A girl jumps from a window

I have received hundreds  and hundreds of messages about the television documentary  #Superkids.  Hundreds of messages congratulating the young people for their strength and poetry.  Many of the texts, emails, facebook and twitter  messages were from members of the public  saying that as a result of the documentary they were going to enquire into fostering. 

So it was disturbing to read an article from The FosteringNetwork complaining  “Fostering misrepresented by negative media coverage surrounding the new documentary series by Lemn Sissay. and citing  a Coram survey to say that   “most children in care (83 per cent) report that their lives are improving”. 

Given that The Fostering Network is the largest fostering agency in the UK and given that 80 percent of young people in care are in foster care I think I should publicly explain myself in relation to the premise of the article.   My explanation comes in the form of allegory, not data or anecdote.

A fifteen year old girl jumps from the window of the first floor of her home. She’s splayed on the pavement in pain.  She’s traumatised and hurting.  I crouch down and speak to her. I am no doctor. I am no social worker.  I am only a poet.  She explains herself and shouts for help.  Then I shout for help too. Other young people come forward and say the same happened to them.

 A representative from An Organisation runs over “stop shouting about the child with the broken leg. Stop it. Look, look there are many children walking and their legs are not broken. We have helped them. They are all walking.  Look at this survey. There are many of us helping many of them”. 

Ofcourse there are.  The discussions amongst the crowds  surrounding her are not trying to dismiss the work, the incredible work, done by agencies, foster parents, social workers and individuals across England. 

But there is a girl cradling a  broken leg out on the pavement,  and as long as there are institutions trying to silence her, or me, (or anyone) then we have a serious  problem.  Haven’t we?   You can watch  Superkids by clicking the photo below. And listen to  BBC Radio 5  on foster care here.

So shall we start again. A girl jumps from a window. 

18 thoughts on “A girl jumps from a window

  1. I think this us a case of letting the good be the enemy of the best. God knows, there is work enough for everyone to help our young people: the broken legged ones, the looked after ones, and the many many more in struggling families.

    Don’t worry Lemn. Speak your truth, and help others to speak. An important part of the truth is that not everything in the care system is broken; a disturbing part is that much still is. And finally, more, much more, needs to be done to support families before the care system needs to be involved.

  2. It pains me how silent the media is about the state of the care system. I am a foster carer and it break me everytime I have a child at my doorstep. The historical abuse of the children that are now parents to children being placed in care. The vicious circle played over and over. Patching with plasters and never hitting the real cause. I constantly hear the “children come first” when over and over again it’s comes down to cost. There are carers and workers that give second to none but the carers that don’t are still used because there are no other other options. I could cry at the discussions I have with my social worker and how children are being placed with carers that are inadequate but there is no other choice. Members of the public are unaware of the true state of what the system is in and the children are the ones that suffer and the good carers are the ones that try to pick up the pieces where they can with their heads in their hands full of despair and sorrow at what seems like a never ending, worsening and heartbreaking social crisis that those who should make change have no intention to do so.

  3. As always Lemn, very difficult for organisations when they are faced with the lived experience of others. It’s a shame that they cannot hold two truths. For some children the experience of care may be good. For others it is most definitely not. If only both positions could be held equally without trying to devalue the voices who wishfor a better care experience. To deny someone’s experience is the worst thing we can do and there they are – publically doing it. They speak for themselves!

  4. Lemn, I wrote this for a child in my care. I’m not a poet just a foster carer who’s heart breaks. Thank you for speaking the truth.

    Dear Corporate Parent

    Could you sit down with me?
    Could you speak the truth to the youth you keep legally?
    Let’s start by being honest and speaking openly.

    Who do you think of before you go to sleep?
    Do you see the child and the pain you’ve given him to reap?

    You do it with conviction
    Making up fictional predictions
    Inflicting pain again and again

    How do you feel while the rest of us cry?
    How do you feel knowing you’ve bestowed a terminal goodbye?
    You state ‘best interest’ and walk with your head held high
    Despite this child being destined for arrest
    You still claim you know what’s best

    What do you expect?
    You treat him like he belongs in your psychological text
    These fictional predictions making him even more perplexed

    It’s all based on a lie
    And that’s why we cry
    While you walk with your head held high

    Dear Corporate Parent
    You’ll never sit down with me
    Or speak the truth to the youth you keep legally

  5. Being an irritant to the establishment is exhausting….that’s why I love what you do!

    How we treat our children is the canary in the coal mine of our civilization…

  6. I have been so saddened by some of the responses in respect of your article. There are so many brilliant foster carers and it is clear that you hold many foster carers in high esteem.

    I can empathise with some of the negative reactions in the sense that it is really hard to hear criticism of a system you work so hard for. I know this well as I often become angered by similar articles that point out the failings with social workers. I have sometimes reacted too quickly without thought and taken the comments as a personal slight. But I know deep down, what is being said is true but it hurts to know this.

    I think individual passion for your own role can sometimes limit how you are able to view a situation. However, what you say is entirely right and everyone involved in the child protection system and the care of children in the fostering system have to be alert to everyone’s views if change is going to happen.

    I know this as someone who has wept at the inadequacies of the foster system. Taking children to their third, fourth, firth placement and having no certainty if they will remain there and be part of an enduring family. I say this in the context of also working with wonderful foster carers who have transformed children’s lives.

    Social workers, senior management, politicians and foster carers have to be ready to hear hard truths if change is ever to happen in a meaningful way. Of course it is difficult and testing, but the experiences that many adults, young people and children have endured in the care system is inexcusable.

    You are an inspiration and I thank you for the awareness you raise, the compassion you show and the continued active listening that you show.

  7. As a foster parent, I found watching ‘Superkids’ incredibly powerful. It helped me to tap back into my empathy that has somewhat eroded towards my foster daughter in the five years she has been with me. The trauma she experienced in her early years causes such extreme behaviours. It’s so easy for us to forget. As per your article in the Observer, we need to look at the support given to foster parents. We have had to pay for external courses and therapies that our LA wouldn’t provide. Otherwise we couldn’t have survived the last 5 years. Each child deserves a family that won’t give up on them, but for the most traumatized kids – it’s hard to do this continually for many years. Thank you for continuing to highlight the issues in the care system. Someone needs to.

  8. My 16 year old daughter chooses her foster care mother simply because she lets her roam the town with people I’ve never met. She’s out of my reach as the system made her aware that she gets to choose and decide on her own life. She’s out tonight and I’m as usual sleepless, cuz that’s still my little girl out there somewhere.

  9. Lemn, I have seen first hand a small child fearful of their foster parent. He was on his fourth placement in a year at 5 years old. He had been strangle held up against a wall, bruised and humiliated with his things bought by family members thrown in the bin by the foster ‘father’! That particular placement broke down because there was DV in the marriage and 3 foster boys had to be re-homed quickly. He wanted to go home to his mum or be with his nan, three years later he is on his 6th placement, is now attending a ‘learning difficulties’ school (prior to care was doing well at playschool and reception despite his home life being difficult for him). He has been prescribed a ritalin type drug to control his behaviour. I am heartbroken by this ‘corporate parent’ and worry every day for this precious child. I noted with sadness some of the comments from Foster Carers on another website sharing your Guardian piece. Not one of the complainers had read your piece in full or they wouldn’t have made the comments they did! I truly admire what you do and the other professionals who are not afraid to speak out against a ‘system’ that really doesn’t care about care.

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