Big government systems can blindly break up small family systems. Sometimes – like Trump at the Mexico border and lockdown in care homes – it hits the headlines. Sometimes it’s part of helping troubled families. Most private family break-ups won’t be media stories. All these family cut-offs cause great pain and harm. Why? No connection means it’s not actually home.
When systems separate siblings
Two stories of siblings reuniting have been in the news. Elderly brothers separated since the partition of India and Pakistan in 1947. And two brothers separated as kids because of being in care. That story is only in the news because of one man’s dedicated work: Ashley John-Baptiste.
As a young adult now, Ashley only recently discovered that he had a brother. He grew up in a typically sad childhood in foster care and homes. Despite his poor start, he got famous. A boy band, on TV, and then a campaigning BBC journalist.
In 2012 he told his care story as part of Lambeth’s Adoption Campaign. Here’s a short video and some of what he said back then:
Being in care … abandonment rejection and moving about was normal to me … The biggest thing I lacked was just someone to call mum or dad – preferably mum and dad … I saw a guy getting a piggy back from his dad and for some reason that just really broke me knowing that I didn’t have that and just wanted that attention and that love and that security. I remember going home that night and kind of cried by myself … Anytime I moved there was this mentality of you’re probably going to move again so don’t get too attached to this place because it’s not actually home.
Ashley also made an hour-long video about: Care Home Kids: Looking for Love. In a short clip here from the full video below, Ashley talks with other grown up kids looking back on when they were in care.
But where are mum and dad?
There’s often less mention of birth parents. As Ashley shows, people tell cover stories to children in care of why they’re not going back home. But it’s loud and clear what they long for. Ashley tells us what he needed – family connections, a mum and a dad, a piggy back, an actual home.
The top priority for child and family support teams is, of course, not to break families up. It’s to try – safely – to help the stressed families improve so they stay together if at all possible. We all take that for granted.
Family law sets a high bar for courts before state agencies can finally disconnect families. Ashley isn’t the only one who makes it clear that removing a child is rarely the great solution everyone likes to think it is.
Skilled workers can establish safe child and family work even when concerns are serious. It’s not good for kids when there’s a rush to cut off their family as soon as problems appear. The aim is to help a natural family manage their problems better. Then they can be the children’s actual home. That’s the ideal outcome.
Connecting is still the aim for children who live apart from parents. People work hard to keep children and imprisoned parents connected. Even for children removed for adoption, it’s best practice to keep family connections. And Ashley tells us it’s essential for wider family, such as siblings, to keep connected, not just parents:
Everyone wants to know who they’re connected to
One way or another, a child’s original family network may split up. Children have built-in radar. They know that their natural family will outlast professional helpers and most substitute care.
Ashley, with his story and media work, challenges us all to work much harder for healthy families for life. So kids never have to say: It’s not actually home.
For further reading: Polly Curtis (2022) Behind Closed Doors: Why we break up families and how to mend them. Transparency Project review here.