Image for ‘No longer passive subjects’. Care-leavers tell their stories

‘No longer passive subjects’. Care-leavers tell their stories

Those behind the Free Loaves on Fridays anthology hope to create systematic change by sharing the stories of 100 people with experience of the UK care system

Those behind the Free Loaves on Fridays anthology hope to create systematic change by sharing the stories of 100 people with experience of the UK care system

When Rebekah Pierre was first asked to edit Free Loaves on Fridays she almost declined. “Genuinely, my first instinct was absolutely not,” she tells Positive News. “There’s so much rejection in the care system already, I didn’t want to add to that.”  

But, as she began to craft a polite ‘no thanks’ email she had an idea – an anthology with a no-rejections policy, so everyone who submitted work would be included. The result, published recently via Unbound, brings together more than 100 care-experienced voices, spanning poetry, stories, essays and open letters.   

Authors, aged from younger than 13 to almost 70, paint a nuanced picture: from recollections of school reports being discarded as lost property by local authority workers, to the joy of discovering an adoptive family. The anthology gives voice to diverse experiences including foster care, adoption, kinship care and semi-independent living, among others. Contributors include well-known figures such as Lemn Sissay along with previously unpublished writers.

“Headlines written about care often entrench negative stereotypes and dominate the narrative, leaving care-experienced people with nothing but crumbs,” reads a description of the collection. 

“This anthology is an opportunity to redirect the dialogue and present a window into a world that has been overlooked for too long.” 

 Pierre’s own contributions stem from requesting her case files. While she went into the process with “very low expectations”, she describes what she found as “heartbreaking, disrespectful, and inaccurate”.  

In the notes, her name was misspelled more than 100 times. She discovered that professionals had dismissed a count of domestic abuse as “an altercation” and that they had ticked a box indicating “no further action” needed to be taken after she attended A&E. In the book, Pierre shares an open letter to the social worker who wrote her notes, which was also published online. 

We’re so often written about, but we very rarely have our own voice. No longer are we just passive subjects

“I think it went viral because, honestly, it was one of the first times a care-experienced person had the opportunity of having the final say,” she tells Positive News. “We’re so often written about, but we very rarely have our own voice. My hope for Free Loaves on Fridays is that it turns that narrative on its head; no longer are we just passive subjects, but we’re the ones to control the narrative.” 

It’s also the message behind the book’s title. When Pierre lived in an unregulated hostel, she and those living with her received donations from a bread factory every Friday, a thick sliced white, with ‘toastie’ stamped across the front. “Grateful as we were,” she writes in the book, “nobody had bothered to ask what sort of bread we would like. Instead, we were given whatever society was willing to dole out.”  

For author Kirsty Capes, who also wrote an essay for the book, these sorts of limiting beliefs and narratives have a significant impact. “We get to a point where people expect care-experienced people to fail. Therefore, there is nothing for care-experienced people to do except fail, because no one is expecting more of them. All of that is tied up in the language that we use.” 

Free Loaves on Fridays editor Rebekah Pierre at the collection’s launch with Lemn Sissay, whose own bestselling memoir My Name Is Why was a reflection on his own childhood in care. Image: supplied

In reality, says Capes, “no two people go through the care system in the same way. It’s not possible to have one through line through all these stories, because no two stories are the same.” 

Both hope the book will give a voice to a community that’s often erased, driving systematic change across public policy and the social work profession. Thanks to sponsorship from John Lewis, a copy will be sent to every MP on the care select committee, as well as the children’s commissioner and the children’s minister. 

It comes in the wake of the UK government announcing a reform of children’s social care in 2023. While it includes a ban on unregulated hostels for 16-18-year-olds, many say it lacks ambition, with thousands of children still sent miles from home or facing a “cliff-edge” when support comes to an end on their 18th birthday.

Capes hopes that the book reaches a wide audience. Of the anthology she says: “It’s long overdue. There’s so much advocacy work and activism happening in all different corners of the community, something like this is a great cornerstone to bring everything together.”

Main image: FG Trade

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