One of the more curious aspects of ‘child care’ by the State, a state of being lauded by those on the left wing, is the utter abruptness with which you become an adult.
In normal life, by which I am old fashioned enough to mean a life in which you are brought up by both your Mother and the very same man who fathered you, admittedly a near forgotten concept today, adulthood is a gradual process; a process subject to many discussions, arguments even, an ongoing process.
An entire forest has been consumed writing about the way in which ‘children’ morph into ‘adults’ aided, abetted and sometimes comprehensively derailed by parents. We agonise over a generation ‘still living at home at 25′; the soap opera genre fills endless hours with the ‘you’re not going out in that’ – ‘I’m seventeen Dad, it’s my life’ conversation. Memoirs wail over lost opportunities ‘I had to stay and look after Mother’; jobs lost because ‘Australia was too far away’. Biographies detail the sexual inclinations kept hidden until parents were safely six foot under; career paths thrown overboard in the 30s when Father was no longer around to whine piteously that the son who should have been a lawyer was growing his hair and surfing on Bondi Beach.
It is a world entirely unknown to those who have been in care. ‘In care’ means that the day you are 16, the State washes its hands of you. Utterly, totally, completely. Not only washes its hands of you, but has rules and regulations in place to ensure that you do not keep up any of the tenuous connections you might have formed with your temporary – shall we call them ‘Statents’?
Nobody will comment on what you wear at 17. There is no Sunday lunch bubbling on the stove that you can drag an unwilling boyfriend to, in order that his flaws can be exposed under the unrelenting familial gaze. No occasional ‘hand-out’ with a harrumph from the bank of Dad. You can’t join in with the communal moan as friends complain that they could be having fun at Christmas, but they ‘have to go home’. No one to blame but yourself for job opportunities lost. Your sexuality is entirely free to go in whatever direction it choses. You can’t blame your Mother for ‘making me homosexual’.
Personally I looked on these ‘handicaps’ as a huge advantage in life – but that is my personality. I prefer to focus on the positive – that doesn’t mean that I have forgotten the sheer terror of waking up in a small ground floor room in Brixton and realising that from now on, I was unremittingly my own responsibility. I was 16. I had – I remember it only too well – a pair of jeans, a polo neck jumper, a pair of black walking shoes, a bright green skirt ‘with braces’ (yeah, well, there was no one to form my fashion sense either!) all bought for me after much deliberation by Miss Grey in Staines. It had taken me half a day to figure out how far I could make the £20 go…it included a length of fabric from which I made myself a ghastly turquoise and yellow mini dress. Really the only possession I have that dates before June 1st 1966 is a photograph of me in that bloody dress outside that little room in Brixton. That and a cigarette case that belonged to Ginny – I still have it if you are reading this Ginny!
‘Adulthood’ occurs overnight if you are in care. It is not just a birthday. It is a statement of fact. If you want someone to remember your birthday next year – you had better start making friends fast. If you want to eat, you’d better start learning to cook – fast. It is the deep end of the swimming pool of life, in the freezing mid winter. Some people never do make it to the surface.
One such person was ‘Suzi’ who appears in the Rochdale Borough Safeguarding Children report. Suzi was one of the girls abused in Rochdale. Groomed. By grooming, they seem to mean that Suzi had learnt that sex was a useful currency to obtain food – and drink. Rather too much drink in Suzi’s case. And drugs. Probably clothes too, because we all need them. And eventually, a baby.
The ‘Social’ stayed in touch with Suzi. Surprised? Didn’t I say they let go completely at 16? I did, but if you are surprised, you skipped over a sentence. There was a child involved. The baby. Suzi might be an adult, expected to figure out life for herself, but there was a bawling, squalling, real life child for the child protection team to tick boxes over and hold meetings about. The box they ticked was ‘at risk‘. That was their job description: dealing with children ‘at risk’. So they warned Suzi that they might have to take the baby away from her, if she didn’t ‘grow up’ overnight.
Suzi told two separate agencies that she was being sexually abused when she was 15. Frequently. Nobody took her seriously. It was a lifestyle choice. The Police did make enquiries with the fast food outlet that she alleged was part of a ring abusing her – that led to repercussions from the less than impressed adults who were abusing her. Suzi drank more than ever, and took to self harming. A waste of time because no one cared that she was slashing herself – but they did care that she might be neglecting her baby. They were worried about all those male visitors to the house…
Child protection processes were instigated in respect of the baby. Such a cold phrase.
Today, we have yet another report. It purports to detail what went wrong with Suzi and her young friends. It is careful to give a right to reply to anyone it even mildly chastises. It is full of platitudes. Lessons will be learnt. Investigations identified 12 members of staff, including social workers and senior managers, whose conduct was culpable. Five have already left the authority – to work in the same job in another authority? We are not told. Seven await their fate. It will be mild, we can be sure of that.
We have endless column inches consuming more dead trees than Sir Alex Ferguson’s retirement but with scarcely concealed racism, dancing around the fact that eight of the nine offenders were of Pakistani origin. It locks into the Colonial myth of dark foreigners abusing our white girls. It suits the political agenda of the moment regarding immigration. It gives everyone a chance to say what they really think of the Pakistani’s.
We have more column inches devoted to the question of the future employment of the various heads of department. ‘Heads should roll’ cry the British public.
South Yorkshire Police are throwing £500,000 into a pot to pay for an analyst to work across the force ‘understanding’ the exploitation issue. A crown prosecutor dedicated to child sex cases in the force area, whose diary will be controlled by officers to prioritise the most urgent cases. Terrific, we can expect more prosecutions in cases like this. Sadly we will only get ‘more prosecutions’ if more young girls are hauled through the courts to describe in graphic detail exactly how the nasty man forced his penis on her.
What we DON’T have, what nobody is even suggesting, not even tentatively, is that we have a programme to make sure that the horse doesn’t feel the need to bolt from the stable.
A family isn’t just a place where you have a roof over your head and one or two meals a day. It is not a technical statement of fact. It is a support network that you throw off gradually, as you feel competent to do so. It is the one door in the entire nation that you can knock on, unexpectedly, on Christmas Day; and for all the rows, the arguments, the bitterness, have that door opened by someone with a look of delight on their face – not a ‘Good God, what are you doing here’.
Until such time as State care recognises that people need that anchor, that one door they can always turn to; that they don’t grow up overnight just because it’s September the 27th, or April the 14th, then girls like Suzi will find themselves someone, anyone, who will pay attention to them when they are feeling low and scared, and since they start their adult life with sod all except their bodies, then they will trade those bodies.
Prosecuting the offenders, hounding every Pakistani taxi driver out of the country who might be involved:
The report notes that some progress has been made in removing the operational licences of taxi drivers and fast-food outlets that have come under suspicion. An off-licence was also closed.
Rolling heads from one authority to another:
Ms Eastwood was allowed to take early retirement in July last year and Mr Garner resigned three months later.
Is only so much sticking plaster to appease the knee jerk public. Girls like Suzi will still be kicked out of care at 16 with no one to turn to.
I’d be more impressed if that half million had been put into a fund to send them a birthday card every year, phone them up once a month and check they are wearing their vest, tell them they’ve got too thin and moan about the washing they’ve brought with them…
That’s what they really need. If we’ve got the money to fund Ms Eastwood’s early retirement, or pay for an analyst to figure out why the taxi drivers weren’t prosecuted, then we had the money to do that…
I’ve just heard from Barnardos for the second time in 49 years, they’ve sent me a tick box questionnaire wanting to know whether ‘the service met my expectation’ and if ‘my cultural and ethnic backgrounds were respected by staff’. They’ve given me two lines to fill in ‘what would have improved your experience’. I couldn’t fit this blog post into two lines so I’ve torn the questionnaire up.