My first admission into a children’s home in December 1984 was very short, after 3 days I refused to return and my mother and stepfather agreed to have me back home. Just over a year later, in January 1986, following more traumas, my mother’s divorce, a move out of the family home, separation from my brother, and no real relationship with my mother, I was admitted into an adolescence girls children’s home, where I lived for over 2 years. In 1988, when I was 17yrs old, I left the girls home and moved into lodgings were I was to begin my adult life, with no real support from the care system, except from a staff member of the home, who I kept in touch with, and still receive much needed care and support from.
Compared with many care leavers, my time in care was relatively short, and I have always been aware of the circumstances surrounding this period in my life. However, throughout my adult life, I have always wondered about my care files, and whether there was more information regarding myself, my family relationships and professionals views on the child who just needed to be loved.
After many years of putting it off through fear and anxiety, at the age of 37, I finally took the steps to accessing and reading my care files. As I spoke to the relevant Social Services Dept, I questioned myself as to whether I was doing the right thing, but I knew I had to try and find answers.
The process was quicker than I expected, once I made the initial phone call, my files were available within 3 weeks. I arranged for them to be sent to my lifelong friend, so that she could support me when I read the contents.
When the day came to read the files, I felt an overwhelming feeling of fear, confusion and panic. How would I cope if the truth was too much to bear? How would I react? How would I truly feel?
I am not sure what I expected when I opened the files, but I didn’t think I could be shocked or hurt by anything I would read, after all, I was just looking at things I thought I already knew. How wrong I was!
As I began to read, I tried so hard to distance myself but with no control, I was taken back to the childhood that I so wanted to forget. I became torn between the child I once was, and the adult I was trying hard to be. The emotions I felt ran deep within me, and I found myself in a place I didn’t feel safe, as I lived through the reality and extent of the rejection I had always feared. Although I had a friend with me, supporting me, caring and wanting to protect me, I felt so alone as I faced part of my life in the pages of four files.
Reading reports from school, social workers and other professionals, I struggled with how they perceived a confused teenager who just wanted to be heard, but instead was ignored and criticised at each turn in her life. It seemed to me as I read deeper into the files, that people expected me to fail, and that I was ugly both inside and out.
Since initially reading my files, I have felt a roller-coaster of emotions, from loneliness to fear of what the future really holds for someone seen as such a disappointment. I didn’t realise just how hard it would be to face, or how much of an impact it would have on me. At the moment, I have put the files away somewhere safe, while I struggle through everyday life. One day, I hope to be able to go back through them and tell myself that what happened to me has made me the person I am today, and maybe even learn to like who I am.
For people who are thinking about accessing their files, I would express that it should be a decision made after a lot of thought, and with a lot of support, as you may feel more confused afterwards, and in some ways things may feel worse. It’s not a quick fix, and you may not find all the answers you are looking for. However, despite this, reading files can help to make sense of things, give a person closure and in time give a person a happier and more content life.
Finally, I want the authorities to be aware of the emotions that reading files can bring up, and the support that is needed. When the files are provided, any particular sensitive areas should be labelled, so people can prepare for reading it.
I also want social workers and other professionals to be aware of how they write information about children, as the children may one day read it, and most of them will have already suffered a lot of negative responses and rejection. These are children and as such deserve the right to be treated fairly and not judged.