CYC-Online 3 APRIL 1999 / BACK
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voices of youth

Alone and far from home: in the care system

Alex Saddington

I was fourteen when I first came into care. I had been on the run for about three months. In my earlier school years I had many difficulties. I had to have special help because of a speech and hearing problem. I was in and out of hospital a lot at this time and so missed quite a few days at infant and primary school. In the 3rd year they moved me out of school because of my behaviour. I started to muck around in class. This was because home life was unbearable: there were always rows between my mother and stepfather. He would keep hitting me and my Mum till I couldn't take it any more.

When I was about 10, I was sent to my first special school, the first of six I was to attend in addition to two secondary schools. No-one really explained things to me and I was very bored there. I suffered a severe overdose of painting and drawing. That seemed about all we were given to do for the next two years. Because we had no interests to occupy our time, we ran wild. But instead of seeing that the school routine itself was actually making things worse, the staff put the blame on us. I got labelled 'maladjusted'. I was sent off to my first residential school (they are called EBD schools now for 'emotionally or behaviourally disturbed' children) .

I ended up at a school 200 miles away from my home. I was relieved to be away from my stepfather, but I hated it because it was so far away. I could go home only for main holidays and it was too far for any of the family to visit me. I could never go out alone, my incoming and outgoing letters were opened and read, phone calls were listened to and there was no freedom or privacy at all “it was like an open prison. No-one from outside ever came to visit me or ask how I was getting on.

Shunted around
I went on to a further two schools like this one. The worst thing of all was being shunted around. No sooner had I begun to settle than I was uprooted and moved. I don't know why. Each time I had to leave my friends and in the end I never made any friends because I knew I'd be moving in the near future. The loneliness made me feel that nobody cared: I was out of sight, out of mind.

When I was 14 they decided residential school was not the answer. My problems really stemmed from home, so the Education Department was no longer willing to see it purely as an education problem and after four years sent me back home for the Social Services Department to have a go. I knew it wouldn't work out at home and it didn't. The problems were just as bad, if not worse, than when I left because my family had grown apart from me and I from them in the years I'd been away.

I went on the run. My Mum put me in voluntary care. I agreed because I saw it as the only means of getting away from my stepfather. First I went to stay with foster parents, then I moved to a children's home. There was a rule that you were taken to school in a yellow mini-bus with 'Social Services' written in large letters on the side. Any young person in care knows how that makes you feel and how degrading it is. Then I was moved back to the foster parents and they decided the school was too far away for me to travel there every day. They put me in a special school for the physically disabled, even though there was nothing wrong with me.

Obviously it wasn't right, so they moved me to a special school for 'maladjusted' kids. It was a joke. All we did was muck around for a couple of hours and go home. There were no proper lessons. Finally they found another secondary school where I settled for the last year of my education. Very little was expected of me because I had missed out so much and because I was in care. Two weeks before I was due to take exams, the Social Services Department moved me 20 miles away from my school. Because of the upheaval and stress, I didn't take the exams. I left the school aged 16 without any qualifications at all.

Not giving up
But I was still determined to get a decent education. After leaving school, I was lucky enough to get a place in college to study 'O' levels. Halfway through the course, I decided with Social Services that I no longer wanted to be in care. So it was agreed that I leave care and I went to live with my grandparents. I was forced to give up college, though, as I couldn't get a grant or money from the Department. No-one told me that I could have applied for a grant from the Social Services (under Section 27 of the UK 1980 Child Care Act). I went back to college. This time it was an 'A' level course, which I am now halfway through. I hope to go to University and one day work in social work management or in politics. I am still coming to terms with all that has happened to me, but feeling more hopeful at last.

I believe that:

This feature: From the UK magazine Who Cares?

The International Child and Youth Care Network

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