We are immensely proud of the progress made by all of the children and young people who spend time with us. Our children and young people are clear that they are getting something at a Childhood First home that they have not experienced before, and that this is life-changing. Here is what some have said:
It’s like a family
It helps me build my confidence and make friends.
It makes me feel loved.
I don’t know where I would be now if it wasn’t for this home.
Coming here is the best decision I ever made..
Below are three typical stories of children referred to our services. All names and some details have been changed to ensure anonymity.
Hester was an only child, born to successful professional parents, both with a history of emotional or mental instability.
Hester came to us at 16 when she entered an acute period of suicidal depression. She was self-harming in a life-threatening way, uncommunicative, distracted, insomniac and refusing all food and drink.
Hester’s early weeks with us were a challenge. She was repeatedly taken to the local A&E department having self-harmed, and was placed on suicide watch. But as the weeks went by, relationships began to form with her keyworker and with other young people in the community.
With a highly structured community life and tailored care plan, and being the subject of a great deal of therapeutic attention, Hester began to feel safe. Every detail of her behaviour and communications was subject to consideration and challenge by the group, and by our therapeutically trained care staff.
Hester found such attention and challenge, day in day out, deeply healing. She gradually learned to trust and to rely on the support of others and the insights and feelings which they provoked in her.
Hester attended the on-site school. She had always been bright when she was younger, but her emotional problems appeared to have shut down her ability to learn. As she made emotional progress, so her cognitive functions returned. She began to show exceptional promise.
Hester completed GCSE’s, A and AS Levels with us. We shared with her the anticipation of visiting and choosing her university, and supported her in the transition. She left us when she was 18, an accomplished young woman. She is enjoying her course in Religious Studies, and loves walking in the nearby hills with her friends, with whom she shares a house.
Like many of our young people, Hester comes back to see us two or three times a year at Feasts. This is a chance for Hester to give something back, by presenting to the current group of young people an example of someone who is thriving as a result of her stay with us. This in its turn helps to spark the crucial flame of hope for other traumatised young people.
Anton’s mother and father separated when he was a baby and his father gradually withdrew from his life.
As he grew, Anton was also emotionally and physically rejected by his mother. His bedroom was a tiny room with no windows, little more than a cupboard. He received no love, warmth or care. Humiliatingly, school had to provide him with breakfast, a shower and fresh clothes every morning.
Anton started getting into trouble of escalating seriousness, as a result of which he was taken into care when he was 13. Because he was so troubled, he came straight to us. Our experience of him was that he was angry and destructive. He could show no emotional warmth, and was cut off from his peers.
We focused initially on providing a safe, emotionally containing home, full of the warmth and love he had never known. Only an expert therapeutic home can safely offer such a disturbed and disturbing child the attention and warmth which every child needs, since such an environment typically evokes increased violence when it is first encountered.
After a period of settling in to his new life, Anton was provided with more focused therapeutic experienced, in particular to address the trauma of his emotional neglect. Together with the warmth and containment of home life, and the relationships he began to develop with others, Anton began to feel the possibility that he might matter to other people. This allowed him to begin to feel that his life might also matter to him.
Anton’s episodes of violence and destruction slowly decreased. He developed the ability to enjoy and communicate a wider range of emotion. He began to attend education in our therapeutic school. Education was always a struggle, but Anton eventually completed his GCSEs and went on to college to study automotive engineering.
When he left us at 17, Anton went into semi-independent accommodation and completed his college course and further studies. He is now working, enjoying life and is independent.
He knows how proud we are of him, and is in regular touch.
Martin was born into a family where both parents suffered mental illness. After the birth, he was transferred to a psychiatric unit with his mother, so that she could receive treatment for severe depression. Martin then went into foster care for eight months, following which he was sent home.
Martin lived for four years in an environment dominated by drug use, domestic violence and suicide attempts by both parents. He was sexually abused by his father. He developed emotional and behavioural difficulties, including extreme physical aggression.
Martin was moved into foster care at the age of four, but was repeatedly reunited with his parents, only to be sent back to foster care. Martin came to us aged seven, when no foster carer could safely manage him any more. By then he had moved home 40 times in his short life.
Our initial experience of Martin was a very angry and physically aggressive little boy. He was unable to conform to any boundaries, behavioural or personal, and would break his toys repeatedly. Our first challenge was to keep Martin, and everyone else in the home, safe.
On the basis of our developing relationships with Martin, as part of the structured daily round of community life, we were then able to begin the painstaking work of piecing together an understanding of his inner world and working therapeutically to heal him.
As a result of sustained and expert therapeutic attention, Martin was gradually able to integrate his experience of himself and others, and to articulate and process what had happened to him. In a loving community, he began to develop the capacity for trust and for hope.
Martin’s physical violence diminished as his ability to put feelings into words increased. He began to be able to accept adult reassurance and praise.
Martin left us at age 10, ready and able to cope in a residential special school, where he could mix with a wider group of children and be looked after and educated in a less intensive environment. Martin is 15 now and is working towards his GCSEs.