How damaging are stories of damage?

Today, I read a Daily Mail article which really irked me. I’m going to tell you why and it’s not for the reasons you might think.

I’m really curious about how Care Experienced people are written about and how that shapes public understanding of who we are.

When I was 11, I was taken into care and placed into a children’s home. It was the first place that I really felt what discrimination was.

I knew this because there were signs, hung up, outside of the children’s home.

These signs protested against us living in that community. The people who put them up called for us to be sent packing, for us to go somewhere else and told us, quite firmly we didn’t belong. Some of the people even wrote into newspapers saying that we were sex offenders. I was eleven years old and was taken into care as a result of systemic failure and poverty.

I carry that experience with me, every single day. In facilitating Who Cares? Scotland ’Who We Are’ campaign I learned that this was more of a common experience than I thought. It wasn’t just me who had a story like that.

I never really understood where those misconceptions came from until in my adult life, I read a report from the Frameworks Institute, which looked at how different models of understanding and language influence how people think about Care Experienced people.

In their research, they point out how speaking about Care Experienced people as troubled or damaged, can lead to the idea of a Care Experienced person being ‘forever damaged’. Think about the impact that has. That everyone you meet could consider you irreparably damaged. How would they react to you at school? In the workplace. Even in the dating world? Could you love someone who was irreparably damaged? Would you encourage your child to marry them?

Another idea that people sometimes have about those who are in care is that, they are there because of the failings of their parents, who should know better. This leads to the selfless parent model. The belief that to be a parent is to be selfless, to place a child’s needs above all others and for every action you take to only be about the child. This means that parents who fall short of this model can be vilified, with no real interrogation of their socio-economic circumstances.

The trouble is, when you really take time to examine the roots of that belief, it’s clear that more often than not, it’s through poverty that Care Experienced people’s home lives have led to state intervention. The Independent Care Review in Scotland wrote about this.

One of the other beliefs that the researchers discovered was the idea of the Early Resilience Model. This means that, some people believe that if abuse happens young enough, that the survivor can can grow to ‘forget it’ and ‘build resilience’.

These are just some of the beliefs that people have when they’re exposed to different messages. People are able to hold all of these views and none of them at any one time. They can contradict or they can work together, to build the image in their mind who Care Experienced people are. It leads to some of them picketing outside children’s homes, demanding the children there be sent away.

This article by Cathy Glass is a strong example in exactly how to activate all the wrong feelings in people.

Cathy, is a foster carer turned author, who writes about the children who are sent to live with her by the state. These children are sent to live with her because of circumstances in their life that mean they can no longer live with family. From reading this article, it looks like the child’s life is then turned into the subject of what another best seller.

The author has sold 4.5 million books. Books with titles like, “Damaged’, “Mummy Told Me Not To Tell” and “Daddy’s Little Princess’. Each with salacious blurbs and equally compelling teasers, which are run in national newspapers, encouraging people to read the latest ‘best selling true story’.

In fact, I was going to use one of these covers as a photo for this article, then I realised that I’d be feeding into the same stigma as the author. So there’s no photo because nobody gains from looking at a posed photo of a child looking upset, abused and alone.

Each of these 4.5 million people are being exposed to messages which trigger feelings and beliefs about Care Experienced people. Beliefs which can be difficult to shake when a Care Experienced child starts in their child’s class at school or when a children’s home opens up in their area.

Alongside the problematic messaging, I really don’t understand what the benefit to the children being sent to live with someone who writes about their life in this way is.

I don’t know what I’d do as an adult, if I discovered that my foster carer, without any real consent, interrogated my life in order to turn a profit. That Care Experienced people, so used to being left out of the conversation would, see all the worst elements of their life portrayed in a book and think, finally, someone like me. Only it’s not about connection. It’s about profit.

Care Experienced people should be the creators of our own stories. There’s a lot of work being done on the value of autobiographical story-telling as a means to understand trauma. The sad fact of the matter is that in Cathy Glass’s books the children aren’t the creator of the story, they are the subject.

It’s morally wrong, that these children, suffering from trauma and lifted out of their circumstances by the state are then sent to live with someone who might just turn them into her next best selling novel. All written under a pseudonym, of course.

With a recommended retail price which can be as high as £8.99. A quick calculation tells you that her books have potentially raked in more than £35 million pounds.

If your child went into care because you could no longer look after them, would you want them to be cared for by someone, where the cost of loving them would be that their life is immortalised for profit and entertainment.


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