Being important in the life of a child

“One hundred years from now, it will not matter what kind of car I drove, what kind of house I lived in, how much I had in my bank account, nor what my clothes looked like. What matters is the world may be a little better because I was important in the life of a child” – Forest E Witcraft.

I should start by saying that my mum has agreed that I can share her story, which she insists is one of hope, and happiness. My mum, who is nearly 80 now, spent most of her childhood in hospitals and the care system. The quote above is the opening to her unpublished book and it reminds me why our work is so important. When born, she was diagnosed with Talipes Equinovarus a deformity of the feet, often leaving the forefoot turning inwards. It occurs in one in 1,000 births and thankfully nowadays, in most cases, treatment is non-invasive. However, for my mum, her early years were marked by years of pain, immobility and successive surgical operations, which included two years spent in hospital receiving treatment. She lived in abject poverty and was removed from her mother due to neglect at the age of seven. She therefore didn’t have the best start in life. Having the best start in life is often a statement we all use in our strategic plans and in our care system. In my mum’s case she couldn’t walk, had made limited progress in communication and spent an enormous amount of time trying to bond with people. Fortunately, we now have systems in place to ‘catch people’; the role of our early years services and working with our partners is critical during these early stages, particularly in spotting communication and functional deficiencies and working with families to support them. When working with children with disabilities and their families, building emotional health and well-being should be at the core of what we do.

My mum’s life changed when she entered residential care, she said she felt safe and secure, people cared for her and she experienced her first ‘family’ experience and personal bonds, living with 90 other girls and 120 boys (who were in another part of the grounds!) My mum said that the care home worked hard on her communication skills and relationship building and although it was a ‘strict’ regime it was also ‘character building’ and a very happy time in her life. I was therefore struck by the words of Junior Stringer, a care leaver who recently spoke at the National Children and Adult Services Conference last month. He finished his presentation by saying that giving children a positive experience in residential care is essential.

Whilst the majority of children in care are placed in foster care, residential care is the right placement option for some children and young people and it was a positive part of my mum’s life. In his review of residential care, Sir Martin Narey recognised the generally good quality of care provided by many children’s homes across the country and some outstanding practice and we should acknowledge the significant part that skilled and dedicated staff can play in a child’s development.

My mum was eventually fostered and then adopted in her later teenage years. These family environments enabled her to develop trust in adults, built her confidence, and developed self-belief in who she was as a person. It prepared her for the next stage in her life and enabled her to become an accomplished business woman, a fantastic mother and the happy person she is today.

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