Living with Strangers

This is an Opinion Article, written by Jade Anne Kilkenny (Community Justice Scotland Apprentice)

People in your life; parents, guardians, teachers and others give advice to make sure you are keeping yourself safe and that you understand the result of your actions. Sometimes people don’t realise the advice given can confuse children and how they experience life. Living in a chaotic lifestyle is normal for people who have never known anything else, it is comforting – because it’s what you know. How can you expect people to create a new life out of nothing they understand. What’s normal to you, might not be my normal – people should try and remember this when they think they know what’s ‘best’ for people.

As a child you are told not to talk to strangers, don’t go away with strangers and most importantly don’t go into a stranger’s house. I would have a stranger in my house every week, sometimes every day. It was not always the same person and most of the time they were dressed like they were going into a court room, but it was my family they were making judgements about. There is a time to be smart as people take you seriously, but not into people’s houses where this should be their place of comfort. Strangers in smart clothes don’t make me feel comfortable.

A stranger would explain to me why I had to leave my home and would take me in their car with my stuff in black bags, this made me feel like I was being kidnapped and there was nothing I could do about it. I’m still a child but I was made to feel like an adult, mature up, toughen up, no time for games anymore.

Moving house should be exciting – new adventures to explore. Never have I been so terrified in my life. I didn’t know where I was going or who’s house I would be living in. The Professionals around me are all trained to write reports on us, they have deadlines, they were always in such in a rush to move us into a place, but we don’t know if we will feel safe or if we will like the people there.

Do the children and young people get to decide who should be able to look after them and their siblings? What does a home and safety look like to children and young people? Who’s job is it to decide this and why don’t the children and young people get a say in this?

We are also taught as children lying is bad and if we lie, we are a horrible person. We as care experienced children are taught how to lie, we’re told that we can tell our new friends and new school that we are staying with family or we are there because it’s a holiday. We are told it will be better for us if we do this, often it ends badly with people disliking us and leaving us out because we are different and other kids recognise this.

Looking after someone’s child can be difficult for both the adult and the child.

The circumstances the child is living in might not be meeting all their needs. The hurt of losing everything you have known is the most overwhelming experience and you don’t know what you want to feel and how you should feel.

Sometimes the reason for being removed is not always clear, meaning the child or young person feels a sense of shame or guilt. Love doesn’t disappear because someone mistreats us, taking us away does not explain any of it, it just causes more pain.

You expect to be accepted into a new family home for who you are. This does not always happen. Some families expect you to fit into their way of doing things because you are a guest in someone’s house and are seen as an intruder. The biological children who live there might have not agreed to this and might find it difficult, which is understandable – a child is coming into their house uninvited by them, forced to be siblings and forced to live together. This is hard for those children and it’s hard for us, getting new temporary siblings even though we can’t see the siblings we grew up with.

In these new houses there can be disagreements and dynamics within the household causing the relationship to be inconsistent with some miscommunication. Sometimes the child has to be moved for different reasons and is not always someone’s fault, the child put there and the carers children are not always allowed to stay in touch which is just absurd. It is like getting used to a toy you don’t like and then taking it away just when you start to get comfortable with it – very confusing.

Can you imagine having to do this over and over again? How would it make you feel? They say you don’t get to choose your family, but you shouldn’t be flung into a new family just because your own isn’t capable.

Living in care is like being in the Truman show, everyone acting like everything is perfect.

Imagine using the toilet, every human does it, it’s done in private, it’s your personal business. Being in care makes you feel like you’re in a portaloo at a festival and someone just opened the door and everyone can see you, it’s not just your business, everyone can look in at you whenever they want and you can’t choose to close the door.

People in care have to experience this feeling on a daily basis. People talking about you like you’re not there, having everything set up for you down to the last detail of your clothes. Having your own personal typewriter everywhere you go, recording everything you say. If you act out in a way they don’t like there can be serious reactions from people you hardly know. It is a maze. It is confusing.

Staying the first night in someone’s house who lives miles away from where you’re from is overwhelming and scary. You are not told where your siblings and parents are or if they are even ok. Deep loneliness is a terrible feeling and is hard to shake off. Puberty is one of the toughest stages in life, it’s really hard when you are also living in a stranger’s house. The first year of high school can be quite daunting and scary especially not having a friend you know, never mind sleeping in someone’s bed that is not your own. This doesn’t look and feel like my room, will people come in at night hurt me, will I wake up and no one will be around. The feeling of not knowing is the longest night you will ever experience, watching the news the morning after as the world still goes on.

This is the home you stay in because it has been decided even though you don’t feel at home. Feeling the obligation to be overly polite and nice because this is not your home, this can be frustrating especially when you are missing people, when you’re a teenager and when you feel confused and angry… The sound of banging and annoyance in your ear is no longer there but you strangely miss being annoyed.