I was almost 55 years old, in 1991, before I decided to do something about finding my birth mother, which in the process led me on to enquiring about and obtaining my in-care records. My records are held by the London Metropolitan Archives in Northampton Road, who are the custodians of in-care records for the former London County Council. I had been writing to various local authorities, particularly the ones where the children’s homes were situated, before my enquiry was passed to the L.M.A.
In Sept.1991 my records arrived. They were in the form of a summary and the head archivist told me “I hope it is sufficient for your purposes”. The contents of the file were a complete revelation to me; there was information about my birth mother, her family and a statement from my birth mother that my father was a married man, although his name wasn’t given. In June 1992 I received a letter from the London Borough of Brent, who are custodians of the records of the National Adoption Society, enclosing a copy of an Index card giving the details of me, my mother and my father’s name, occupation and address. This was the only information they had on me as the adoption didn’t go through because the clergyman and his wife, who were going to adopt me, changed their minds after I developed infantile eczema and had to go into St Stephens Hospital.
I wrote to the head archivist of the L.M.A. asking her if my in-care records had given my father’s name. After waiting a few weeks without a reply, I wrote again. I then received a terse reply stating “the file does not record the name of your father as, unless he had acknowledged paternity, such a statement could not be accepted”. Although disappointed, I accepted what she had told me without question. In Oct 2001, due to changes in the Data Protection Act, in-care files, which were previously closed and not permitted to be seen, were now open to be viewed by the person who those records are about. It was then that I wrote to the London Metropolitan Archives to ask if I could see my file. I was told that I could, but it might be some considerable time before a Corporation of London social worker would be in post to “share” the records with me. To save me waiting, the other alternative offered me was to make arrangements with my own social services department for a social worker to receive the records from the L.M.A. and share them with me. I approached my local social services and in due course a social worker applied to the L.M.A. for my records and they were sent to her. I ultimately had two separate sessions viewing my records on a micro-film reader which also had a print facility so I could copy whatever frames I wanted to. Although the A4 size sheets were 50p per copy, I considered that it was well worth the money to have my own copies of the file.
Whilst I was accessing all the information contained in the file, I found various references to my father’s name. At first it didn’t dawn on me that I had been told there was no mention of my father in the file, but later when I realised I had been lied to, I nearly blew my top. I wrote to the head archivist at the L.M.A. asking for an explanation and an apology for being lied to. I was told that the archivist had retired and was given a rigmarole of excuses, as to how they didn’t have the resources, were short staffed and didn’t have a social worker experienced in the field to give the necessary support, blah!, blah!, blah!, but no apology. I am at a loss what to do, but feel that they have the upper hand, they are the power that be and no matter how much I complain, they will ignore me. They haven’t replied to my last two letters.
When I consider that I went all those years through care and not one person told me that I had in-care records, never mind being able to see them. It was typical of the attitude of the authorities in those days, treated like a nobody, never consulted about anything, shuttled here there and everywhere without once being asked what I wanted. I was in-care during the second world war and things were hard, food rationed, threats of air raids on London any hour of the day, but mainly at night, when you would lie four in a bed, waiting for the drone of bombers coming over London to unload their bombs.
On the positive side, accessing my in-care file has meant a lot to me. When I think back through my life, I lived 55 years without knowing anything about my birth parent’s, all I had was my birth certificate. I eventually found my birth mother, she was 80, and whilst I’m satisfied that I met her, it wasn’t the marvellous experience that I was expecting. We had lived apart for so long, it was difficult to make up for all those years and she was quite old anyway, so I’m just pleased that she hadn’t passed away before I had the chance to find her.
I lived in two homes, the first was Lamorbey Children’s Home in Sidcup, Kent and the other was Hornchurch Children’s Home. In between times I spent many years in and out of hospitals in the London area with chronic infantile eczema. I was evacuated in 1944 to Booth Hall Children’s Hospital in Manchester, which seemed daft, after I had lived in Kent through the Blitz and the Battle of Britain. I then went to Barnsley in Yorkshire for about twelve months with lots of other kids, living in a disused army barracks, before returning to London. Whilst in Booth Hall, I was befriended by a woman who worked in the hospital laundry. She asked for permission to take me to her home at weekends to give me a break from the hospital. I think they were only too pleased to get shut of me for a couple of days. As a result of that we corresponded with each other, after I left Booth Hall to return to London, via Barnsley. She was called Alice and she had an aunt that lived in London and she used to visit her and then come and take me out of the home for a day and then take me to her aunt’s house. A few years later she and her husband, who had been demobbed from the army, applied to foster me and in 1948 I came to live in Manchester for good. That was a marvellous experience, to be free from the institution I had been in. It was a cottage home and my cottage was run by house parents who were quite strict. He was an ex soldier full of bull shit, he had kids polishing his shoes so you could see your face in them. His wife, the house mother, was a miserable cow who hadn’t a pleasant word for any of us. The attitude was do as you’re told, behave yourself, stay from under our feet and you will be alright. To be honest I’ve forgotten most of the kids that were in there with me, a case of out of sight out of mind. I must admit once I left that home I didn’t even want to think about it. I’m thankful that I had good foster parents who gave me a far better life than I could ever have got in that home.
In 1991, when I first started searching for my birth mother, I contacted After Adoption in Manchester, a new charity that had just been set up. I have had lots of support from them, learned a lot about myself, why I am the way I am and how the effects of losing ones birth mother has on the psyche. I’ve read a few books and the one that stands out in my mind is “The Primal Wound” by Nancy Newton Verrier. It gets right to the crux of why people who have experienced loss suffer pain of guilt, rejection, lack of trust and not being able to establish longstanding relationships because of the fear of rejection. I was so grateful to After Adoption for their help, that in October 1991, I became a volunteer and have been ever since. My responsibilities now are to help run their search room one day per week to help adoptees find their birth parents. It is a fabulous job and I love every minute of my work with them.
In conclusion, I have had a reasonably successful life, I became a draughtsman, now retired. I have been married 38 years, have a wonderful understanding wife, Jean, who after all these years, I think, just about understands me, two daughters, Carol and Sandra and last but not least grandchildren, Elise and Dominic.
May I wish all care-leavers well with their lives. I happen to think that coming through the care system makes one tough, not easily bothered by what life throws at us, but at the same time does leave it’s mark and it’s that understanding of what makes us the way we are that strengthens us.