Another bare room. Another caseworker. Another foster carer. Another care home. Another secure unit. Another hostel. Just another, another, another.
Cos I am just A.N. Other. Nothing special, nothing worth caring about, nothing worth taking much notice of, except when you want to get me to do something, or stop doing something. Either way it’s about what you want and not much to do with me. I don’t really figure in the equation. I’m just A.N. Other. Apparently suited to being shoved around from pillar to post.
So as I live my name and move on to another something, I add my own ‘another’. Another hurt to add to my chest of disappointment, of heartbreak. Of feeling that I only get what I deserve. Of feeling like a nobody and that nobody cares. And as my chest gets fuller, my heart, my hope gets emptier and emptier.
I lose my dignity. As my life moves round in black bin bags so does my sense of self-worth. And just as my few possessions are scattered to the ground when those black bags split, so too does my sense of self-worth, my dignity. And unlike my possessions, not so easily picked up.
When I am told with a moment’s notice that it’s time to move on, I know it’s time to add to my chest of sorrow and prepare to lose from my heart of hope. Deal with the trauma of losing attachments hard won and strongly held. Attachments with carers, with siblings, my own flesh and blood or friendships made by common adversity; my support network that keeps me sane in this world that seems anything but sane. And I am left, always wondering why, and always asking if it was my fault. And the only conclusion I can come to is that broken relationships and moving on to ‘another’ doesn’t really matter, because I don’t. So I shove that in my chest, under lock and key, ready to be dealt with another day, if ever.
So it should be of little surprise to you that us teen nomads sometimes act with little consideration for the well-being, the dignity of others. Fact is, we don’t know what it looks like. So just as we are disconnected from any sense of personal dignity and are forced to cram our hurt and pain and our longing for real care, stability and consistency into our chests to be viewed another day, so too we can be disconnected from any one else’s sense of emotion, their needs, their wants. Ours don’t matter so why should theirs?
So we might physically and verbally abuse people to try and get our own way or to just be noticed. Or just not stop to think how our actions affect others, like playing music at a volume to wake the dead. It’s not intentional, it’s not vengeful. We often just don’t know any better. No-one’s thought of us, so it doesn’t always occur to us to think of others. In fact we often just plain avoid thinking as it just hurts too much. So instead we tend to just do. We’re in survival mode. We’ll do whatever it takes to survive, even if it bothers others.
It should also then be of little surprise to you that we sometimes act with little consideration for the well-being, the dignity of ourselves. If binge drinking makes us feel better for even a moment, we’ll do it. Cutting, purging, pill-popping, shooting up, snorting, having sex with anyone who shows an interest in us, joy-riding, anything that will make us feel better about ourselves. If we can be transported somewhere other than the here and now then most of us will jump on that train and sod the consequences. If we don’t matter then neither do the consequences. You can tell us all the risks, show us all the grizzly pictures and we just won’t care. We’re in survival mode. You can’t take food away from a starving kid, and this is our food.
We are the lost children, the lost teens. Lost because we never belonged, lost because we never felt truly loved, lost because we never had any dignity. We daren’t hope that we deserve more than this. We think this is our lot so when we have to move on again we aren’t surprised. In fact we can even orchestrate it so it happens this way. We weren’t wanted anyway, so might as well just do what helps me survive, and sod everyone else. If the consequence is another move, who cares. You can’t make me feel worse than I do already.
So we wander like nomads, lost, no direction, no care, no dignity, no hope. That is, until you come along.
You’re probably involved cos I’m a problem. I’ve got anger management issues, I don’t attend school, I know the local police station a little too well, or I’m putting myself at risk through drinking, drugs, sex, or maybe I’m more quietly hurting as I cut or purge… you know the score.
You might have known me for years or I might be new to you. Either way, there is one major thing you can do for me, that helps me discover two more. Do it before you try and change my behaviour, before you try to expose me to the consequences of my actions, cos I won’t listen anyway. Cos I don’t care, I don’t care about me. And that’s what you’ve got to work with first. You’ve got to help me care about me by showing me that you care about me. In so doing, you can help me rediscover my dignity and give me hope for the future.
Your care, my dignity and my hope are three major things that you can help me discover in the simplest of ways:
- Show me I’m not A.N. Other and that I am valued and cared for, by being interested and engaged in my life. It’s the little things that can help me keep my dignity and show your real considered care. You give me hope that not everyone will treat me badly or indifferently.
Stuff like helping me to move my things and providing something other than bin bags to do it with; giving me a lift to the supermarket to buy some food; calling to see how the new place is going after the first day. The human stuff, the stuff that you would do for your own son or daughter. I have no-one to do that for me and it’s what I so desperately need to feel that I matter.
- Listen to me and show me that what I have to say counts. If you show me this, then I can begin to believe that I can influence my future. If I can see that I can mould my future, then I will begin to have hope that I can make it work for me.
Get me involved in service user groups, support groups, discussion groups, school councils, anything where my view counts for something, then I will begin to find my voice and grasp that I can have some influence, that change is a possibility for me. I know I’m not the usual candidate for such a role, but it will change my view of the world and my place in it for the better.
If this is too much at first, get me involved in something as simple as a movie group where we watch a movie and discuss it after. It will help me to discover my voice in a non-threatening environment, over an unthreatening issue. It will gently dawn on me that people will listen, they are interested in what I have to say, and it can have influence. (And if no such ‘voice finding’ thing exists, please set one up).
- Help me to see that hope always works forwards. Dwelling on my past, keeps me stuck in the past, it doesn’t move me on. Yes, lessons can be learned from looking back and understanding can be gained to help build a better today and tomorrow, but the overwhelming direction of vision should be forward.
- Help me to see I have more power to make things work in my life than any other human being. I have the power to choose whether to build myself a life that I want, in spite of my circumstances and the lack of care and dignity I have been shown. I am more than the measure of what is done to me. I can regain my dignity, I can have hope for the future.
So rather than letting me dwell on what others or the system has done to me, get me to focus on what I do have control over, what I can do to build a future. It’s things like helping me see that attending school or college gives me more future options than if I bunk off. No-one can take that away from me.
- Always be straight with me, be honest. I can smell phoniness and trite answers to questions a mile off. So commit to explaining to me each and every time that I have to deal with ‘another’, like moving to another placement, why it is happening again.
If the move is due to my own poor behaviour, emphasise what I need to change, emphasising that you believe I have it in me to change and that this new ‘another’ could be a great opportunity to start over. I’m never going to believe this without you instilling it in me.
If the move isn’t my fault, tell me every time. You’re not apportioning blame on anyone else but you are relieving me of the harmful burden of self-blame. If the system has let me down and quite frankly crapped all over me through the unreasonableness of others or financial constraints then knowing that I am not alone in the frustration will help me to stop turning this into another self-bashing exercise. It’ll show me that you ‘get it’ and that you really care. You don’t get frustrated unless you care.
- Help me to make friends and attachments that can follow me where I go and help me to maintain them. Having a support network, come what may is a basic need. Take that away from me and I am far more likely to disintegrate inwardly or outwardly, losing more of my dignity. So try and get me involved in an activity or group or get me linked up with a mentor. If getting me there requires you to take me and for you to join in, then please help me do this. I don’t want to have to do everything in life alone.
- Help me to dream. Teach me to ask ‘what if?’, not looking back but looking forward. Teach me to dream of better things for myself, show me what it is to hope and show me how to achieve it. Explore my dreams through art and music. Take me to places and physically show me what I can do. Take me to speak to people who have overcome adversity to get where they wanted to be. Motivate me, inspire me.
Naysayers will tell you that to allow me to dream is to set me up for future disappointment. They know nothing of hope. At least in trying to fulfil dreams I will be moving myself away from where I am, even if I don’t make it to my original dream destination. Nine times out of ten I’ll find more of what I’m looking for on the way, different options, different possibilities and most likely the love, the care, the sense of worth I have always craved for. I can’t find what I need and what I’m looking for by cocooning myself in my A.N. Other status quo. The world hasn’t given me what I need so I’ll have to reach into my mind and out into the world to find it.
If somebody cares and shows me that I can be treated with dignity and respect and shows me that I can build the life that I crave, then I have hope. If I have hope, I have direction, I have purpose. I come to care about myself and will not want anything to get in the way of me moving forward, including my own actions borne out of a panicked crisis-driven survival instinct. The consequences of my actions to myself and/or others then come to be of interest to me, because I am of interest to me.
Hope gives me dignity in spite of the lack of dignity that the world may have afforded me in the past, and may well dish out to me in the future. I will not be robbed of myself by ‘Another…’, I will have dignity and hope regardless of what the world may throw at me, or where I have to move next. You just have to show your care and your hope for me, and I will eventually come to see and have it for myself.
For statistics on the challenges that children in care face and how one person can make a huge difference in their lives, see this
‘Kids in Care: The Life Lottery’ Infographic, and ‘Who Made A Difference in Your Life?’ video.