2 Beginning to think about separation
Some of you will know children who live in settings that are not their original family home. You may have lived away from your family of origin yourself. It is remarkably common in children's fiction to find characters who have become separated from their parents and families, for example, Harry Potter, the children in the Narnia Chronicles, Tracy Beaker and many more.
The fictional Tracy Beaker tells us a lot about what it feels like to be separated from family and familiar places. She is cross, sad and happy, by turns, and imagines her mother whom she has not seen for a long time to be a beautiful film star with a sports car. Many children may feel the need to fill voids in their lives with fantasy, especially when they have little factual or accurate information about their past. Often, being encouraged to remember and to talk about experiences of separation can help children to make sense of what has happened to them, and to create a personal ‘life story’.
In the following extracts, children who have been separated by war talk about their experiences. The activity looks at some accounts of child evacuation in England during the Second World War.
Activity 2: The experience of evacuation as a consequence of war
Read the following extracts from the accounts of people who, as children, were evacuated during the Second World War. Make notes on the possible effects of such a mass evacuation of children.
My brother and I felt very resentful toward our parents and blamed them for sending us away. We felt we had been abandoned, even more so toward the end of 1939 when the great drift homeward began for a considerable number of evacuees, perhaps because families wanted to spend Christmas together. We felt more desolate than ever at that time, we thought we had been rejected and forgotten.
My brother and I would say how we would have preferred to have taken our chance in London, rather than to be sent to live with people who had no love for us, little sympathy, and in some cases were totally lacking in understanding and tolerance. It was many years before we realised just how very deeply our parents cared for us, and many more years before we contemplated whether, given their situations, we might not have done exactly the same thing.
(Quoted in Schweitzer, 1990, p. 87)
I remember having a label put on me, and going to Mile End underground. It was my first experience of going away. It was rather strange – I didn't even know what my mum and dad looked like when I came home after the war. We went to Cornwall, and I remember being in St Just town hall with a lot of WVS ladies. We slept in the town hall that night. I thought Sylvie then was my only sister. I never lived with her when we were away, because unfortunately, she wet the bed, so therefore she ended up in a hostel, but I think she had even more billets than me because no-one would put up with her. I think out of all the war, she had it hardest, simply because she had this illness.
(Where's Your Horns?, 1979, pp. 3–4)
These children were, by force of circumstance, required to leave their homes and communities and move to another area of the country. They didn't know how long they were going to be away, or even if they would return to their former homes (some of them did not, because of bomb damage or the death of family members). Poor postal services and the lack of a telephone often limited contact between children and their families. Photographs of evacuees being parted from their parents often feature frightened, anxious and uncertain faces and tears. The separation of so many children from their parents during this time contributed to the social and psychological impact of the war on British family life.
The separation of these children from their families significantly affected them for the rest of their lives. We can learn, often through the media, about other children's experiences of separation caused by war or political turmoil. Present-day conflicts, may result in children arriving in the UK as asylum seekers, often without their parents or families. The effects of war can add to the responsibilities of those who care for these children. Carers need to be aware of the effects on children whose parents and family members have been killed and who may have been raped, injured, tortured or abandoned.
Whatever the child's circumstances, if they are not able to live with their birth families, decisions will need to be made about their care. Good practice requires that their needs as children are at the heart of decisions about where they are placed.