As a child, Lucy craved stability. But her childhood was defined by the opposite: she was placed with 19 foster families before she was eight years old. It was ‘inhumane’, Lucy described it, ‘to uproot somebody so many times’. Her childhood, in her own words, ‘was just lots of moving, and lots of people’.
When she was eventually placed in a children’s home, Lucy would climb out through the windows to spend time with her friends. She was ‘really naughty’ at school, she says now. She was excluded from most schools and did not complete any GCSEs.
Lucy has struggled to access the help she needs. Although she was able to stay in care for longer than usual, leaving at 21 rather than 18, Lucy left without the necessary support around her. As she describes it, social services ‘literally packed my bags, gave me some food vouchers, and left me near the local church with no help, nothing’.
In adulthood, Lucy found her childhood experiences repeating themselves. Since leaving care four years ago Lucy told us she has stayed in eight different hostels or homes and had three periods of homelessness.
The first hostel she moved to after leaving care was ‘a really, really, really badly run hostel’ with 20 to 30 people, one toilet, and one shared bath per floor. Lucy’s room was ‘tiny’ with broken windows and ‘pigeons [who] used to literally come in and wake me up in my room’. While pregnant, Lucy stayed in a hostel where ‘the woman in the unit opposite me was selling and smoking smack and crack [heroin and cocaine]. Eventually, Lucy was forced to move 100 miles away to live with her new baby in an area she knew little about. She said there was ‘no support, no anything.’
With a mental health problem and a child, Lucy needed safety, security, and help – ‘a lot of help, because I was doing it all on my own’. She had no family to provide this, and her friends were facing challenges with drugs and alcohol.
Sounding frustrated, Lucy described how social services treated her while she was pregnant. They offered ‘loads of help, help for my mental health, help with housing, all sorts’, but none of it ever materialised. ‘Loads of people just don’t really listen at all [and are] just very dismissive of what you say’.
Lucy’s daughter, who has recently turned one, has now been taken into care. Lucy has very limited contact but is determined to prove that she is capable of having her back.
Lucy is very clear about the help she needs. Explaining that she doesn’t ‘do very well’ in shared environments, which can cause her to panic or become angry, Lucy would like anger management classes or cognitive behavioural therapy. Lucy told us she’d never been taught how to contain her anger: “If you haven’t shown people ways to control that anger, they’re not going to know.” But accessing the support you know you want is difficult, Lucy argues, “when you don’t know what you’re doing, and you don’t know any guidelines, and you can’t contact the relevant people. It’s very tricky”.
When asked how services could be different, Lucy prioritised mental health care. It is currently far too complicated, Lucy argued, to access support if you have a mental health problem, because “you need so many bloody referrals”. It is easier to access support if you are overdosing than it is if you are struggling with your mental health, Lucy tells us.
Despite an unimaginably tough upbringing and ‘just a continuous cycle of being let down by various services’, Lucy tells us about her dream: to be an archaeologist and present a programme like Time Team. Her desire to go to university is clear, and her plan to do so is mapped out: she wants to do her GCSEs next year and then study an access course at university, ideally Canterbury. She is determined not to let her past decide her future and to get her daughter back.
Louise from noticing the warning signs that something was wrong, eventually leading to a diagnosis of post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and clinical depression. She said, ‘the work keeps you pre-occupied … I didn’t notice’.
Louise quickly descended into a darker period of her life. Her marriage was unhappy with routinely hostile encounters. Her drinking escalated. Her mental health declined. Eventually, unable to cope and in deep desperation, she stabbed herself in her leg, severing an artery. Losing custody of her children. Louise’s lost her desire to cope and drinking became her terrible refuge. She explained: “I hated what I had done and I hated the drink.” But she added: “I drank to black out the hurt I felt about being drunk all the time.”
Louise’s parents encouraged her to seek help and she went to rehabilitation. She left treatment after months of sobriety but, with little in the way of after care, she was drunk within two weeks. High strength cider costing as little as £2.50 and cheap wine blurred out the months that followed. Looking back, Louise said she was “dead. I was just a body. I can’t believe I was that person now”.
Ready to give up completely, Louise’s local council offered to pay for her detox on one condition: that she attend 1NE for two weeks, a treatment centre in London. She agreed. It changed her life.
For the first six weeks Louise said little, she understood little. Eventually, she began to engage and the community helped her live life both in and out of the treatment centre.
Today, more than five years after her last drink and first day at 1NE, Louise is sober and ambitious about her future. She has her kids back and she is helping children to understand the need to talk about their mental health and to disclose bullying.