‘No longer passive subjects’. Care-leavers share their stories

Jun 21, 2024 | News

The Free Loaves on Fridays Anthology hopes to create a systemic change by sharing the experiences of 100 people who have experienced the UK care system.

Rebekah was almost reluctant to accept the first offer she received to edit Free Loaves Fridays. She tells Positive News that her first instinct was to say no. “There’s already so much rejection within the care system, I didn’t wish to add to it.”

As she was composing a polite “no thanks” email, she had an idea: an anthology that would include everyone who submitted their work. The result was published via Unbound and includes more than 100 voices from care-experienced people, including poetry, stories, essay and open letters.

The authors, ranging in age from 13 to 70, paint an interesting picture. From the memories of school reports being thrown away by local authority workers as lost property, to the joys of finding an adoptive family. The anthology includes diverse experiences such as foster care, adoption and semi-independent life. Contributors include Lemn Sissay and previously unpublished writers, as well as well-known figures.

“Headlines about care often entrench stereotypes, dominate the narrative and leave care-experienced individuals with nothing but crumbs,” is how a description for the collection reads.

“This is a chance to redirect the conversation and open a window on a world which has been ignored for too long.”

Pierre’s contributions are a result of her requesting her case file. She went into the process “with very low expectations” but describes what she found to be “heartbreaking”, “respectful”, and “inaccurate”.

In the notes her name was misspelled over 100 times. She found out that professionals had dismissed domestic abuse as an “altercation” after she visited A&E. They had also ticked the box that indicated “no further actions” were needed.

We are often written about but rarely given a voice.

“I think it went virulent because, honestly, this was one of the very first times that a person with care experience had the chance to have the final say,” she told Positive News. “We are often written about but rarely have our voice.” Free Loaves on Saturdays will hopefully change that narrative. We’re no longer passive subjects but are the ones who control the narrative .”

The title of the book also conveys a message. When Pierre was living in an unregulated hostel with others, she received bread donations every Friday from a bakery. The bread was a thick-sliced white with the word “toastie” stamped on the front. “As grateful as we were,” she writes, “nobody bothered to ask us what kind of bread we’d like.” Instead, we got whatever the society was willing and able to give us.

These limiting narratives and beliefs have a major impact on Kirsty Caps, the author of the book who also wrote an article. “We reach a point where we expect people with care experience to fail. There is nothing else for care-experienced individuals to do but fail, since no one expects more from them. “All of that is tied in to the language that we are using.”

RebekahPierre, editor of Free Loaves on Saturdays, at the launch of the collection with LemnSissay. His bestselling memoir My Name Is Why is a reflection on Lemn’s own childhood spent in care. Image: supplied

Capes says that in reality, “no one goes through the care system the same way.” There is no way to connect all of these stories because they are all different.

Both hope that the book will give voice to a group of people who are often forgotten, and drive systematic change in public policy and social work. John Lewis has sponsored the book, which will be sent out to all MPs on the care select panel, the children’s commissioner, and the children minister.

The UK government announced a reform in 2023 of children’s care. Many say that while it bans unregulated hostels for children aged 16-18, it is not ambitious enough. Thousands of children are still sent away from home, or face a “cliff edge” when their support ends at 18 years old.

Capes hopes the book will reach a large audience. She says the anthology is long overdue. There is so much advocacy and activism going on in different corners of the community. Something like this would be a great cornerstone for bringing everything together .”

Main image: FG Trade

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