Please be aware this piece contains references to addiction and domestiv violence, which some people may find distressing.
I grew up with three sisters, my mum and dad split up when I was young and my mum was an alcoholic. I kept running away because I had no love.
I used to be jealous of my friends because they had mum, dad and everything was great, or that’s how I perceived it. I ran away from home just before secondary school to go to my nanna. My nan and granddad didn’t have much, but they were always there. I always knew I could go back to their house. No matter what, there’d always be a home.
But I got in with the wrong crowd and from a really young age I started shoplifting, experimenting with cannabis, gas, that kind of stuff. That went on until I got expelled from school. I used to take ecstasy at weekends and go out to clubs. Then I got arrested for robbery, my first serious offence, but luckily enough in court it got dropped. From then on I was in and out of the criminal justice system.
I got pregnant at 18, when I was in a domestic violence relationship. I had the baby and the relationship ended straight after. Then I found my granddad dead and my world fell apart. He was my father figure. After that, it wasn’t that I wasn’t welcome at my nanna’s, but I had a baby, so I was left to my own devices.
It was then I got introduced to crack cocaine and it deteriorated quite quickly. My mum had passed away when I was about 21. On the day of my mum’s funeral I went to look for my older sister and found her in a crack house. And from when I found her there, that was it, I was drawn to that.
Because of the crack, my son had gone to live with my auntie. I was going in and out of prison and while I was in there I got blagged into signing a form for my auntie to look after my son long-term. So when I got out, I realised I couldn’t have my son back and I just lost it. I also went through another pregnancy in custody and I was told the child was going to be removed at birth. That just made me worse.
I spent 16 years in and out of prison, committing crime, getting into domestic violence relationships. I was in a long-term one where I got really badly beaten up and still went back. I was on probation and all that kind of stuff but I always breached it. I was given an ASBO indefinitely, so that always got me arrested as well.
When I was in prison, I was a pen pal with someone and he sent money and stuff. I felt that I owed him, so I kept in touch with him and when I got out I got with him, which I shouldn’t have done really. But I had a beautiful son. I was clean for about a year after that, but then I started smoking crack again.
My involvements with services weren’t really good. I was too chaotic at the time and when I went to services I found I had to repeat myself over and over again. I remember sitting with someone and he was asking me loads of questions and then he would turn the page and ask me the same questions as the page before. If he would have been listening he would have known.
Then in 2013 there was a course in the prison called RAMP (Reduction and Motivation Programme). There was an ex addict and he was giving presentations on the behaviours of addiction. And it just got me. So I did my detox there and when I came out of prison, I went straight to rehab. There I did CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) and that was really good. I have been clean ever since.
Now, I have got a relationship with my older son, who’s 21, but also I’m going through the court process for joint custody of my younger son, who’s 10, with his dad. I have always maintained contact and in 2013 when I was in rehab I got in touch with social services to see if I could have unsupervised contact and they said yeah.
But social services need to be more accessible. It took me three weeks to find out how to start the process of getting custody of my son – you don’t get legal aid anymore. Then I can’t get him back til I get a two bedroom property. But if you aren’t claiming child benefit you don’t get a two bedroom. I keep getting knocked back.
It’s a long process to take a child. I understand safeguarding and all that and I totally admit I was chaotic when my children were younger. I didn’t really engage much, but there was nothing to engage with. When social services first knew about me smoking crack, they could have worked together with drug services but really they just worked on their own, which is really sad.
Even now we don’t get a lot of women who have children coming to us at Inspiring Change, because they’re too scared of social services taking them. More work needs to be done so that when they go and get their methadone they are not afraid to say they have got children.
Women are hidden from services, there’s loads of barriers to them. Who’d want to go to a drug service when there are a load of males getting a script, who could kick off at any time? There should be a women’s afternoon where women could just go. And there should be more women’s spaces. The only women’s spaces are for domestic violence and for ex-offenders. There could be one big space where you can access all services.
I’m quite passionate about the new Homeless Charter, where some groups are working to change the way you present at Manchester City Council. Women have got more baggage than men when presenting as homeless, they’ve got mental health, trauma, rape, domestic violence. When you go to the town hall, to that desk, you’ve got to tell a complete stranger all that stuff. And they’re not trained for that. Some people don’t want to tell the whole story and they end up getting the wrong treatment or service.
There also needs to be more child-friendly places cos there’s none. None at all. I know there’s a lot of funding issues, but I believe there should be more stuff around children and education, after-school clubs and all that kind of stuff. When you’re growing up in a dysfunctional family it generates through the whole family. If it’s not good at home for a child there should be stuff in place to help them. If you start from a young age it can help put the basics in place.
If you’d asked me 10 years ago what I wanted for my future, I would have said a nice house, a nice car and loads of clothes and all that kind of stuff, but I am not interested in none of that now. I just want to have a home and have my son with me. That’s what I hope for, and just to be happy.
Clare was a Women’s Voices GROW trainee at Inspiring Change Manchester.