Friday, 26 June 2015

Ella's wedding

Ella here, it’s my turn to write this week. I thought I would write about my wedding. Things like weddings can be hard for foster kids and similar people. I was in touch with my birth parents at this time but they had zero interest in my affairs. They didn’t want to attend but Eve made them. Their money contribution to the wedding was a whole £50.
I married Mark at the old Town Hall and the reception was 30 seconds down the road in a pub. After the reception we went on honeymoon (Eve’s present to us). We drove up to Scotland in our old car.
My honeymoon was,
My first time in Scotland
My first time staying in a hotel
My first time swimming in the sea
My first time seeing a Sea Eagle
My first time eating porridge – horrid beyond belief
My first time having a four course meal
My first time trying to play the bagpipes
It makes me a bit jealous when I see the expensive weddings that normal people seem to have. It was also sad that in all the photos with my Birth Parents on my Dad looks bored and cross.
Just after the wedding Eve wrote this in our blog -
“Ella didn't get married in a church but she looked so lovely that my eyes developed a rather mysterious leak. I managed to get her BM and BF to attend although in his case I had to get rather assertive to make certain he was on his best behaviour. I don't think the other guests realised that they have hardly spoken (as in about three times) since Ella was in year 10 at school. It was a small affair but (almost) everybody present knew and loved Ella and that is all that mattered to her.”

Friday, 19 June 2015

Timing out of Care - our experiences

I think the social worker who had the prime responsibility for Ella and I when we left the Children’s Home didn’t like us. Perhaps not openly, but certainly in practice. In the time leading up to us leaving we had been promised a two bedroom flat in a block quite close to the Children’s Home and about a 20 minute walk from the school where we had just started year 13. But neither promise was kept. We ended up in separate flats about 100 yards apart and about a 40 minute walk from the school. We were told the decision had been made and that we hadn’t any more say in the matter. Luckily when we were taken down to our new homes we quite liked them. I could see Ella’s window from mine and it became a regular game for me to give her three rings on my mobile phone to get her attention and then to wave across at her. We used to take it in turns to cook and after tea we used to do our homework sitting at the table and then watch a bit of TV. Then the “visitor” would go back to their own home.
I still cannot drive down the road where the two flats were without remembering those days that now seem so long ago. 
It sounds like we were having a good time and I suppose we were but all the time money was a problem. So was our lack of experience in running a home, our loneliness and my uncertainties about what I wanted to do next. I could not have coped even in these early days without Ella and I am convinced that something quite major must have gone wrong with our agreed support packages. My feeling is that it hardly seemed to exist. Visits from Social Workers, if they happened at all, were very short and with a lot of looking at watches as if they always had somewhere more important to be.
 I don’t understand how any 18 year old could REALLY be expected to run a house, do A2 level course work and have any sort of quality of life with so little support.
I think the main things I would say about this time in my life are:
  1. Promises made to young people before and leaving care should be kept. Otherwise don’t make them.
  2. Explaining my life history again and again to each new social worker was boring, upsetting and a waste of time. At least twice I never even saw the person again.
  3. Don’t expect many care leavers to have a close friend to help them. Ella and I were so lucky to have each other but did Social Services know or care?
  4.  In almost every case discretionary means no.
  5. Be ambitious for yourself and for those you love. You only get one shot at the 16-21 period of your life and if you just drink, smoke and hang around in the town centre causing low level disruption you will live to regret it!
I will always remember how I was mercilessly flamed on at least two separate occasions for writing about this time of my life. I had posted it to a forum that I now choose not to give the “oxygen of publicity”. Some of the readers were social workers themselves and as far as they were concerned they were pretty close to perfect. So if anything went wrong it was either due to Government policy or due to the clients themselves.

Friday, 12 June 2015

So-called "experts" who live in a bubble

About six months ago I noticed a small item in a newsletter produced by the Local Authority that mentioned the establishment of a Working Party tasked to report on past, present and future Children's Home provision. An email address was provided so Ella and I wrote a short note asking about the membership of the group.

We didn't get any reply and we didn't think much more about it until we noticed our elected representative had written a piece in the local newspaper about the need for "accountability and transparency" in Council affairs. So we emailed him and he provided us with a list of the members and their background.

There were senior social workers, a local GP, a person with a background in mental health, a Deputy Head of a local school and a former manager of a Children's Home.

What there didn't seem to be was anybody who had been user of the service and this was, as far as Ella and I could see it, a serious gap. So we wrote a letter to the Chairperson of the Working Party. It wasn't a long letter (busy people don't seem to read long letters), it wasn't a rude letter either but it did ask about the gap.

We were pleased and surprised when he phoned us one evening. We were not pleased or surprised at what he had to say!

It had clearly never crossed his mind that the users of a system might have some useful observations about how well the system operates. He mentioned - while boasting about how busy and important he was - that he travels to London by train once a week. He said that it was "right and proper" that rail users should have a "loud voice" in any debate but couldn't or wouldn't see why that should also apply to his Working Party of Children's Home provision.

He had a whole list of reasons why our suggestions to make the group more useful were "impractical".
  1. Either of us being present at meetings "would inhibit the free flow of ideas".
  2. The members of the group are all busy professional people who are "mindful" of the "relevant financial constraints".
  3. His is a "high powered" group and we would find attending a group meeting "too stressful"
It all came down the fact that he didn't want to hear any opinion that differed from his own.

Thursday, 4 June 2015

Rest in Peace Maddie (1997-2015)

Eve here - today I would like to write about Maddie Heath.

She's dead and I'm going to miss her so much. She was only 18 when she died although perhaps "died" isn't quite the correct word to use. You see Maddie wasn't ever really alive because she was a character in the long-running programme "Coronation Street".

Maddie was so like me and so like many of my friends (especially Nicola, RIP) that it was quite spooky watching her. Maddie had loads of emotional baggage - her younger brother was in foster care, her Mother had mental health problems and Maddie herself had been living rough for several years when she was first introduced to the viewers in December 2013.

Maddie was a feisty girl - a survivor - a lesbian - and somebody who found sadness much easier to cope with than happiness. Without thinking too hard I could list a dozen of my friends who would share at least 3 if not all 4 of these character traits.

When you have nobody on your side, when society at large doesn't care about you, when family life is just something that happens for other people you have to make your own way. If you don't you sink.

Maddie was a supreme example of what I call "Care Home Kids" and it is a beep beep shame that she has been written out of the series.