I'm pleased to announce today's guest blog post is written by Phil Earle, the author of the moving story Being Billy.
A young adult novel without hope in the final chapter is a sorry affair. I’ve been lucky enough to only read a few, but it would be devastating if people saw ‘Being Billy’ as one of those books.
If you believe elements of the press however, children who grow up in the care system are damned from the very start.
It isn’t a statement I agree with, and never will do.
What is true is that children who have faced abuse in their early years, be it emotional, physical or sexual, face challenges that other young people don’t.
What I also know, having been lucky enough to work with looked after children, is that abuse is often cyclical.
Too often kids who grows up being beaten, end up being bullies themselves. Some go on to treat their children the same way they were, bringing the abuse full circle.
You can’t condone this behaviour, but it is possible to understand it, and also to break the cycle.
This is one of the biggest jobs a care worker has. It’s one of the greatest challenges too.
The kids I worked with would test me: see how much they could throw at me before I walked away or hit them back like their abusers did.
I lost count how many times I was kicked, punched, spat on or swore at. The number is irrelevant; it was my reaction to it that counted. What they needed to see was consistency and kindness. Obviously we had to point out that their behaviour was inappropriate, but only by keeping calm could you really show that there was an alternative way to react to violence, that you didn’t have to respond with your fists as well.
It was a long process with many of the young people I worked with. The anger in some of them was so entrenched that you couldn’t find a way in, no matter what you did.
As a result many slid into dangerous situations. Anger landed some in juvenile detention or prison. A few found they could only cope with the help of drink or drugs, others were promised the world only to wind up in prostitution.
But this isn’t the whole story, nowhere near it. So many of the kids I worked with had a spirit and a resilience that wouldn’t allow them to feel vulnerable any more.
They had enough insight to see that what had happened to them had to stop there: they had no desire to emulate those who mistreat them.
I waited a long time to hear a success story, and ironically it came in the week that Puffin agreed to publish ‘Being Billy’.
A boy, eight years old when I knew him, who was scared, confused and angry, had gone on at the age of eighteen to sail a yacht around the world. A feat that 99.9% of us will never accomplish, or have the bravery to even try.
It’s when I think of his story that I know the cycle can be broken, that there is always hope for these children. With that evidence in front of me, how could I think otherwise?
Thank you for an insightful post Phil. It goes to show that the general knowledge that most people read about in the papers or see on the news (and hear on the radio), sometimes has key elements missing from it. I thought most children could never change their ways. Both from Being Billy and what you've just explained, I know realise that it might take children a lot longer to learn life skills and how to interact with other people, but they can get there in the end.