Today I had a three-hour lecture on safeguarding children. It was hard, emotional and thought provoking. A three-hour lecture hardly makes me an expert, I know. Nevertheless, it has enabled me to broaden my thinking, my questioning and my understanding of safeguarding, what it means in practice and times in my life that it has failed. We hear of child protection scandals, when cases like Baby P are publicised widely in the media, and rightly so. What we don’t hear about is how so many agencies miss so many issues and for what reasons and how as a society we have so many systems that should have child safeguarding at the forefront of their work, but don’t. From personal experience, this is my take on it….
We touched on interventions from local authorities for children in need. When I was born, I was a child in need. My parents were heavily drug dependant. I left the hospital, with them, with no intervention. I can’t remember a lot about my early years however it doesn’t take a genius to realise that with parents addicted to heroin, I wasn’t going to be adequately cared for without the possibility of significant harm. I assume I came into contact as a baby with various healthcare professionals, my parents encountered the criminal justice system and other agencies were involved around the drug issues. No protection, safeguarding or child welfare concerns from any of these people so far? None of these professionals considered that the children living in this environment were at risk of harm?
Let’s move on to Michaela, age 4. At this point in my life I started primary school. Often being the last child to be collected at the end of the day, often not doing homework, not bringing in the right books or P.E kit, not fitting in with the other kids, being tired, withdrawn, protective of my sisters. Bruised, late, problematic at times, phases of bedwetting and little to no parent interaction with the school. I don’t recall a single parent’s evening that my parents attended at primary school. None of these professionals who saw me on a daily basis at school thought that I was a child at risk of significate harm? They thought I had dyslexia, yes. I didn’t. They thought I slept heavy because I had phases of bed wetting, ok. But none of them raised any concerns over my welfare, my development or my safety? Through 5 or 6 years of this kind of behaviour in primary school, not one teacher considered the possibility that I was a child being abused, neglected or harmed?
Age 11-12 I started high school, often late, truanting, not doing homework, disruptive, tired. I don’t recall a single teacher throughout any time in my school days, asking me what was going on at home? I of course wouldn’t just tell them of my own back, because as far as I was concerned, my life was normal. At the age of 11,12,13 and so on, we don’t consider how our environment or circumstance will affect us in life. I was merely trying to survive. I remember going to the doctors and having a thyroid check around age 14, to see if that explained why I was always tired, my thyroids were fine they said, offering no other communication, asking no other questions or no other explanation as to why I was always tired. I was probably tired of life. Probably because I was a child experiencing significant harm to my development, wellbeing and safety, that every single teacher and doctor couldn’t see? Every professional that I came into contact with, missed?
I was often skiving school because I was so tired, I remember once leaving school to go to the common where I fell asleep for a few hours. I can remember now, waking up and thinking oh my god, have I really just fell asleep on the common? I had numerous detentions for skiving, nobody asked me why I was doing it, why was I so tired, what was going on?
In my later school years, I was going out clubbing, underage, often bumping in to teachers, I could probably name 5 straight of the top of my head. None of them raised any concerns as to why a 14-15yr old girl was out on a school night, drunk in a night club at 1-2am? I had my first tattoo, age 14. I remember showing it off around school, even to teachers. None of them raised any concerns as to why a 14yr old girl had come into school with a tattoo? By no means am I blaming anybody for my behaviour however if I look back at so many people seeing me on a daily basis and none of them even attempted any intervention of any kind, it’s sad. Sad for me on a personal level but utterly disgraceful in terms of child safeguarding policy. I was a vulnerable CHILD. A young girl living in hell, not only at risk of but actually experiencing harm, abuse and neglect EVERY SINGLE FUCKING DAY and guess what, not one of these professionals raised any concern that I was a child at risk of harm?
When I was 16 I was constantly ringing, turning up to the office of my mum’s drug worker, expressing concerns over mental health issues, providing evidence, explaining risk concerns. No one listened, no concern still, over my own wellbeing or safety. I was 16 and a child, being ignored when expressing serious, heart breaking concern of my mother.
Is in not the case, that all of the professionals knew I was at risk, knew I was experiencing these things, knew I was in need but chose to ignore it? Labelling me as a teenage rebel, a naughty girl, the black sheep was easier that recognising I was a CHILD, easier than flagging up a situation of a child at risk of harm and easier than dealing with a very troubled and traumatised young child.
As I look back on my life as a 27 year old woman, it’s becoming easier for me to recognise and understand how my experience, my life choices, my mistakes and my successes have built me into the person I am. I am happy, I am driven, I am pursuing education and opening up new paths for my future all of the time and I hate to look back on my life and think, What If? So, I won’t.
Maybe I am hoping, through this brief story of safeguarding, a professional may consider viewing these ‘rebels’ these ‘black sheep’ these ‘troubled teens’ as CHILDREN. Vulnerable, traumatised, exploited, neglected CHILDREN. Who don’t cry out for help, who don’t open up, who don’t seek support because they are merely trying to survive and are not considering how their experiences as children will shape their lives.
A lot of people could have, should have, and I am sure did, realise I was a child at risk of harm. None of them did anything, at all to intervene, to support or help me.
When I was sentenced to a prison term with no pre-sentence report, as the sole carer of my daughter, the judge had no consideration for the safeguarding, welfare or potential risk of harm to my child. When will this cycle stop?