Please watch Superkids: Breaking Away from Care on Channel Four. I just did on Jake’s recommendation and wept, laughed and raged. I feel exhausted and inspired. These children growing up in care shared themselves with Lemn Sissay, a poet who also grew up in care and wants us to see these children as the talented, intelligent people they are.
They wrote, for the first time for most of them. They shared their memories, shared their histories. Seeing and hearing them speak will help you no longer have to wonder why. Why they break down, because they feel broken. Why they smash things up as they have felt smashed. Why they seek oblivion as we act oblivious of their need. Why they run away, running away from rejection. They are running from fear, running to take things into their own hands, running towards and away from their past and futures.
In their first writing, they were encouraged to write down memories that have stayed with them, as well as those they tried to forget. They wrote about remembering being taken away from all they have known and taken to places they felt they did not belong. Lemn remembered being told he had ‘survived’ and his response was to say, ‘I want to LIVE’.
Next time a child slams the door in my face at Jamie’s Farm, I will wait more patiently until I open it. Next time I see a homeless young person sniffing glue, I will imagine the oblivion they crave and the nightmare they want to extinguish. Next time I see rage in a child I will remember the passion to survive through fight not flight, the battering of unwanted feelings, the destruction of the cause of pain. I feel compelled now to quote the words of Liam in the programme:
Rage can be temperamental not nice to be around
He is very energetic, like a raging bull in a china shop
Rage can struggle to communicate, cannot be reasoned with,
Rage doesn’t fear or know happiness
Rage cannot accept, rage can be trashing and violent
Rage doesn’t associate, like me when I rage and we can be close or worst enemies, but
Rage won’t have many friends
Liam’s poem of rage helps remind me that anger is energy, energy creates change. Better often than acceptance or submission, rage be a vehicle for transformation. Better to work with this rage than quash it and control it.
These children were brave enough, with the help of Lemn and the facilitator Caroline Bird, to help us understand. Understanding can create tolerance, but it is also needed to create action. The children who performed on stage with their raw poetry and emotion wanted the Prime Minister to be there, the head of social services to bear witness, because they still hope that change is possible, that a better world could exist, that we could as a society do better job for children in care.
In Lemn’s own words, from coming into care aged 11 –18, no one had known him for more than a year as he bounced around from children’s homes, to foster care, to assessment centres. “It was like a nightmare, was I the only person seeing what was happening and realising I was the only one. No one could confirm or deny what I said. I was set up for madness”. Stacey said it was like being treated like a dog in a kennel. Where was the Love these children needed, Love that is in Lemn’s words not a fanciful concept, but love that is action. Love is being there when you walk out that door, when you come back, being there even when you don’t want me to be there.
We try to create this love at Jamie’s Farm through family: working together, living together, having ups and downs together, expressing and understanding, doing and being, but always believing that Love is there inside all of us, adult or child, challenged and stretched at times, but a touchstone to return to.
The climax of the show, with a terrific performance in front of a packed stage, was a result of the strength of those young people, and the belief and accepting love shown in them by Lemn himself. He believed they had poetry in them to share and he made sure they knew they could do it.
Thank you to all of these young people for inspiring and reminding us that we can all be bolder.
PS: Jamie’s Farm is working with Emmanuel Akpam-Inwang and the Lighthouse Project, trying to create a different care system, a care system which includes love. Please look and be inspired.
Written by Tish Feilden, Founder & Lead Therapist