This is my most personal blog to date – and the most important.
I have an agenda here. I was in the Care system in the UK – and for 21 years found myself in a range of institutions and fostering situations. Including a particularly bruising seven years in a boarding school that still had fagging, horsehair mattresses and bullying prefects.
I survived because on the way certain adults helped me out. Two in particular – who didn’t need to - they simply saw that my initial foster home wasn’t great and stepped in as best they could to help.
I desperately wanted to be out of my first Care home – the word Care was a joke. Run by a lady who thought nothing of beating us kids in the scullery with wooden brushes or hard-soled slippers, or sadistically washing our mouths out with soap. She may be alive still, I don’t care if she is, for she was a wiry bully with fingers like pincers, who let a lot of unmentionable things pass on her watch.
Other Care/Children’s Home Superintendents were marginally better. One used to toss coins about on the floor for the lucky chosen few to scrabble after. Another was a giant of a man with a scary voice but caring heart – if only he had let us see it more often. The Care home staff got it wrong lots of times, such as giving me shoes two sizes too small or letting me be fostered after only meeting my new ‘parents’ for half a day.
It didn’t work out, not helped by the fact that my brand, shiny new ‘Mum’ told me on day two - ‘I didn’t want a ten year old, I wanted a baby.’ That was the high point and our relationship deteriorated from there. I won’t mention her fascination with Ouija boards and regular séances spent contacting the dead. One memorable session, accompanied by ‘Bouquet Of Barbed Wire‘ on the TV led to me receiving the message P-O-T, which apparently meant Poor-Old-Ted, a reference to a brand spanking new uncle who had passed over to the other side the previous week.
I soon found myself back in another Care Home where it was now full of troubled kids – not just children without Mums and Dads. The atmosphere was brittle and the older children frequently abused us younger ones. I remember being tipped upside-down and having my head bashed repeatedly on the parquet floor – because I’d looked at an older girl ‘funny’ – pity no one told her I had a squint.
I could go on with such ‘poor me’ stories but that’s not the point of this blog. I am writing to raise awareness of the work of LUMOS - a charity that is dedicated to getting children out of institutions … and living happily with caring families. Properly caring. It is vitally important work. To this day I get bouts of unease, waves of indecision brought about by my years of being Institutionalised.
That said, I’m one of the lucky ones – I had the brains – and the help – to get to University and then into teaching, where I could work with troubled kids and try and take away the stigma of being different. I hope I was the teacher I always wanted to have – firm, fair, consistent and with a sense of humour.
Lumos is about hope, fairness and giving children a chance in life. Click here to find out more.
J.K. Rowling is the founder and chair of Lumos – her Harry Potter stories gave children hope. That lost children can be found again.
I have an admission to make – back in 1997 I stopped reading the first edition of the first Harry Potter book when I got to the casual abuse Harry received from his foster family – the Dursleys. He reminded me of Mr L (name protected – but you know who you are!) a PE teacher I once had who grabbed me by the throat and lifted me off the shower room floor and slammed me against the tiles because I quietly refused to do PE. If Mr L had bothered to ask why he might have learned about the energy sapping name calling, the constant bullying from teenage so-called friends. I have dipped into the books since, and watched all the films. I love a happy ending!
I now live in Scotland, far away from where I grew up. It was not deliberate, and came about through my wife’s change of job. I spend my time writing and painting and being a dad. And I couldn’t be happier. As I say, I love a happy ending.
There may be no life in Institutions but there is life after them…
Why not take a look at my website and see what I’ve been up to since I left? :)
Sunset or sunrise? You decide…