Hackney Child by Hope Daniels & Morag Livingstone | Goodreads
Angry. Disheartened. Appalled. Mildly disturbed. Sorrowful. In fact, just think of pretty much any negative adjective and that will describe how I felt on finishing this autobiography. Not because it’s a bad book — quite the opposite, it completely gripped me and I finished it in one sitting.
This summer I will be joining Frontline, a government sponsored programme which trains graduates with zero prior experience to become qualified children and families social workers. At a meet up evening with my soon-to-be-classmates/colleagues (eeEK!) I attended last week, we were all given a free copy of this book as an eye opener (read: head first dunking into cold water) into the social work profession. And, as became abundantly clear as I was reading, as examples of bad practice which should never, ever be allowed to happen.
This is the true story of a little girl named Hope Daniels, and her struggle to grow up safe and whole within the poverty, neglect, and malpractice of 1980s Hackney and its child services. It is a battle cry to the brutalities faced by Britain’s poorest individuals, and a call to arms against the failures of a welfare system which allows the most vulnerable of these individuals — their children — to fall through the cracks. It’s a whistle-blow against the injustices and bureaucratic laziness in the care system, which allows children’s potential to be wasted, even expects them to fall into a wicked cycle of poverty, low self esteem, and low attainment.
(Disclaimer: obviously I’m massively generalising about the backgrounds and achievements of care leavers here, but the statistics are depressing and unjust A F.)
It’s a bit difficult to talk about a ‘story’ and ‘characters’ when actually they are all real people and real events. Hackney Child is ghost written by Morag Livingstone with Hope Daniels (the pseudonym of Jenny Molloy) and her sentences are a bit scrappy and simplistic, which makes for a jolting and not exactly lyrical read, with a slightly too-sudden ending. However, the story is so powerful that the book gets away with its sub-par style. Literature is not the goal here. Getting Hope’s story out is the goal, and the book does that admirably.
It’s unbelievable that Hope’s parents are able to get away for so long with leaving a mere £5 of their weekly benefits on the shelf for their three children to feed themselves for the next several days, and blow the rest on insane nights of drinking. That their malnourished children are forbidden from turning the home heater on whilst their parents sit in the warm pub for days on end. That the children sit in their own pee, because their parents don’t even go to the effort of rinsing their toddlers’ clothes in the sink. That the children’s’ bellies regularly ache at the weekends, and they long for Monday when their free school dinner will be the first square meal they’ve eaten since Thursday or Friday. The fact that these kids flew under the radar for nine years — that they aren’t alone in having these experiences — and that this still happens in the UK today — is just unacceptable.
And tHEN. And THEn when they finally escape into the relative warmth and security, the system screws them over so much it just makes you want to SCREAM. Hope specifically requests on multiple occasions that she wants to be fostered, and she even has an advert put in the national paper. And then applicants phone in looking to foster Hope, but what, someone doesn’t bother to phone them back? And the couple foster a different girl instead. And then the foster worker goes on maternity leave, and the temp – what- can’t be bothered to sort out the paperwork? And the file is closed. And so – oh so easily, through oh so little acts of incompetence and laziness — another chance of happiness for the life of an incredible, precious child is thrown down the drain.
BUT that’s not all — because you see, Hope is one of the lucky ones. Even though she is arbitrarily moved away from a home where she is happy (HAVE NONE OF THESE STUPID PRATS HEARD OF A THING CALLED ‘STABILITY’???!!!) even though she is locked in solitary confinement at the age of 13 and not even told why (aaaaaaAAAARRRGH I AM LITERALLY GOING TO KILL EVERYONE) she, unlike many many of her fellow children in care, does not have to suffer through physical or sexual abuse.
I have no idea whether this problem is ubiquitous, whether it still happens to children in care today. But needless to say, this makes me feel impotently furious, and physically ill, and it should make you feel furious and ill too.
Now, on to less depressing things. *mops brow with relief*
Ultimately, this is a story about courage, survival, love and…. well…. hope. There’s a big fat reason Hope was chosen as the author‘s pseudonym. Hope makes an impressive protagonist, considering that she’s only nine and runs her own entire life, for real. We get to see her strive to achieve, stumble, fall, make it through some incredibly dark times, suffer with drug and alcohol addiction, and ultimately reach a form of absolution with the birth of her own daughter, who she’s been able to provide with a normal, loving childhood. Now how’s that for a true life, inspiring happy ending?
Finally, it wasn’t just Hope who tugged at my heartstrings. It was her parents, too. It’s clear that Hope feels an overwhelming love for her father, and despite her mum’s despicable treatment of her, she is still full of a child’s longing for a mother’s warm embrace. I wasn’t remotely surprised when it is revealed that her parents, in their turn, had suffered horrific and abusive neglect. It would be really easy, as a reader, to judge her mother for her behaviour towards her children. But when you see how Hope’s Grandparents treated their daughter — putting her in and out of care, and forcing her to go through the trauma of giving up a child at the age of only 17 — her actions become much more understandable, although not justifiable.
I wouldn’t have decided to become a social worker if I didn’t know that there are thousands of children across the UK who’s home lives are nothing short of tragic, so I wasn’t shocked by the sheer deprivation and neglect Hope and her siblings suffered through in their childhood. That didn’t stop me from being moved and concerned by her plight, as well as incredibly impressed by the courage and fortitude that she shows throughout.
If I can bring even a modicum of stability or support to a family who needs it, and make even a tiny splot of difference to the life of a child like Hope, then it will definitely have been worth it.
Hope says something incredibly powerful at the end of the book. If all children in care were given the stability, support, and high expectations received by kids in ‘normal’ families …. who knows all the incredible things they would be able to achieve…?
What did you guys think of this book? Chat with me, I’d love to know! 🙂 x