grandest placement. It was a posh area and the foster carer was a white single mother. I arrived around 6pm, had dinner, went shopping for new clothes and then by midnight I had sneaked out the window, jumped off the roof and got some friends to pick me up, leaving an apologetic note to the carer.
After a while I was found again and placed into a semi-secure unit in Buxton. The staff there had more control and our shoes were taken from us to prevent us from absconding. Although I did try once and I walked for two hours across a field – with no shoes – only to be picked up by the staff who were waiting in the car for me!!! These times were good as we had a sense of routine and loyalty to each other, however, I was placed with some very disruptive children. There was one girl who self-harmed and would cut herself so deep to the vein that blood would pour like flowing water into the rooms. I remember one occasion when staff couldn’t remove glass from her (due to health and safety), so I casually walked around them and took the glass off her, thereby stopping her from bleeding to death. Since the unit was secure I had to be educated in-house, which meant there was no education as we never got past a few minutes before one of the kids would kick off and become disruptive. It was manic at times, but take-out night and supervised bowling and pool were the highlights of my time there.
Eventually I was moved on to a children’s home. These were the more fun times where I really built bonds with other kids and staff who became like family to me. I went back to school and my teachers allowed me to stay in the top sets as I was gifted and talented, meaning that despite everything I was still achieving high grades. However, at the care home my behaviour was poor. I snuck out of windows, copied the staff keys, hid my friend in the house, set off a food fight, and the list goes on. That said, I had structure here. We had weekly meetings about our behaviour, education, cooking etc, which was all rewarded with money. This, of course, motivated all the children. We had a one-to-one staff member who was our key worker. They would look out for us and I can honestly say I had the best out the bunch. He understood me and advocated for me, so I felt comfortable speaking to him about my plans for the future and how I could improve myself.
As I turned eighteen I was ready to leave care and go into a supported lodgings placement, where I would pay rent but learn the skills I needed to live alone. This carer took me to China, taught me how to cook and it was here that I benefited from having a stable woman role model in my life. The relationships I built have lasted and I class them as my family and visit often, especially on special occasions. Unfortunately, this placement broke down due to my poor choice in friends who caused a few issues, but even then we left on good terms. I then went to a hostel before successfully enrolling into university to complete a Law and Psychology degree and lived in dorms.