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Opinion I was a child in care. We needed love, not chemicals

Posted on 24/08/2016 by


The news about drug trials on disruptive children sends shivers down my spine. At my home kids were on another planet due to medication – and I could have been one of them

Hearing the news that children in care and “special schools” weresubjected to drug trials in the 1960s without their parents being consulted sent shivers down my spine. As a 10-year-old I was shipped off from my children’s home to a school for maladjusted children – a boarding school I knew had a lot of the bad boys from my area. I now know, 40 years later, that my problems were emotional and could have been solved with love and care. Instead, I was exposed to violence, bullying and abuse. My school was a very scary place where you had to be on guard all the time.

This week it emerged that Richmond Hill approved school, North Yorkshire, gave its most disruptive boys an anti-convulsant drug to see if it would control their behaviour. My immediate reaction to this story was: could this have happened to me? I still clearly remember my child psychiatrist giving me tablets after a nasty incident where I bit a teacher in primary school.

As the state was my legal guardian – I was an unwanted child in care – no one ever checked with my parents. But the state was the sort of parent who exposed me to abuse, the kind of parent who never thought about a future for me beyond 18. It’s no wonder I still think about what they could have done to us during that era, when kids were warehoused on an industrial scale. There were 120,000 kids in the care system then – it’s now down to 70,000 after falling to 60,000 a decade ago – that’s a lot of kids to experiment on.

I remember tablets being given out on a daily basis to kids with epilepsy, temper tantrums and a host of other physical and emotional ailments. Most of the teenage girls, some as young as 13, were made to take contraceptive pills. One girl’s experience has stuck in my mind throughout all these passing years. She was forced to have a coil fitted as social workers were worried about sexual abuse in her family. Yet no one seemed to care what she herself felt about this. After it was fitted she was often doubled over in pain and attempted to remove it more than once.

Things have changed now, of course. Back then, most kids in care were in homes whereas now many are fostered. This has helped to counter the institutional abuse, including sex abuse, that many child residents suffered – as seen in care homes from north Wales and Jersey to Northern Ireland and south London. In my view, though, these changes could make today’s children feel more isolated. We kids in the home stood up for each other and often felt we only had each other .

Today, local authorities employ staff specifically to oversee the wellbeing of looked-after kids; but with the recent cuts I know many children and young people with emotional issues who are not being cared for or given the correct – or any – treatment.

The knock-on effects of not being treated are that individuals can go into adult life with issues unresolved, thus dragging them into the penal system, with the risk of their own kids being taken away, repeating the whole negative cycle.

One girl I was in care with was abused by her father: later in life, having raised her own children, she wanted to foster. When being assessed she was told by social workers that she was unable to be a carer until she had resolved her childhood issues, which were then 40 years old. So it seems one part of social work knows how important it is to treat emotional issues, but the part that cares for damaged children does not.

There is much research into how witnessing violence in childhood has an impact on emotional wellbeing and long-term mental health. We know that kids who come into care experience this, and there is a whole list of abuses that need to be dealt with while they are in care. The last thing these kids needed was chemicals.

I lived with kids who were on another planet due to their medication; I knew others who killed themselves in early adulthood having not found comfort in their lives. Can I ask that the public not judge those of us unfortunate enough to end up in prison or who are unable to get on in life, when our parent – the state – made such a hash of our damaged childhoods?



Source: The Guardian