The tractor woke me up at 6:09AM yesterday morning. It had come to cut the grass in the field behind our house. The grass sat in the sun all day, in neat rows, then at teatime the tractor came again to turn the grass. This morning saw the grass collected into wider rows, then sucked up and loaded into big trucks for its journey to the silage shed. Joe has missed it. For the first time in over twelve years, he has missed it all. His tree seat was empty and so is part of me.
This year has been heavy and raw and sorrowful. There is no box to tick to say you have been forced to voluntarily put your child into care because in this county, there is no other way way for a high functioning autistic boy like Joe to access an education. Wherever I have dealings with people who do not know me, it is assumed Joe has been taken into care. I have attended a Looked After Child medical where I was quizzed on whether I attended any pre-natal checkups with him and other such questions seeming to assess my suitability as a mother. I wanted to tell them that I did. I went to parenting classes, all my appointments, I did everything I could. I wanted them to understand that I cared so much, that he was breast fed till he was 15 months, that I devoted myself to my inexplicable autistic baby, but they weren’t listening. Questions were addressed to Joe’s care staff and not me. When his address was asked for, I gave ours. But the doctor, after glancing at the school staff, said nothing and wrote down the school address. Then Joe and I were asked to leave the room so the staff could discuss us.
Mark and I have had to have discussions with social workers (who fortunately support us and recognise the situation we are in) justifying why Joe should not be taken into care fully (the government are not imaginative enough to think of a situation where a child could be voluntarily placed in care for more than 6 months – either things get better within this time frame and the child should go home, or the child isn’t going home and should be formally taken into care). Black or white, apparently we can’t be grey – humanity and common sense is not an option. We had to come up with arguments as to why Joe would not be better of fostered, adopted, placed with other family members, placed full time in a residential school – the paperwork is required for ‘the process’.
Promises from the school to work with Joe to keep him in his clubs and with his family have not panned out the way we expected. Obviously what we called ‘working with the family’ was completely different from the school’s perception of the phrase. The thirteen years of experience I have had working with Joe have been dismissed as irrelevant information – the school likes a fresh start. My need to be involved with my son’s daily challenges and achievements were pushed aside as unrealistic – the staff are dealing with the boys. They don’t have time. I was told I have to let go of the reins. But you see, I don’t want to do that yet. I spent thirteen years caring for him to the absolute best of my ability. I made sure he was in a loving, caring (albeit small and untidy) home. We worked on coping strategies together. I read the books, took all the advice I could get, I made notice boards, tactile boxes, reward systems. I even wrote and illustrated Joe’s reading books when he learned to read, using tractors and lorries as he wasn’t remotely interested in the Oxford Reading Tree Books featuring the family with the ridiculously named children (as Joe regularly complained, you eat chips and kippers, and who is called Biff?). As he grew, I made sure he had a healthy diet, that coping strategies evolved with him, that he had time outdoors (his calmer place) as much as possible, that he had exercise and didn’t stay up for hours doing jigsaws or listening to goodness knows what on the radio. Now, as I see Joe putting on weight, finding it harder to cope with his siblings, taking longer to settle when he comes home, becoming immersed in computer games he plays at school in the evenings, it rips my heart. I don’t blame the care staff – it’s the system – but I do not believe they can give Joe the care and attention I can. And the reason I am prevented from caring for my child like any ‘normal’ Mum boils down to money – the school won’t give up the funds from a residential place and only take Joe as a day pupil, and the county doesn’t have the money to set up a day school that can provide the sort of education Joe needs. It’s not that there isn’t the need for this. There are families throughout this county on their knees, home schooling their children because there is simply nowhere else for them to go.
I’m not saying that I want to keep Joe forever, or control everything he does, but I want to be there for him when he needs me. I want to be able to share the parts of his life that he allows me to. I want to be there for that flash of a smile, share his humour, his perspective in life. I want to be able to help him develop values and strategies that will see him through his life ahead, and explore with him our values and why we hold them so dear. I want to see him sitting round the meal table after school, sharing his day with the other children. I just want to be his ‘normal’ Mum again.