Following the lecture on Safeguarding children and my sub-sequential blog, I am here again to talk about a safe guarding vulnerable adults lecture. Again, this one hit me and at one point I almost had to take a break as my eyes were welling up (I am a big baby at times, I know). We had a guest speaker who works for a homeless day centre near me. He spoke about his work and the people he comes into contact with, what he also said was somewhat shocking and heart breaking, furthermore completely unacceptable. The man spoke of a career in teaching before working with the homeless, mentioning that a number of people who now access the homeless centre services, he knew from children at around age 8 and based on their upbringing and family circumstance, he could predict where they would be as adults. When will this prediction and aftermath stop, when will diversions, support, money and safe guarding be put into practice to STOP these children becoming “oh, its them I knew this would happen”. Like it can’t be stopped. It can be stopped, if people don’t sit back and accept that the fate of children has already been decided. If you are seeing a child in trouble, act. The hardest thing to do, the scariest thing to do and often, I am sure, the most ‘looked’ down on thing to in a professional environment is to say, ‘actually, this is not right, I can foresee a problem so I am going to do something about it’. What you may actually be doing, is enabling a vulnerable child to not become a vulnerable adult living a life of destruction, ultimately a period of criminality thus taking away the victim narrative as soon as the criminal label comes into play.
I don’t want this blog to be about children again but that is somewhat hard when I consider adults, from my own experience as a child and now an adult and for the women I spent two years in prison with. My last point I will make about children is this…. For anybody in a profession working with children who may from time to time suspect trouble and be nervous on how to respond, that is fine, it isn’t meant to be easy but I want you to consider this, if the child you see displays actions or behaviours that concern you, imagine for a minute that child is yours, in that moment in time you have a responsibility to protect that child and how would you feel if that was your child, and the school or whatever environment they were in were ignoring these signs. If your own child came home from school with bruises or a story of being bullied, I can hazard a guess that you would be at the school at the earliest possible opportunity to find out what had happened. Please do this for all children, not just your own. Bare in mind, children will come home from school and tell all of their days stories, if they have a safe and enabling environment to do so. Not all children have the luxury of this. Many children who are victims do not even know it. When abuse, neglect, harm and survival are normal, they will not tell you because to them, that is life. It’s embarrassing, it’s shameful and I would have rather suffered alone in silence than to speak a word of what was going on in my house.
It’s not surprising that children who suffer like this for years and years end up in prison. Who has taught them how to love and be loved, self-care, self-confidence. Who has taught them right from wrong, nurtured their talents, pursued their dreams, taught them how to take pride in their appearance, to be clean, to be healthy. In order to have a dream, ambition and find a talent, you need to have a chance to do so. Living in a house fuelled with hopelessness, waiting for giro day, shop lifting dinner, wearing dirty clothes and full of smoke and spoons with needles around, I didn’t have dreams, I didn’t even know what It meant to go out to work because I never saw it happen.
Now, I am not saying that other people’s behaviours are the reason I ended up in prison. That was my own doing. I was 19 and capable of understanding consequences. That wasn’t because I was taught in a stable environment. Here it may be worth adding, my first real experience of understanding consequences. I was about 6 and a family friend was buying and selling large amounts of heroin from a gang in Birmingham, using her profit to fund her own addiction. I lived in the house that this was happening in. Now, the ins and outs of this scenario are somewhat unclear because I was so young however I get the gist of what happened. The Birmingham gang arrived to the house to pick up some money and drop off some more drugs. I was there and so were 3 or 4 other kids. The adults went upstairs to do business. I recall some screaming and crying and the family friend running down the stairs screaming ‘they have robbed us’ I am having chills just writing this as I can remember it so clearly. A few people jumped in cars outside and attempted to follow the thief! Ironic if I say so myself. Upstairs there were the family friend, the gang from Birmingham and some other drug acquaintances who were always at the house using. Two of these people decided to steal the drugs and the money. I don’t know how they did it (thank god). After the commotion dies down we went to bed. Two weeks later, the house was the victim of an arson attack. That is how I leant consequences to actions. This family friend found herself in prison, she was the victim on addiction, a victim of serious domestic abuse and committed suicide on her release leaving behind two young girls. The father of these girls is in the tight grips of addiction still, 20 + years. In previous blogs I have mentioned visiting him in prison and having to take my knickers off so his young daughter could wear them.
While is it all well and good to say if you can’t do the time don’t do the crime but let’s consider a life with no love, no chances, no help and no direction. The women who I served a prison sentence with, were victims. I was a victim. Guess what happens when you enter the criminal justice system, if you can’t afford a barrister that Lavinia Woodward could afford. Your victim narrative is ripped up and put in the bin, you are no longer a victim of abuse, you are a criminal. This is you, now, forever. Who is being held to account for the protection failings I endured as a child? No body, because as soon as I was sentenced to a prison term, with no pre-sentence report to consider my back ground, my life or my circumstances leading up to my offence, my victim narrative was taken and replaced with criminal. Once again, leaving me with minimal opportunity, minimal hope and not only a childhood of stolen dreams, but an adult life aswell.
The Justice System!