Introduce yourself please
My name is Jenny Molloy and I’m a writer.
Could you tell us a bit about yourself?
I spend a lot of time with my family. I spend most of my time with my kids. They’re big now though, 22 and 19. I have a granddaughter who is 5. Believe it or not, and you’re not allowed to laugh alright? Ive taken up knitting. But it’s well therapeutic! (Laughter). I love it, I even go to my local knitting club! It’s in a trendy coffee shop though! Im proper cool (Laughter).
Can you tell us the reason why you went into care?
Both my parents had grown up in care themselves and they had a long standing addiction to alcohol. That addiction led them to such a dark place so they just weren’t able to care for us in any way. We went into care when my mum was in prison. We were really little.
“We went into care when my mum was in prison. We were really little”
How did you feel about going into care?
Gosh, do you know how often that day comes into my head? There’s a red bus in London called the number 73 and I used to get on that bus to go to work. I was on the number 73 when I saw the police station where I took my brothers and asked for us to be put into care. That brings me back almost every time. Half of me was really worried and guilty, I was worried about where my dad was. I felt awful that my mum was in prison and that she wouldn’t know where we were going. Our house was all smashed up and I was worried that my dad wouldn’t be able to get the house cleared up. But the other half of me was really happy because I was really scared to go home. So I was totally split. I was relieved that I wasn’t going back to that house and back to those parents but at the same time I loved them. You can’t help but love them unfortunately so I felt guilty and sad as well.
What is your favourite childhood memory?
We had never had clean and dry bedding when I lived at home. When I went into care I remember getting my first quilt and being allowed to choose my first quilt cover. I chose strawberry short cake. I was so excited. I went off to school and I remember when I got home it was there and I wrapped myself up in that quilt and carried it with me everywhere like a comfort blanket. In my files it says that it took a week for me to believe that it wasn’t going to be taken away from me. And now clean bedding is the best thing in the world for me. Like the smell of Lenor – they have these new balls that you put in your washing and it makes your washing smell amazing, you have to get them! The pink ones are the best!
“When I went into care I remember getting my first quilt and being allowed to choose my first quilt cover. I chose strawberry short cake”
Whats your biggest achievement?
I wish it wasn’t this, but my biggest achievement is my kids never going into care. I would like to say my biggest achievement is getting a law degree which is what I wanted to do when I was 16, but my ambitions were different. I was tuned into being a care kid and I couldn’t think beyond that. But I am just ridiculously proud of my kids.
“I am just ridiculously proud of my kids”
Overall what do you think your care experience has been like?
A rollercoaster. There were periods of time being really settled and feeling really loved and cared for in 2 separate children’s homes. And there were times where it was hell. Horrible things happened and decisions were made where nobody considered me in the middle of it. I would say its a mixture between love and hate are my feelings for that time.
“decisions were made where nobody considered me in the middle of it”
Has the past had a negative or positive effect on your future?
It’s had both. It’s had positives because I make positives from it. Sometimes it’s still a daily battle. Your care history never leaves you but the way you see it and how you feel about it changes as you grow up. I was determined that what happened to us as children wasn’t going to ruin my whole future. I worked hard at getting rid of that resentment against my parents, the system, social workers.
“I worked hard at getting rid of that resentment against my parents, the system, social workers”
There’s a saying, resentment is like is like me drinking poison and expecting someone else to die. So that means resentment is killing me, but I’m expecting you to get hurt by it. Well you’re not going to get hurt by it. The person who delivers the pain is cracking on with their lives, the person that feels the pain is the one that suffers and I just refuse to do that – so thats the positive aspects. The negative aspects are huge. I would be lying to you if I said to you that my life has been easy as an adult. I left care pregnant, they signed me out of care and that was it. I got my leaving care grant about 2 days after and that was it. Nothing else. It’s been really rocky but I never got to the stage where anything really bad happened. I had milestones. I was focused on never getting evicted from my house and losing my tenancy, I was dedicated to getting my kids through school and I never wanted to go to prison, and those things all came from my parents experience. I actually ended up working in prisons as a resettlement worker. I also went into recovery from alcohol addiction when I was 32 and on May 9th I am 7 years sober so I’m well happy about that! So it’s been rocky but these last 7 years have been amazing. I think being in recovery has done it. It’s given me the time to get therapy and understand who I am, so theres a good ending.
“I left care pregnant, they signed me out of care and that was it”
What has driven you?
One thing is my kids. I absolutely fell in love with those kids. They bring me so much joy. I always believed that I deserved this happiness that I had seen from other people but I never knew quite how to get there until I went into recovery.
Who is your role model?
The first person I met that I really wanted to be like was my last social worker. She was so cool. She’s still in my life now I’m part of her family. She was actually only 5 years older than me, I was 16 then. She dressed wicked, her hair was beautiful, she was so trendy. She didn’t look like a social worker. She used to take me clothes shopping. She’s afro Caribbean and she was just so cool, I got her to do my daughters hair in a top knot style one time and she said “It’s not going to work she doesn’t have afro hair” but i was like “go on do it” and she did it. Sandra was so cool, she taught me a lot in life.
“She dressed wicked, her hair was beautiful, she was so trendy”
There’s a book she showed me , when I was about 25, called The Rules, and it’s about what you should expect in relationships with men. It taught me about my own standards in relationships which I had never even considered before. I just let anyone do anything they wanted. So yeah, Sandra.
What keeps you going?
Holidays! (laughs) I keep on going… because I think it’s okay I am going on holiday in 2 weeks. Life has changed so much, there’s no drama, I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anyone. Just knowing I am going to see my grand-daughter, that I am taking her on holiday, they are the things that keep me going now.
“Life has changed so much, there’s no drama, I don’t feel like I have to prove myself to anyone”
Did you ever feel like giving up?
Yeah. I had a really bad period of post natal depression with my first child – and I didn’t know that I had it. Because I was so scared that social workers would take my baby off me, I wouldn’t go to health visitors or midwifes or anything like that, I just went off the radar. I hadn’t had any antenatal care, so I didn’t know what it was. Then with my second child a health visitor diagnosed it. I had obsessions around the house, I just really believed – but in an irrational way, that my kids would be taken either through social services or it sounds awful, but death. I would bleach the bedding because I was worried there could be something there to harm them and I would scrub myself because I believed… these are really searching questions… I just really believed that, it sounds really bad but I believed I was ‘infected’ that’s the word I would use. I asked the hospital to take my child because I felt like I had given him a mum that was so awful and had all these secrets about what had happened to me as a kid. They were dark times, but thankfully the health visitor recognised it and about 2 years later I came through it.
Do you think care has changed since you left?
Some aspects have changed, I think stuff like this is wicked, the involvement and opportunities for young people. You guys will have a wicked CV after all this! It would fill a book! Whereas before you might get asked something but you wouldn’t know who was asking and you would probably think ‘Well I ain’t talking to you’ so you never got involved – that’s changed. Safeguarding has really improved, it’s not good enough but it’s certainly a lot better. Everything young people say to me and care leavers say to me – I recognise. The core aspects around your feelings, the powerlessness around decision making and the pain we feel through our parents actions or our families actions – that’s still the same.
“Safeguarding has really improved, it’s not good enough but it’s certainly a lot better”
Do you think you were ever judged or labeled for being in care?
I was in my first secondary school. I was always going to stand out, it was in a really posh part of London and we had to wear this really posh ridiculous stupid embarrassing uniform that I really didn’t want to wear! Our home was known as ‘The home on the hill’ so as soon as the kids found out and their parents found out, I was then known for that. I remember I had this really good friend called Joanne and she was really posh and she had a horse. Her mum was a hairdresser and I remember asking her to get her mum to cut my hair. They came to my kids home and came to my room to cut my hair and I had this thing all throughout care where I would put every birthday card and christmas card on the wall with blue-tack and keep them up for months. I remember Joanne saying to her mum “Mum why’s she got all them cards on her wall?” and her mum said (whispers) “shhhh… it’s a children’s home” and after that we weren’t friends any more she just avoided me. It was my first incline that I was different. After that I ended up in kids homes that had schools in them so then your all in it together.
“Our home was known as ‘The home on the hill’ so as soon as the kids found out and their parents found out, I was then known for that”
How did the other kids talk about the ‘home on the hill’?
It was like it was a scary place, you know like a house with a smelly person living there and everyones like ‘don’t go near that house’, it was kinda like that you know (whispers) ‘She lives in the house on the hill’ It’s funny because I thought the house was amazing, it was amazing! It was a beautiful mansion bang in the middle of Hampstead, one lane away from Millionaires Row right, so I am quite happy (everyone laughs) I lived next door to Mr and Mrs Green and they have got a Royals Royce in their garage so I was alright do you know what I mean? But yeah the other kids thought of it as a scary place.
“It was a beautiful mansion bang in the middle of Hampstead, one lane away from Millionaires Row”
What was the moment you really started to believe in yourself?
In the last few years. When my book was published, my first book Hackney Child. Before it was publish I had not told hardly anyone I had been in care. Not my kids not my husband, they did kind of know I had been in care, but they know absolutely none of the details whatsoever. I had felt like I had been walking around with these suitcases of secrets inside me. When it came out… The first 6 months before it was published I thought everyone is going to be like ‘Who is this?’ you know ‘she deserved it all’ you know ‘so what that her parents where like that?’ But actually it was so healing, that people were so kind and loving towards me over the book. Definitely that moment, my life changed after publishing the book.
“But actually it was so healing, that people were so kind and loving towards me over the book”
What made you write the book?
When I first went into treatment for addiction I remember my recovery worker saying to me ‘either sort your stuff out from your childhood or you are going to relapse’ and I 100% was not going to relapse, once I went to that treatment centre I wasn’t going back there again, it was embarrassing and I felt full of shame. Then I met a journalist who was astounded that I had been in care, because I had commissioned her for a piece of work in my job. She said, and this is the perception isn’t it, she said “if I am so astounded that a care leaver can be so successful, then that is the view of a lot of the public, so lets write your story” and that’s how it happened. I wrote Hackney Child under Hope Daniels, I still had that deep shame. I didn’t want anyone to know who I was. It became a mad dream, 4 publishers started a bidding war and someone said to me ‘They are going to want to know who you are’. I made a split decision, lets do it. My last book ‘Neglected’ is under Jenny Molloy, it’s the last book I want to write. It was my kind of closing act, this is who I really am.
Have you ever felt alone?
Loads, a lot when I was in care, a lot. I lived in a fantasy world in my head, I did a lot of reading and writing and I would lose myself in that. Also as a single mum I felt alone at times then. But I definitely don’t feel that now, I have an amazing husband and wicked (great) kids!
“I lived in a fantasy world in my head, I did a lot of reading and writing and I would lose myself in that”
Did your foster carers help you?
Most of them didn’t. My last foster carers did. I only actually lived with them for about 4 months but they stayed in my life until my foster dad died, about 10 years ago. They massively helped me. I was really ill from about 14 onwards and end up in the hospital loads. As an adult they helped me with my children when I would end up in hospital and if it wasn’t for them my kids could have gone into care. They helped me a lot.
What’s your message to children in care?
My dream is just that kids in care will see and feel just how precious they are. We learn so many skills through our survival. As a professional, there was always change. I could deal with it but other people where having kittens, they couldn’t handle it! But I was used to change. A new team, a different office, so what? It’s a really good skill, we have it! I am passionate about kids in care realising that they are so special and can succeed to the highest level in whatever they want to succeed at!
“I am passionate about kids in care realising that they are so special and can succeed to the highest level in whatever they want to succeed at!”
What was it like when you first went into care?
To begin with it felt like a massive holiday. It was warm there was food in the cupboards. There was no-one coming into the house that shouldn’t be there. There was no violence no alcohol. I couldn’t believe it, I thought this can’t really be real life!
“It was warm, there was food in the cupboards. There was no-one coming into the house that shouldn’t be there. There was no violence, no alcohol. I couldn’t believe it”
This was not life as I knew it. Little things like, I found it hard to accept it, but the food was never going to run out. So I didn’t have to go out and steal food but I still did. I hoarded food, just incase, because physiologically I couldn’t be sure. Then reality set in because we were told my parents were coming to visit, mum was out of prison. So then I immediately hated care because my views were ignored because I didn’t want to see my parents. I would have been happier and felt safer if I never saw my parents again, but it was forced on me right up until I went into a secure unit aged 13. Then I was allowed to choose. Before that I had this real sense of unfairness, everything would be done to me. I was like 9 going on 18. I had looked after my brothers, my parents were never at home, I knew the best shops to steal from… I was a lot older than my years. I felt this deep sense of injustice… who are you to tell me? That’s how I felt in care, that’s why I wanted to become a lawyer to fight the injustice.
If you could change one thing about your past what would you change?
I would change my childhood. I could deal with not having that pain. You never get rid of that loss, of not having good parents. I would have a nice childhood. I would change my addictions because I never wanted to be an alcoholic like my mum, but it happened. Only I got into recovery and created a better ending for myself, that’s the difference!
In the most difficult moments what kept you going?
I don’t even know what kept me going. When I was in the deep depths of post natal depression, nowadays I would have probably been sectioned. But back then it was very different. The only thing that kept me going at times was my heart beating, that is just the way it was.
“The only thing that kept me going at times was my heart beating”
How does it feel to prove people that you can get a proper life?
I love it. I say ‘I was brought up in care’, people say ‘really?’ I say ‘yeah look up Hackney child!’ They say ‘really, you wrote a book?’ I say ‘Yeah!’ I love it. People have always underestimated kids in care, we just can’t allow that to filter into our hearts, we have just got to believe. When I was younger I had an inferiority complex. I would be stumbling over my words. I worked my out of that by faking confidence but the more I behaved like that the more I believed, now I can’t stop talking, I talk to everyone.
“People have always underestimated kids in care, we just can’t allow that to filter into our hearts”
Did you ever run away?
I was known. There was a kind of table of absconders. I was at the top of that list for children at risk for about 2 years. I started to take drugs and drink because I though that was what was going to stop the emotional pain that I was feeling – that’s when I started to go missing.
What do you think about the care system now?
We are lucky to have a system of protection for vulnerable children that other countries can only dream of. That is not to say there are not many problems with it, but actually in the most part we have a system to be proud of, that this country cares enough about children. We have professionals who are passionate and dedicated to improving and enriching children’s lives, we should be proud of that.
“we have professionals who are passionate and dedicated to improving and enriching children’s lives, we should be proud of that”
Why do statistics show children leaving care achieve less?
Load of reasons. What the world sometimes forgets is that behind every statistic there is a real person, a real child behind it. People forget there’s a human element behind those numbers.
“What the world sometimes forgets is that behind every statistic there is a real person, a real child behind it”
Underachievement can be put down to many reasons, the childhood trauma, a lack of opportunities, low aspirations that are often there for us. The care system is a system you have to survive in. I have friends who had horrific experiences in care, they had to fight to get through it alive. I didn’t, I was really lucky, I wasn’t abused in care or anything like that.
“The care system is a system you have to survive in”
What did you do differently to those who people around you who were failing?
One of the biggest things that helped me was working out very quickly which friends weren’t good for me. I had standards. I would never have my kids around people that were drunk, in a dirty house, I would never have my kids in a house they were using drugs, if I knew people were like that I stayed away from them. It 100% kept me away from dodgy situations that my friends where getting in.
You had a child at 17 and felt stigmatised, do you think that stigma has changed?
No, definitely not. When you are in care and you get pregnant it is seen as a massive crisis. You know, suddenly everyone is running around, referrals are going into every organisation, you having to sit through all these assessments and your thinking ‘eh? Why you asking?’ you know ‘I don’t know how to look after a kid! I’ve never had one.’
“When you are in care and you get pregnant it is seen as a massive crisis”
My daughter had a baby, I wouldn’t say to her “Do you know how to look after a baby?” Of course she didn’t! I had to support her through it and there were times I thought ‘Oh God her flats a mess’ and ‘the baby’s got chocolate all over it’s face’ and ‘she spent all her money on going out’ of course there were times like that. She was young, but you don’t then take the kid into care, you don’t then suddenly panic and organise a child protection conference! You just give more support and that’s what isn’t there for care leavers. They don’t support you to be parents, they assess you as to whether you can be parents! My daughters an amazing mum, she’s done 3 years at college – she’s just about to go to University, she was wicked. She was really young, she was only 16 when she got pregnant, I reacted just like they do in care I was thinking this is the worst thing in the world and your whole life is ruined. I was shocked. But she’s done wicked, I’m very proud of her.
“They don’t support you ‘to be’ parents, they assess you as to whether you ‘can be’ parents!”
How do you become successful despite a care background? What is your secret formula?
You have got to have strength of steel. They call it resilience in care. All adults come up against difficult times. The important thing is that you get back up again, time and time again. That will definitely get you through. Don’t give up. Until I met ‘normal adults’ I thought only kids in care had problems as adults. Believe in yourself, and when you face setbacks dust your self down and carry on.
“Believe in yourself, and when you face setbacks dust your self down and carry on”
What is your message to professionals?
Stop underestimating us. Believe that we deserve to achieve everything that children not in care can achieve!
Stop underestimating us. Believe that we deserve to achieve everything that children not in care can achieve!