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On what we have heard so far

Looking back

For all children, early experiences play a significant role in shaping their lives and building their future life chances. Self-confidence and self-esteem, the ability to manage relationships, trust others and build life skills are all rooted in the care and protection that surrounds children from birth. A strong early start guides a sense of self and identity, who you are as a person, that builds resilience for coping with distressing events.

The testimonies we have heard paint a picture of childcare that in some ways might seem alien now. Many of the testimonies describe family, school and institutional life in post-war austerity and the early days of the welfare state.

The abuse that took place in institutions was unequivocally wrong even at the time and cannot be excused by assumptions of ‘that’s just how it was back then’. The experience of care has often led to lifelong adversity. Some of the consequences of institutional failure are not as obvious as homelessness or unemployment, but are carried as a psychological burden by those who have spoken to the Forum.

Of those who have spoken to the Forum, a large number have described abuse inflicted by those who should have cared for and protected children. Repeated incidents by the same or different adults at varying institutions would have left children with a deep sense of fear and mistrust. When the source of fear and harm is also the place that children reach to for comfort and protection, they may engage in a variety of understandable strategies to cope.

We have heard about denial, shutting off, and self-blame, which all serve to protect the caregiving relationship that is essential to children. We have heard of the lifelong impact of these experiences and coping strategies in those who describe adulthoods marked by low mood, dissociation, self-harm, suicide and violence. There are costs to dissociation and internalising shame and guilt; costs many adults with these care experiences are carrying to this day.

You can read more Reflections in the full report.

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