Pen To Print

Monday Memoirs: Mind The Gap

Introduced by Holly King

This virus has brought us together in a number of ways: across the world, we are all experiencing uncertainty, fear, constraints, changes, disruption and are focussing on our health. Yet at the same time, the virus is exposing and widening gaps, from health and financial inequity to the fact that more men seem to get coronavirus than women. While we are all facing unknowns and are being vigilant to minimise the spread of the virus, our experiences since lockdown took effect eight weeks ago are extremely diverse, and we are finding out through personal experiences, social media and articles such as Write On! Extra’s Thursday Connectors just how different the impact is, depending on our personal situations.

So this week, we are exploring those differences, hoping to highlight and bridge these gaps. By sharing these stories, we can better understand the unique difficulties everyone is facing and provide support, potential solutions and, if nothing else, empathy for each other, to keep us together in a time when we are forced to physically be apart.

Judith AM Denton is our guest writer for this Monday Memoir, and shines a light on the impact the situation has on children in the foster care system. She stresses the importance of togetherness when lockdown has made our usual roles that much more difficult. Her life, work and new autobiography inspires us all to transform ourselves and our communities.

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Growing up in foster care from the age of nine, Judith experienced various challenges such as exclusions from school and college, run-ins with the law and a crisis which led to a period of poor mental health. Despite all this, she tenaciously sought to make it in life. Her miraculous recovery, thanks to guidance from various professionals and her trusted mentors, caused Judith to step out of her comfort zone, establishing social enterprise – The Transformed You. She is now the proud CEO of this organisation, working closely with local authority children’s services and local authority virtual schools, delivering intervention and support mentoring programmes designed to help transform the lives and raise the aspirations of children in care and care leavers aged 11 to 25 with behavioural, emotional and social difficulties. A sought-after keynote speaker at social care conferences, Judith shares her experience of the UK foster care system, along with providing insight and solutions to inspire and empower her audience.

As Judith began to engage with children in care and care leavers, she saw that there was a wider need to voice her experience in her self-published autobiography: Foster Care And Me.

“I was brought up in church and people would approach me and say to me: “You know you need to write a book?” or that they had dreams about me writing a book. I listened and thanked them for sharing their insights, but at the time of our conversations had no idea what I might  write about. Even if I did decided to write, I didn’t know how to go about it. Years after these conversations, I began to have dreams that I had written a book and as I slept, the title, book cover and message of my story was downloaded into my thoughts. This gave me the drive to get out of bed, begin typing the manuscript and research how to get it published, along with sourcing an illustrator for the cover. Even though we only spoke on the phone, they managed to capture my exact vision for the cover. I began writing my book in April 2019 and it was ready for the publishers in August 2019 and published in November 2019.

Foster Care And Me is a personal, detailed account of the challenges I faced and overcame at every stage of my journey through the foster care system. I wrote it to inspire hope in the lives of children and young people in care and care leavers, alongside penning messages to foster carers, social workers, school staff and our government. It is a call to action to make the urgent changes I believe are needed to improve the outcomes and life chances of our looked-after community.

I like to write in an authentic and honest way, providing details the reader can relate to, finding gems of hope and solutions in my message. As my book is specifically for the social care sector, namely the care experienced and those who work in the departments on the local and national levels, I intentionally used the words  from the research and statistics gained about the sector. My aim is to highlight the problem and present a solution, in order to get the social care sector on the same page, rebuilding the care system and improving the outcomes and life chances of our children and young people in care and care leavers.

Having written my book, I continue to be inspired by the positive messages I receive from those who have read it.  I’m also inspired by my Transformed You mentees, who tell me they’ve read my book and have begun to think about writing their own story one day. A few of them have asked me if I would help them do so,  and I’ve already received the first three chapters from one of my mentees.

As an Influencer, Judith is a member of the London Borough of Barking and Dagenham’s Fostering Panel, created to help make sure our children and young people in care get the best of care. She is also an Ambassador within the National Youth Ambassadors Advisory Group for the National Independent Reviewing Officer Managers Partnership in the UK, influencing national policies and practices to improve the UK Foster Care System.  She is also a member of the Young Women’s Justice Project Strategic Advisory Group (brought together by Agenda), the alliance for women and girls at risk, in partnership with Standing Committee for Youth Justice, to improve policy and practice for young adult women (aged 17 – 25)  in contact with the criminal justice system.

“Of course, the lockdown has had an impact on how I perform my roles. I still sit on the panels and advisory boards via Zoom and Microsoft Teams meetings and continue to mentor our cohort of children in care and care leavers via Skype, FaceTime and telephone conversations. I want to make sure we are still supporting them and working in partnership with the local authorities to meet their needs. I still attend their statutory child in care reviews and their personal education planning meetings to ensure that their voice is continuing to be heard, during lockdown and beyond.

Children in care and care leavers have experienced loss (separation from their biological families) and have been placed in the system. For some, this has an impact on their behavioural, emotional and/or social difficulties, which  is heightened by them having to adhere to the ‘Stay at Home’ guidelines, so keeping in contact with them is imperative to understand how they are coping. For instance, some foster care placements which were fragile and on the brink of breakdown prior to lockdown have broken down, with the fostered young person waiting to be placed with another foster family and, on the other hand, we’ve seen complete turnarounds, with the young person becoming settled in a placement at risk of breaking down.

Doing everything we can to support these children, while respecting social distancing measures to minimise the spread of the coronavirus, we’ve managed this new way forward. By constantly adapting and adjusting with every virtual session, phone call and meeting we can help these children and young people to get through this time. Lockdown is particularly challenging for them, as it is an additional type of loss experienced. For example: the loss of freedom, seeing their peers, physically attending our sessions and engaging in their usual offsite activities. Not only that, it is known that the processes within the system take a period of time to be actioned, and now, with lockdown, they realise everything will take longer, which has an even bigger impact on their trust in the system. With that in mind, we understand  the necessity for helping them adapt into learning how to live in these unknown and uncertain times. We want them to know that we are also living with the unknown, but working hard every day to meet their needs and allow their voice to continue to be heard. This inspires hope of better days to come and helps them regain their trust in the system.

You can find out more about Judith AM Denton here:  www.judithamdenton.london and connect with her on Facebook: Official Judith AM Denton, Twitter: @JudithAMDenton and Instagram: iamjudithdenton.

Foster Care And Me’ is available to purchase here at: Amazon BooksWaterstonesFoylesBarnes and Nobles, Amazon KindleKobo and Nook

Follow the ‘Foster Care And Me’ journey on Twitter: @FosterCareandMe

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Lastly, a bit of humour from Wallis Eates – Souvenirs.

Visit Wallis’s online shop – www.etsy.com/uk/shop/WallisEates

She is also involved with several initiatives:

Like An Orange – a graphic novel about brain injury and creativity funded by the Arts Council National Lottery and crowdfunding with publishers Unbound Books. To support, please visit here: www.unbound.com/books/like-an-orange

Wings – a visual storybook from prison. Coming soon. Please get in touch for more information. In the meantime, you can visit here: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/littlemule/wings-a-make100-visual-storybook-from-prison

Wallis is also the London co-ordinator  of Laydeez Do Comics  – https://laydeezdocomics.wordpress.com/  Connect with them on Twitter: @laydeezdocomics

Read Issue 4 of Write On! magazine online now

While we are all facing unknowns and are being vigilant to minimise the spread of the virus, our experiences since lockdown took effect eight weeks ago are extremely diverse