A system of missed opportunities
“I never used to trust the professionals. I hated them, They took my kids away. Every professional in my life was bad in my eyes. But now the roles have reversed. They’ve helped me sustain the life that I’m living now.”
From the minute she was born until she ended up in prison, Natasha fell through gaps in a system that failed to notice opportunities to help her build positivity into her life. Natasha spent her life fighting services, because in her eyes, they were against her. Police arrested her, social services took her kids away. The result? Mistrust. Of services, providers, and people, and a belief that she had to cope with the bad things on her own. It wasn’t until she ended up in prison that she finally got the kind of holistic help she really needed.
Age 1: Taken away from her foster family, and placed in an unstable environment with a mother that didn’t care for her.
Natasha was born in prison. She spent the first year of her life in foster care which – as a mother now herself – she recognises as the most formative months of attachment. Her foster family was everything she knew, but upon her mother’s release from prison she was immediately returned home.
“When I was 18 months I was given back to my mum. There was no attachment there. I was crying for my foster family.”
Natasha was raised by her siblings. They moved house a lot, because their mother ran from violent ex-partners, and from drug dealers whom she owed money. Sometimes Natasha’s mother would disappear for days, and Natasha and her older sisters would have to cope with life alone.
Missed opportunity: Upon leaving prison her mother was unable to offer her the quality of life she needed to thrive.
Age 16: Natasha gave birth to her first daughter. She was taken away from her, while Natasha was left in an unstable environment with no support or idea about how to change.
Natasha lived with her boyfriend and his mother, who was a prostitute. The house they lived in was always full of people – people she describes as ‘junkies and friends.’
One day, her 9 month old daughter was injured because a lit joint was pressed on her arm. Natasha, terrified of services, didn’t take her daughter to the hospital in fear that they would take her away. Social services got involved and she was deemed an ‘unfit mother’. Her daughter was adopted.
“When they took my daughter, that’s when things went seriously wrong for me. That’s started the ball rolling for bigger things…”
Natasha received no support after this episode, and couldn’t deal with the stress of her daughter being taken away. She started drinking to numb the pain, sleeping around and getting arrested. Social services told her she would need to sort her situation out if she wanted to keep her children, but didn’t tell her how. Her second child was born not long after, and was taken away when he was 5 days old.
Missed opportunity: Natasha’s situation led her to live a life of spiralling chaos. She would have benefited from the early intervention of services like Pause; giving women the opportunity to develop new skills and responses that can help them create a more positive future.
Age 21: Under witness protection, she experienced isolation from her friends and family. She had no-one to talk to, and no support to deal with the situation.
Natasha saw her brother commit a murder. She decided to put her faith in services for the first time, and told the police what she saw. As a consequence, her brother went on the run and she was placed in a witness protection scheme.
On witness protection, she lived a life of isolation. No family, no friends, no children. Her only form of company came in the form of two police officers that visited her once a week. The tone of conversation was not one of ‘how are you?’ or ‘are you coping?’, rather, ‘you need to stay here.’ Their interest was only in limiting the risk factor of flight, and keeping her on the move away from danger.
“No one knew where I was. I was changing locations all the time. I was facing a rollercoaster of emotions each day, and tried to contain it with alcohol. Every time I felt alone, I grabbed the bottle.”
Her stepfather – who had acted as the only constant stable figure in her life – also disowned her. Natasha effectively felt punished for doing ‘the right thing.’
“My stepdad disowned me, and after that I didn’t see him for 10 years. When the murder happened it divided the family. One half said blood was thicker than water and I should’ve kept quiet. Just thinking of my dad would trigger me to do stuff. The hurt, the loneliness… I’d run into drink, into drugs, doing shoplifting, anything to fill that void.”
It was not until years later when her mental health problems were recognised, and she was granted access to the necessary medication and counseling.
Missed opportunity: It is clear that Natasha needed holistic support from a range of different support services, however the lens of single issue servicing was once again her enemy. Probation, mental health support, housing, social services… all of these services had multiple opportunities to engage and interact with one another over Natasha’s problems, and find ways to work together to help her build success in her life.
It has taken Natasha all her life, but finally, after accessing the right support tailored for her psychological and societal needs, she has been able to build stability with a partner and another child that she has been allowed to keep. She volunteers with User Voice, and wants to move into full time work. Sadly, she’s still not on safe ground. As she has a spare bedroom (which her 6 years old daughter stays in when she visits each weekend), she is under threat of losing her home due to the bedroom tax. Natasha is frightened she could loose the stable life she has built.
“It might only be bricks and mortar, and my children and my partner. It might not be a lot for some people, but it’s a hell of a lot for me. Compared to where I’ve come from, I had absolutely fuck all.”
On December 1st, we will be connecting stakeholder in the North East of England at a further storytelling workshop to look at the issue of missed opportunities. We hope that we will begin to see where services can better support people at different points in their lives. Stay tuned for the insights shortly, and also Natasha’s interactive timeline. In the mean time, hear her story in her own words