Damagedby Cathy Glass
The Sunday Times and New York Times Bestseller. Although Jodie is only eight years old, she is violent, aggressive, and has already been through numerous foster families. Her last hope is Cathy Glass…See more details below
The Sunday Times and New York Times Bestseller. Although Jodie is only eight years old, she is violent, aggressive, and has already been through numerous foster families. Her last hope is Cathy Glass…
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- 5.00(w) x 7.70(h) x 1.10(d)
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By Cathy Glas
HarperCollins PublishersCopyright © 2007 Cathy Glas
All rights reserved.
The phone rang. It was Jill, my link worker from the fostering agency.
'Cathy, it's not two carers, but five,' she said. 'Five, since coming into care four months ago.'
'Good heavens.' I was astonished. 'And she's only eight? That must have taken some doing. What's she been up to?'
'I'm not sure yet. But Social Services want a pre-placement meeting, to be certain she doesn't have another move. Are you still interested?'
'I don't know enough not to be. When?'
'Tomorrow at ten.'
'All right, see you there. What's her name?'
'Jodie. Thanks, Cathy. If you can't do it, no one can.'
I warmed to the flattery; it was nice to be appreciated after all this time. Jill and I had been working together now for four years and had established a good relationship. As a link worker for Homefinders Fostering Agency, Jill was the bridge between the foster carers and social workers dealing with a particular case. She coordinated the needs of the Social Services with the foster carers, and provided support and help as it was needed. An inexperienced foster carer often needed a lot of back-up and explanations of the system from their link worker. As Jill and I had been working together for some time, and I was an experienced foster carer, we were used to each other and got on well. If Jill thought I was up to the task, then I was sure she meant it.
But a pre-placement meeting? It had to be bad. Usually the children just arrived, with a brief introduction if they'd come from another carer, or with only the clothes they stood in if they'd come from home. I'd had plenty of experience of both, but none at all of a pre-placement meeting.
Usually there was a meeting between everyone involved in the case as soon as the child had been placed in foster care, but I'd never been to one held beforehand.
It was my first inkling of how unusual this case was. The following morning, we went about our normal, quiet routine of everyone getting up and dressed and having breakfast, and then the children made their way off to school. I had two children of my own, Adrian who was seventeen, and Paula, the youngest at thirteen. Lucy, who had joined the family as a foster placement two years ago, was fifteen and now a permanent member of our family, just like a daughter to me and a sister to Adrian and Paula. She was a success story: she had come to me hurt and angry and had, over time, learned to trust again, and eventually settled down to a normal existence where she had only the usual teenage angst to fret about, instead of the turmoil she had known as a child. I was proud of her, and she was testament to my belief that love, kindness, attention and firm boundaries are the basis of what any child needs to flourish.
As I saw the children off to school that morning, I felt a twinge of apprehension. The child I was going to learn about today would most certainly need all those things in abundance, and if I took her on I would have to be prepared to say goodbye to my relatively peaceful, steady routine for a while, until she learned to trust me and settled down, just as Lucy had. But that was the point of fostering – it wasn't easy by any means, but the rewards were so enormous. Besides, I had fostered almost continuously for over twenty years now and wasn't sure I could really remember what life before it had been like.
Once the children had left, I went upstairs and quickly changed from my joggers into a pair of smart navy trousers and a jumper, and headed for the Social Services offices. I'd been going there for years now, and the journey there was as familiar as the one to my own house.
I also knew the drab grey décor, fluorescent lighting and air of busy activity and only-just-contained chaos very well indeed.
As I entered the reception area, Jill came forward to meet me. She'd been waiting for my arrival, and walked up to me with a welcoming smile.
'Hi, Jill. How are you?'
'Oh, fine, thanks. You're looking well.'
'Yes – life is good at the moment. The children are doing well, completely wrapped up in their lives and in their schools. Time for another challenge, I suppose.' I smiled at her.
'We'd better get along to this meeting. I think they're ready for us.' Jill led me along the corridor to the meeting room. As we entered the room, it was obvious at once that this was a big case: there were already about a dozen people sitting round the enormous oblong mahogany table. What did it mean? From what Jill had told me, I could tell that this was not a run-of-the-mill fostering situation – not many children get through five carers in four months – but then, no child was ever run-of-the-mill. They were always unique and their troubles distinctly their own. Removing a child from its parents was never going to be a humdrum, everyday event; it was always traumatic, emotional and difficult.
Nevertheless, something told me that this was far more complex than anything I'd yet encountered. I felt another stab of apprehension, like I had when Jill first told me about the case the day before, but I was also interested. What could this child be like, to warrant so much involvement from so many people?
Jill and I took the two vacant chairs at the far end, and I felt every eye was on me, assessing my suitability. The chairman was Dave Mumby, the Social Services team leader, and he began the round of introductions. On his left was Sally, the 'guardian ad litum': she was appointed by the courts to represent Jodie's interests. The lady next to her introduced herself as Nicola, Jodie's home tutor.
Home tutor? Why isn't the child in school? I wondered. Next was Gary, Jodie's current social worker. He explained that he was about to leave the case, and hand Jodie over to Eileen, who was sitting next to him. I looked at Eileen carefully – if I was going to take Jodie, then Eileen and I would have to work closely together. At first glance she was nondescript: a woman in her forties with an unruffled and calm air about her. So far, so good.
I wasn't surprised that I was already witnessing a change of social worker. It happened all the time – it was the nature of the job that people had to move on – but it was unfortunate for the children and families involved, who were always having to learn new faces, build trust and forge fresh relationships with endless strangers.
Although I knew it was something that couldn't be altered and was just part of the system, with all its flaws, nonetheless I felt for Jodie. Changing social worker would mean yet more disruption for her, and I wondered how many social workers she'd been through already. Next, Deirdre introduced herself. She was the agency link worker for Jodie's current foster carers. Then it was my turn, and the eyes of everyone around the table turned to me.
I looked around the table, meeting the various gazes. 'I'm Cathy Glass,' I said, as clearly and confidently as I could. 'I'm a foster carer from Homefinders Fostering Agency.' There wasn't much more I could add at this stage, when I knew so little about what was going on, so I passed on to Jill.
After Jill came someone from the accounts department, followed by a member of the local authority's placement team. As they spoke, I looked over at Gary, Jodie's current social worker. He was young, and could only have been in his mid-twenties. How successful had he been at forging a relationship with Jodie? I wondered. Perhaps Eileen, as a woman, would fare better at empathizing with the little girl, so the change of social worker might be for the better in this case. I hoped so.
Once the introductions were complete, Dave thanked us for coming, and gave a brief outline of what had been happening, or to use the correct terminology: the case history to date. I warmed to Dave immediately. He was gently spoken but forthright, and looked directly at me as he spoke. I made a mental note of the salient points: Jodie had been on the 'at-risk' register since birth, which meant that Social Services had been monitoring the family for eight years. Although there had been suspicions of emotional and physical abuse by Jodie's parents, no steps had been taken to remove her or her younger brother Ben and sister Chelsea. Then, four months ago, Jodie had started a house fire by setting light to her pet dog – I shivered at this, struck by the peculiar cruelty of such an act – and that had been the catalyst for Social Services to take her and her siblings into care. Ben and Chelsea had both been placed with foster carers and were doing well. But Jodie exhibited 'very challenging behaviour'. I heard Dave deliver this euphemism and raised my eyebrows. All foster carers knew what that really stood for. It meant 'completely out of control'.
'I think it would be useful,' said Dave, looking at me, 'for you to hear from her social worker now. Gary's been on the case for two years. Feel free to ask any questions.' Despite his youth, Gary was confident and methodical as he gave me an overview of Jodie and her family.
'I'm afraid that the general picture isn't good, as you'd expect. There's severe disruption inside the family. Jodie's mother is an intravenous drug user and her father is an alcoholic. In recent years, Jodie's suffered a number of injuries while at home, including burns, scalds, cuts, bruises and a broken finger. All of these were recorded at hospital, and although it was suspected that some of the injuries were non-accidental, it was impossible to prove that this was the case.'
Gary went on with his tale of neglect and misery while I concentrated on absorbing the facts. It was an appalling case history but I'd heard similar stories many times before. Nevertheless, it never ceased to amaze and horrify me that people could treat their children with such cruelty and indifference, and I was already feeling for this poor little girl. How could any child grow and be normal in such circumstances, and with such parents as her role models?
Gary continued, 'Jodie's no longer in school because of the recent moves, which is why she's been assigned a home tutor. She has learning difficulties and a statement of special needs.'
That was straightforward enough – I was used to looking after children with developmental delays and learning difficulties. I suspected that Gary was giving me the censored version of Jodie's case history. In all my years of fostering, I'd never heard of a child going through five carers in four months. When he paused and looked at me, I seized my opportunity.
'It would be helpful if you could tell me the make-up of the families of the previous carers,' I said, hoping to discover clues to explain why Jodie had gone through so many, so fast. 'How many children did they have, and were they older or younger? Had the carers had experience with this type of child before?'
Gary coughed and looked a little shifty. 'The previous placement breakdowns were purely circumstantial,' he said. 'One of the couples were first-time carers and Jodie should never have been placed with them – that was an error on our part and it's no surprise that it didn't work out.'
That was fair enough, but as he went through the other placements, he sounded unconvincing to my ears: the others had all been experienced professionals, and yet one couple had lasted only three days. Gary's explanation that circumstances were to blame was clearly a damage limitation exercise for Jodie's sake, so that I didn't get frightened off.
Deirdre, who was the link worker representing Jodie's present foster carers, felt obliged to speak up in their defense. After all, if Jodie was as harmless as Gary was making out, it didn't exactly reflect very well on their ability to cope.
'Jodie has delayed development,' she said. 'In most respects, she acts like a three or four-year-old rather than an eight-year-old. She throws terrible tantrums and is consistently aggressive and uncooperative. Her behavior is violent, abusive and destructive. Even though she's only been with Hilary and Dave a short time, she's already broken a number of objects, including a solid wooden door.'
I raised my eyebrows. Quite a feat for an eight-year-old. But Deirdre wasn't finished yet, and she went on with her litany of Jodie's faults and shortcomings. Jodie's carers had described her as 'cold, calculating, manipulative, very rude and totally unlikeable'.
Harsh words to pin on a little girl.
Surely, I thought, someone could say something nice about her, even if it was only that she liked her food. Children in care tend to eat ravenously, because in the past many of them haven't known when the next meal would arrive. But no, not so much as 'she does like her chocolate'.
It appeared that Jodie did not have a single endearing feature. Instead, there was just a list of transgressions, with a footnote that her present carers had found her physically frightening: Jodie was a big girl, and she had threatened them.
I looked at Jill and we exchanged glances. Threatened them? I thought to myself. But she's only eight years old! How dangerous can she be? I began to feel as though I was on Jodie's side. What must it be like, having everyone one dislike you so vehemently? No wonder she wasn't able to settle anywhere.
Excerpted from Damaged by Cathy Glas. Copyright © 2007 by Cathy Glas. Excerpted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
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