Here’s more about the ways that authorities keep homeless single mothers and their kids in chaos and under the thumb.
I’ve posted a transcript from a longer interview with Marsha, 30, at the end of this article.
Marsha is a homeless Newham woman who lives with her little daughter in one room in a Newham homelessness hostel.
The two share a bed in this room. They’ve lived in the hostel for more than two years. I’ve written several stories about Marsha’s situation.
In the transcript below, Marsha talks at length about the invasive attention that she has drawn from council social services and her daughter’s school as a homeless single mother.
Social services and her daughter’s school have been on Marsha’s case for a while. They order Marsha to bring her daughter to same-day meetings with social workers, or ring to say she must get to her daughter’s school right away.
There’s not always been time for Marsha to arrange for someone to accompany her to these meetings. That’s a big concern. Marsha has been questioned in detail by authorities about her mental and emotional health, and her daughter’s mental and emotional health. She’s been put on the spot by people she does not know in a system that she can’t trust – often without witnesses, or representation. Women I speak with raise this issue all the time.
The thing is – Marsha IS worried about her daughter’s mental and emotional health, and her own. Bad living conditions and relentless questioning from social services and schools inevitably affect a family’s frame of mind.
Marsha has severe depression and anxiety. She often says that she is concerned her small daughter is being negatively affected by their cramped living space and the social services meddling that the little girl has witnessed. You’d be dreaming if you thought that a child would not be affected by those things.
In the transcript below, Marsha says:
“All of a sudden, [my daughter] is seeing me in a very distressed state, because of everything that I’m going through. These people around here – she is exposed to conversations [which she shouldn’t be]…”
The problem is that Marsha must justify her family’s responses to their living conditions to organisations that hold all the cards.
Marsha is in a situation that a lot of homeless single mothers talk about. She’s been placed in poor housing by public authorities [her council]. Then, she’s been made to answer to public authorities as her family’s health has disintegrated because of the poor housing that the family has been placed in and the lack of decent alternatives. There’s no way to win. Marsha has no power in this scene.
Marsha says she understands that authorities have safeguarding roles – but that doesn’t mean that they’re above cornering women. Most single mothers in poor housing I talk with worry constantly about councils taking their children. That means they’re always on the back foot. There can be no balance in conversations that they have with authorities because of it.
Says Marsha in the transcript:
“…it was totally out of order how the council referred me to social services without even telling me [and insisted that Marsha brought her daughter to a social services meeting]. I even said, “I don’t even know why [my daughter] is there [at the meeting].” [The social worker] said, “No, we just want to see if there is any concerns.”
“….I still complied, because I’m thinking the last thing that I want to do is jeopardise myself. So, if [the social worker is] saying that she wants to see me and my daughter, of course I am going to see her [the social worker] … [but] I would never had let [my daughter] sit through these conversations [if I’d known how they would affect her]. If I could have called my mother and say, “could you hold [my daughter] for two hours while I have a conversation with this lady [social worker]…”
Women should not be forced to retreat and retreat like this.
In the longer interview transcript below, Marsha talks about a call she received from her daughter’s school earlier this year.
The school rang and said Marsha had to get to the school right away.
Marsha hurried to the school: “My heart starts…racing now. I am like, “what’s going on? What’s wrong with [my daughter]?” I mean – [it’s] my worst fear.”
It seemed that there were several problems. Marsha’s daughter had told the school that she was upset about the way a social worker had spoken to her mother at a meeting that Marsha and her daughter had to attend.
The girl also told the school that she made her own breakfast and looked after herself at times. The school took that to mean the child had to fend for herself.
Marsha said that her little girl was never left to make food for herself. Her daughter liked to try and make her own breakfast – with Marsha’s supervision – and to tell people that she could do it. Little kids often like to take the lead in tasks like making breakfast as they become more independent.
Still, Marsha had to explain herself to the school. She had to explain her daughter’s comments about making breakfast. She had to wear her daughter’s distress about their housing conditions and meetings with social workers. She had to address her daughter’s comments about being alone.
Marsha often says that she tries to protect her daughter from her own distress about their housing problems and the social services meetings that she and her child are dragged to. That’s very hard to do when you live in one room with a child:
“I dropped her off to school as normal… I thought everything was okay…[then] the school rang me saying they need to speak to me about something. I said, “okay.”
“[I asked], “what is it in regards to?” They said, “you’ll have to come in.”
“My heart starts…racing now. I am like, “what’s going on? What’s wrong with [my daughter]?” I mean – [it’s] my worst fear. So – I’m going up to the school. I was met by the lady who is called Ms_ [name removed]. I have never been in contact with her before. She says she is the welfare officer…
“She said to me [that she had] some concerns regarding [my daughter].
“I said, “what kind of concerns?”
“She said to me that [my daughter] was in class this morning and she was really upset. She said to her teacher that there was a lady in her house from social services yesterday and the lady was quite mean and she thinks the lady is out to get her mum. So, she was really upset.
“The teacher carried on talking to [my daughter] until she opened up to her teacher. [My daughter] was saying she makes her own breakfast in the morning… that I left her at home to go to college and leave her on her own. At that point, I broke down…
“I was always able to take it on the chin, because I am an adult. I’ve always [been] used to being knocked about, so I am physically… I am used to pain now, but when I saw that it [the social services meetings] was having a negative impact on [my daughter] – honestly, I lost control. I broke down. I was in [the] school. I was very teary. I was crying – [saying] that was totally not true.
“[My daughter] is a very bright child. So many parents have told me how bright she is… she is very advanced for her age… She’s always eager to open conversations and talk and you can ask her anything…
“So – I said with [my daughter] saying that she makes her own breakfast – she is saying that she helps make her own breakfast, because honestly, she is the kind of child that I can’t do anything for…
“I will be like putting on her clothes and she will be like, “no, no, Mummy. I can put on my clothes…I can put on my shoes. I’ll do it.”
“In regards to [the accusation of] me leaving [my daughter] on her own while I’m in college – I’m like, “come on.” [My daughter] is at school in the same hours I’m in college. While I’m in college, [my daughter] is in school. I even go to the extra length to drop [my daughter] off at breakfast club and have her put in after school club.
“I said, “it’s totally ridiculous.” I live in a prison [the homelessness hostel] where there’s [security] guards everywhere. There’s stair marshals that are aware of us. We’ve been living in this block now for coming on three years. I can’t even come onto the stairs without security asking me where is [my daughter]…
“In my heart I was like, “I really need to see my child.” This [meeting at the school] was like 11 o’clock in the morning. I was like, “I really need to see [my daughter]. Imagine how distressed she is at the moment…”
“I went to pick her up in the evening….I said to them, “I am feeling very disappointed and let down,” because I’ve spoken to the school about my [housing] situation that I am experiencing. I’ve asked them for their support. I’ve felt like – even though I knew that they were acting in accordance [with social services legislation] because [my daughter] is 5 years old and if she is making claims, they have to listen to her. Because the last thing that you want to do is ignore a child that is in need…
“But I said to them, “could we put this into context?” [My daughter] has been attending the school for 3 years. She’s never late. Her attendance is 95%. I’ve always picked her up on time. If I can’t go, I will ask a friend of mine, or my mother, every single time… so safeguarding issues regarding [my daughter].
“[My daughter] is a little chatterbox. I have to be wary of what I say and I what I do around her, because she will go to school…I’m aware of that, because I’ve known my child for 5 years. I know what kind of child she is… if [my daughter] had any issues – wouldn’t it have been detected 3 years prior to this? All of a sudden, she’s seeing me in a very distressed state, because of everything that I’m going through. These people around here – she is exposed to conversations [which she shouldn’t be]…
“…it was totally out of order how the council referred me to social services without even telling me [and insisted that Marsha brought her daughter to a social services meeting]. I even said I don’t even know why [my daughter] is there. [The social worker] said, “No, we just want to see if there is any concerns.”
“I didn’t even understand what her role is [the social worker], but I still complied, because I’m thinking the last thing that I want to do is jeopardise myself. So, if [the social worker is] saying that she wants to see me and my daughter, of course I am going to see her …
“…[but] I would never had let [my daughter] sit through these conversations [if I’d known how they would affect her]. If I could have called my mother and say, “could you hold [my daughter] for two hours while I have a conversation with this lady [social worker]…?”
“I’ve spoken to so much professionals and they have said I am like supermum – [they] don’t know how [I] have managed to control [with] so much composure… I am like, “my daughter is my future ahead of everything else… because ultimately, I want to secure a good future for her.”
“When I think about weakness, I can’t let it creep in, because I think – how would that reflect on [my daughter]?
“[My daughter] she said that she wanted to impress them… she said that the lady was like, “Mummy, when I told them that I make my own breakfast, she was like – oh, I am really impressed with you!” So [my daughter] is [trying to] make them even more impressed…
“I said [to my daughter] – “what did you say?” She said, “I told them that I started the microwave and I started my own meal.”
“I said to the lady [the school welfare officer] – “[my daughter] doesn’t have anyone that is 5 years old around her. All her cousins are 14 and 15 and they stay at home on their own. She has that mentality – she wants to do things that they do like she is a teenager…
…”The lady, the welfare officer said, “because she’s made this claim, we have to refer you to MASSH [the multi-agency safeguarding and support hub).” I was like, “oh my god. This is my worst nightmare…” There is this stress for me, because of what they’ve put me through…this has actually opened a can of worms now. What is going on? Oh my god, I really can’t take it any more…
“I said to them, “I’m not going to be held responsible for my child saying something to an adult because she wants to impress them… If you’re trying to question her and ask her why she is upset… ask her why is she trying to impress you…” But anyway, we didn’t need to do that, because the social worker called me up and said, “Massh called me and said that they’re not going to take any further action, because they had spoken to the school and they just needed to put things into context…”
…”It’s just like… now the social worker is saying to me – “maybe you can be mindful of the things that you say around [your daughter] because she is a very smart young lady and she hears everything…”
“I’m like, “What?” She [the social worker] is even saying to me, “can you do extra activities with your daughter.” I said to her – the trouble is being on Universal Credit. I’ve been struggling on Universal Credit. By the end of the month, I’m absolutely broke because of having to spend out of pocket expenses to do everything to maintain myself and my daughter to live a normal life. I’m having to pay out of pocket expenses for breakfast club and after school club just to try to do something with my life [to attend college to become a nurse] to move forward – to try to get a better life for me and my daughter. Now, you’re telling me I need to do extra activities. I am. I try to do extra activities. I go to the library [with my daughter] – everything…”
“I’m like – “oh my god. They’ve twisted [my daughter’s] mind in such a way…she’s seen me very intimidated…sometimes I cry. I’m not going to lie. Sometimes I do cry in front of [my daughter]. If I go into the bathroom and cry, she’s going to open the door and say, “Mummy, why are you in the bathroom crying?” I can’t go into the kitchen and cry because there is no space…
“My phone is going to ring. People [from the school and the council] are going to question me. So – what am I going to do? Go outside? [if I go outside to take calls], the next thing is that [my daughter] is going to say, “mummy left me to go outside to speak.”
“I can’t win. “