In the run-up to Care Day, islanders have shared their experiences of living in care and their thoughts on how to improve the system for all.
We will be sharing one of those stories. Here is the first…
When my child was born, there were many things that surprised me, some things I imagine were the same for most new parents but having been in care from a young age, it made me reflect on my own childhood experiences in a different light.
As a new parent, I had many questions – What was I like as a baby? Did I cry a lot? Did I sleep through the night? Was I a fussy eater? – but I had no family, relatives or family friends I could ask. It also made me wonder which of my personality traits I had inherited and which ones are due to my experiences and upbringing.
I suspect it is a mixture of all of these things but with no written journal of my early childhood years and only one photo album (which raises more questions than answers) I will always be wondering.
However, the profound effect of being suddenly removed from my family and then moving between different families over 10 times in a year is what I have thought about the most and the impact it had on my sense of belonging, being loved, feeling safe and secure. I look at my child and cannot imagine how traumatic it would be for us to be separated and for them to be moved from pillar to post with no real understanding or explanation of why.
I remember trying to talk to a social worker about things that were happening to me which I believed to be wrong but I was told not to make up stories, that I was a liar and that no one would believe me, a message that was passed on to the next foster family. I felt I was never given a voice and was too scared to say or do anything bad in case I was moved to another family.
It may sound silly now but I was worried that my child might not love me or worse that I might not love them. Maybe these are concerns that others without my childhood experiences have too but I had a deep rooted sense that there was something wrong with me having been rejected by my own birth family and other families.
Whilst I know I was very lucky to end up with wonderful foster parents, there are things that I did not vocalise until I had my child in my late thirties. I had learnt to keep certain memories and emotions deeply buried, putting on a brave face, appearing strong, confident and self-assured.
When I tell people that I grew up in care, many say to me – “wow and you are so together”. Yes I have learnt to cope and deal with what happened to me and create my own family, including friends who I trust and respect but it will always be there with me and I know it has affected what I have done and the choices I have made growing up and as an adult.
My experiences are part of who I am and I have found support in my adult life through various means, counsellors, trusted confidants, others who have had similar experiences and an amazing and understanding partner.
However, reflecting on the impacts of being placed in care and with research showing that placement breakdowns can have a detrimental impact on a child’s emotional wellbeing and mental health, I believe that every looked after child should have easy and unfettered access to mental health support and professionals aside from their social workers, government agencies and foster families.
This support should be available to them as and when they need it, including beyond leaving care and for the different stages in their lives, maybe throughout their whole life.
Whenever I look back, said night
Looking back is okay, said light
But don’t stare
My name is Why, Lemn Sissa
*This article first appeared on Bailiwick Express.