Tag Archives: “looked after children”

“Looked-after children” – Yesterday and Today. Illustrations in literature.

During 2015 I turned on the radio and heard the following startling statement. I jotted it down

“Every 20 minutes a child enters the care system. There are currently 63,000 children in Care.” That figure surprised me.

Somewhere else I jotted down “Famous adoptees” that I knew of. I wrote:

  • Steve Jobs ( of Apple fame),
  • David Dickinson (Antiques programmes and “Who do you think you Are?”),
  • Michael Gove (Government Minister),
  • Jackie Kay (author and poet), Lemn Sissay (poet – former Writer in Residence at the South Bank).

Of course there are many more famous adoptees.

A few years ago I visited the Foundling Museum in London – the foundation that Thomas Coram set up in 18th Century with backing and support from Handel and Hogarth and other famous artists who were concerned about the fate of the many extremely poor and abandoned children.

Foundling Museum

I had seen the cabinet holding the tokens that mothers left when they left their children – The following matter-of-fact explanation taken from Wikipedia does not attempt to convey how moving it is to see these tiny, simple tokens.

EXTRACT from WIKIPEDIA: “Foundling tokens (coins, a button, jewellery, a poem) were given by mothers leaving their babies, allowing the Foundling Hospital to match a mother with her child should she ever come back to claim it. Sadly, the overwhelming majority of the children never saw their mothers again and their tokens are still in the care of the museum.”

Illustration – “Drawing on Childhood”

In February 2016 a friend drew my attention to an exhibition entitled “Drawing on Childhood”. It was an exhibition that featured the work of major illustrators from the eighteenth century to the present day, who have created powerful images of characters in fiction who are orphaned, adopted, fostered or found.

The exhibition was most interesting. It showed a variety of illustrations, sometimes by different illustrators of famous books, such as ‘Peter Pan’. For example Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustrations were quite different in tone from earlier artists.

Here is the original book cover.

170px-Peter_Pan_1915_cover

And here is Mabel Lucy Atwell’s illustration of the scene where Wendy reads to the Lost Boys.

Mabel-Lucie-Atwell-from-Peter-Pan-and-Wendy-by-JM-Barrie-1921-c-©-Lucie-Attwell-Ltd-www.mabellucieatwell.com_1-e1449485484439-848x400

 

 

 

 

 

I was interested to discover that in 2015 a graphic novel version of Peter Pan by Stref was published. Here is his picture of the grand house the Darlings lived in. The children can just be seen flying high above the house.

Stref-from-JM-Barries-Peter-Pan-The-Graphic-Novel-2015-published-by-BC-Books-400x400

I imagine that most readers of this blog will be able to think of many stories about orphans. In fact, where would one begin?! Here are some authors and their illustrators that I think of first:

Charles Dickens (Oliver Twist, David Copperfield and many other characters, illustrated by many different artists – George Cruikshank being one of the most well-known)

Madeline

Ludwig Bertelmans who wrote and illustrated the Madeline stories (1939).

In all these cases, the artists/illustrators added greatly to the story.

Later there were many stories by Noel Streatfeild featuring motherless children. A book I always enjoyed is “Heidi” by Johanna Spiri, illustrated here by Janet Johnston.

Heidi

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

In the more modern era one can think of. Roald Dahl (James and the Giant Peach, Charlie – “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”… “Matilda” illustrated by Quentin Blake)

CHARLIE

Harry Potter! By J.K. Rowling.

“Tracy Beaker” and “Hettie Feather” by Jacqueline Wilson, who is famously illustrated by Nick Sharratt.

Tracy Beaker

 

This is by no means an exhaustive list.

 

After the exhibition I had a cup of tea with my friend in the Museum’s café. I rather wish it had been there when our boys were young. The walls are covered with clearly printed names of people who were either adopted or fostered – ‘Looked After’. Their achievements are varied and impressive and often realised against great odds. It was most interesting and enlightening. I think if I were an adopted person I would have liked sitting there and I think I would have just soaked up the general atmosphere and the effect of all those names.

There is far more interest and I have heard that there is more help for adopted and looked-after children nowadays. I am glad about that.

1987 Jah reaches secondary school age

I suppose I risk of running out of historical events in writing about the upbringing of Jah and all the family. However, I don’t think I shall run out of reflections and fortunately this blog is entitled “Adoption ReflectionsBringing up a multiracial family”. Our society in 2016 is even more multiracial than in the 1980s so the situation of a multiracial family is still relevant. Therefore let us carry on. Today I am continuing with our story.

We are now in 1987. Strangely not a single child from Jah’s Primary school went on to the school we selected for Sam. However, since Sam was so happy and learning well at his Secondary school, we took it for granted that it would be a good place to send Jah. It had fulfilled its promise of being a good environment for a multiracial society, quite in advance of its time. We did also do the requisite visit to show Jah. He was already motivated to follow his big brother and happily agreed to attend that school.

A few months ago I heard that every school in England has extra money per school year allotted to help “looked-after children” – the current pleasant terminology for adopted or fostered children. (In the year 2014/14 the sum of money was £900 per child) If ONLY Jah had had this help! Sam might not have needed it, but Jah would have benefitted I am quite sure. He had some learning block that we could not understand. It was easier for Sam, as he had come to us more or less a ‘brand new’ baby.

For any reader who has not followed this story, Jah came to us a few weeks before his fourth birthday. So many vital things are learned and absorbed during the very early days of a child’s life. More is known about this today. Jah had obviously missed out on some things, as is the case with many children who move from family to family in their early days.

However, let’s not dwell on the above. We are now just a few weeks before Jah was due to start at the secondary school and a school-related crisis had erupted. Asbestos was discovered in the building. The new entrants had to have lessons in prefabs that were set up on one of the playgrounds. The builders were very busy everywhere. It must have been a nightmare for the staff. I think the children were quite interested, but it must have been a slightly unsettling beginning to their secondary school experience.

construction workImage courtesy of xedos4 at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

After several weeks working in these prefabs, the building works became more intense and the lower school was evacuated to an old school building in the Kings Cross area. It was deemed to be “rough”, so the children could not go out at lunchtime. The gates were shut. The children were very impressed and apprehensive. To them it sounded like being in a prison. In those days, school entrances were not usually guarded.

Today, in 2016 Sam and Jah’s secondary school has electronic passes to enter and exit, but things were more relaxed in the 1980s. (They were so shockingly relaxed, that local residents used to walk their dogs in the school grounds – with the attendant mess. Nowadays the entire site is surrounded by a metal fence – and a good thing too. This avoids dogs’ mess and unwelcome intruders.)person walking dog

 

 

 

 

Image courtesy of Vlado at FreeDigitalPhotos.net

I am not sure how much I shall write about Jah’s secondary school experience. As far as I remember, the aspect he enjoyed the most was an out of school activity arranged by a very gifted teacher with one or two other teachers involved –

– namely the beloved “School Journeys”

of which more another day.