Jimmy Paul

Introduce yourself please…
My name is Jimmy Paul. I’m 27 years old, a Programme Manager working across Health and Social Care in Scotland.  I grew up in East London, and was in care from the age of 11.

Do you mind telling us the reasons you went into care?
My dad was an extremely violent man and is now in prison in another country for attempted murder.  He was violent, abusive and neglectful and that pushed my mother, who was a really good person, to alcoholism.

He was violent, abusive and neglectful and that pushed my mother, who was a really good person, to alcoholism

My parents had split up in 1996 and I moved between both parents with my siblings –two older sisters and two younger brothers.  In September 2000, my mother had disappeared; presumably out of fear of my dad. We were living with my dad and he got unbearably abusive, so when I was 11 I pulled up the guts and ran away.  I went to a police station and asked to be taken into care.

When I was 11 I pulled up the guts and ran away.  I went to a police station and asked to be taken into care

Jimmy Paul Portraits July 2016 Web-2Photo Credit © Michaela Waddell

How did you feel about going in care?

I felt three things, and the first was incredibly relieved.  Knowing that I didn’t have to live with my unbearable dad ever again felt like the strongest weight lifted off of my shoulders. When this realisation set in, all concern for my wellbeing and genuine fear for my life had just disappeared.  What a feeling. 

all concern for my wellbeing and genuine fear for my life had just disappeared.  What a feeling

The second feeling was of concern.  I had no idea what would happen next. Who would I live with? What if they don’t like me? What if they are abusive too? This feeling lasted for a few months after I went into care.

The third feeling was anger.  The local authority had known that my dad was abusive long before I presented to the police station.  My dad had a lengthy criminal record which supplemented what we told social workers about what our dad was like.  I was angry; why did I have to live with this for so long when clear signs were there for others to have acted on my behalf so much sooner in my life?

I was angry; why did I have to live with this for so long when clear signs were there for others to have acted on my behalf so much sooner in my life?

What’s your favourite childhood memory?
Watching my beloved Liverpool lift the Champions League trophy for the fifth time, in 2005 with my two younger brothers. Bloody brilliant!

Watching my beloved Liverpool lift the Champions League trophy for the fifth time, in 2005 with my two younger brothers. Bloody brilliant!

What is your biggest achievement?
It’s so difficult to choose one thing.  Getting my undergraduate degree from the University of Edinburgh might be an obvious choice.  Winning trophy after trophy with my football teams (Aston Vica’ FC, Lee Legends CDF and The Winnets) at University and school might be another.  Getting onto one of the best graduate schemes in the country was also huge for me.

On reflection, my biggest achievement is actually winning a complaint against the local authority, where I grew up, upheld by the Ombudsman after eight long years.  This required using all of my mental and emotional reserves – dredging up a difficult history repeatedly is no easy task.  I had been physically and emotionally abused and neglected by foster carers, lots of my care files were lost by the local authority and after twelve years in care, I never received the majority of support that I should have had as a looked after young person.

Being told over the course of nearly a decade that I ‘never had a case’ and was ‘wrong’, when I knew I was right, was extremely difficult.  At so many stages I could have turned away and given up on this David vs Goliath situation but I believed my intuition, I gathered the evidence base to that accord and my complaint was upheld by an external panel and later, by the Ombudsman.  I showed that young people aren’t just passive recipients of services and that we can battle the odds to shine a light on poor practice, forcing improvements to be made for the benefit of others.

I showed that young people aren’t just passive recipients of services and that we can battle the odds to shine a light on poor practice, forcing improvements to be made for the benefit of others. 

Overall, what has your care experience been like?
Unfortunately, my experience of growing up in care was largely awful.  I had three sets of foster carers; the first two were short term placements and they were great.  The last carers, who I was with for the longest amount of time, seven years in fact, were physically abusive and emotionally neglectful towards me.  Social workers rarely visited, assuming that I was fine because my school results were impressive.  They also tended to impose an overly cautious approach to me when they did meet me – risk assessing everything I did, from seeing a friend to getting a haircut, to going swimming. It was overbearingly bureaucratic.But I understand that social workers can be bound by very stringent rules to support children. Also, there were some social workers others who demonstrated real care and support at times when I needed it most, and for that, I am deeply grateful.  The sad reality is that this wasn’t consistently the case in my life, and isn’t consistently the case in the lives of many others.  There’s a real system challenge here that we need to scrutinise and address.  Sometimes, people say ‘all social workers are angels’ and sometimes, people say ‘all social workers are evil’.  Both of these extremes are out of touch with reality and I’m keen to challenge this with nuanced arguments

Social workers rarely visited, assuming that I was fine because my school results were impressive.  They also tended to impose an overly cautious approach to me when they did meet me – risk assessing everything I did, from seeing a friend to getting a haircut, to going swimming

I never had a consistent, authentic relationship with anyone from the local authority so it was never easy to open up truthfully about my experiences to my ‘Corporate Parent’.  I always felt isolated from the services that were supposed to protect me.

it was never easy to open up truthfully about my experiences to my ‘Corporate Parent’

Despite this adversity, what helped me to achieve was focusing on the strengths in my life.  I maintained good friendships, I focused on education and, even though it was sometimes awkward, I accepted the generous help of amazing people.  Some teachers at my school went so far over and above the call of duty for me that it is remarkable to think about it.  Some of my friends offered me an unconditional support, which my foster carers and the local authority failed to do.  At times of transition, children’s advocacy workers were excellent in helping me understand my rights and to achieve my dreams.  These people were excellent.

At times of transition, children’s advocacy workers were excellent in helping me understand my rights and to achieve my dreams.  These people were excellent. 

Jimmy Paul Portraits July 2016 Web-8Photo Credit © Michaela Waddell

Has your past had a positive or negative effect on your future?
I think everybody’s past shapes their personality – every person has a story to tell.  In some senses, my past will have a positive effect on my future.  I have learned a deep resilience, and I am passionate about ensuring good experiences for those in care now.  I will share my experiences if it helps to improve the experiences of others in care.

I am very happy in life and I have an excellent work-life balance. I now own my own place and have a great job which is amazing, as I have always craved this stability as I lacked it when I was younger.  I have fought for it for my future and it gives me a lot of joy to live this life.

Where I was mistreated for years by my dad and by foster carers I focused strongly on my own education, always striving to be the top of the class. Having achieved so highly, I now have an employable skillset and a secure job which I enjoy.

I focused strongly on my own education, always striving to be the top of the class

My past will also have a negative effect on my future.  I remain angry at how I was treated and, whilst I plan to harbour and use that anger to improve services, the fact that the anger still exists is frustrating.  There may be other ways in which my past will have a negative effect on me as, like everyone, my whole personality is shaped by my past.  Most of what I see is positivity for my future though.

Most of what I see is positivity for my future

What has driven you?
Growing up with my brothers drove me.  They are younger than me and are twins, so I always knew at the back of my mind that I was setting a benchmark for success, both educationally and otherwise.  Also, the will to achieve my dream, which was to make it to University, gave me the focus I needed to work hard as often as I could. When I made it to University, I escaped the negativity of my past and was living my dream with a great bunch of lads and lasses.

When I made it to University, I escaped the negativity of my past and was living my dream with a great bunch of lads and lasses.   

Pertinently, my anger at what I have seen and experienced also drove me.  I remain deeply concerned that other people could experience what I had experienced.  How can foster carers hit young people and get away with it, even when the young person reports it to the fostering agency? How can young people go for years without seeing their social worker?

When I left my final foster placement, I lived in a ‘care unit’ for six months before going to university.  Here I was living in a place which looked like a prison, and all of us residents were treated as hopeless criminals.  I saw social workers being so rude to young people.  I saw young people deprived of their financial support, and placed far away from friends and family. I saw desolation in all of the residents, who sought out excitement through drugs, alcohol, fighting and even harbouring exotic pets (!).

I was living in a place which looked like a prison, and all of us residents were treated as hopeless criminals

What drives me about this is the frustration at having seen and experienced how society continues to treat looked after young people as ‘nearly criminals’ when actually, looked after young people are merely the victims of extremely challenging situations around them.  For services to facilitate these stereotypes, perpetuating awful self-fulfilling prophecies, angers me.  And that anger has driven me to speak out and to do all I can to ensure that there is change.

“I am so glad that in Scotland, our calls for a revolution have been heard with a commitment to listen to 1000 voices, with a root and branch review soon to get underway. I hope this commitment spreads across the UK and indeed across the world, because I believe that this is a global issue.  I hope that Scotland will use this review to ensure services start from a point of love for some of the most vulnerable and misunderstood groups in our society.”

I am so glad that in Scotland, our calls for a revolution have been heard

Who is your role-model?
Nelson Mandela. He fought for what he believed in and there was massive change across the world as a result.  Despite going to prison for so long and suffering real persecution, he stuck by his principles.  What a man.

Jurgen Klopp, the Liverpool Manager, is also a role-model of mine.  He is excellent at galvanising teams and people, and that is so fundamental to positive change.  He shares the joys of his team and the fans, and he also shares in their pain – this level of authentic personhood and leadership is what I aspire to in my life and work.

Have you ever felt like giving up?
Often.  That’s quite natural. Most notably, I felt like giving up on my complaint against the local authority because it was so difficult to see through and spanned longer than eight years.  I also wanted to give up on education when I wasn’t achieving the results I wanted.  At times, I have also thought that it might be easier to just give up on life. Why keep battling through such relentless hardship?

However, what I learned through my most challenging upbringing was a deep resilience, and that has always spurred me on.

what I learned through my most challenging upbringing was a deep resilience, and that has always spurred me on

What keeps you going?

A number of things keep me going.  My wish for services to be better for those in care now drives me on – there is so much more we can do to improve the experiences of looked after young people.

I really enjoy the life that I have created for myself and I appreciate that working hard every day is key to maintaining this.

My girlfriend is excellent in every way and living with her is brilliant.  The same with my pet cat, Tuco.   My little family gives me plenty of motivation.

My little family gives me plenty of motivation

The remainder of my family who I am still in touch with drive me on too. We are all keen to be happy and continually successful and we are always on hand to help each other to achieve our dreams.

How much have you changed since you left care?
I have changed massively since leaving care.  I have always focused on working hard, whether it was at school, university or in my work, but now I focus much more on having a good work-life balance.  I think the key to happiness is to treat yourself well and to allow yourself to achieve all of your ranging goals and passions.  Focusing too strongly on one thing means you might neglect another. So my focus is on balance.

I think the key to happiness is to treat yourself well and to allow yourself to achieve all of your ranging goals and passions

I have a lot more confidence than I used to.  I have had to learn this over years as I wasn’t allowed to be confident whilst I was growing up.

Jimmy Paul Portraits July 2016 Web-4Photo Credit © Michaela Waddell

Do you think you were ever judged or labelled for being in care?
Sadly, I often got the impression that people equate being in care with being a failure.  People were often surprised that I was friendly or that I achieved well at school because they didn’t see that as synonymous with being in care.  On the whole, people seemed mostly impressed by me and my positivity and drive from a young age as this didn’t fit with their stereotype.

Sadly, I often got the impression that people equate being in care with being a failure.  People were often surprised that I was friendly or that I achieved well at school because they didn’t see that as synonymous with being in care. 

BUT! The fact that this stereotype exists is a big issue! We need wider societal change to address this because it is damaging and wrong.  It reflects the unfounded fear of current or formerly looked after young people and how misunderstood we are as a community.

When did you start to believe in yourself?
I always did, from a young age.  I believe this is because my mum instilled a belief in me when I was a toddler – that learning was good, and that it could change my life for the better so in that sense, I feel quite lucky. I believed in my abilities in the education system and as I consistently achieved quite highly, those beliefs were rewarded and I got a buzz from this.

Also, as I mentioned earlier, the responsibility of being in care with two younger brothers meant that I felt I needed to step up and take responsibility of achieving highly.  This required some degree of self belief and drive.

Did you ever feel alone?
I often felt alone.  Again, I think lots of people do feel alone when they are growing up. Specifically though, I felt alone in the following situations:

  • In foster care
    When I lived with my long term foster carers, they didn’t allow me to see my extended family and tried to isolate me from my two younger brothers. Social worker visits were few and far between so this was a lonely time.
  • In the care unit
    For six months before going to university I lived in a care unit for young people. The place was a ninety minute, two bus ride away from my school and the place looked like a prison. Most of the young people there was so isolated themselves, having had extremely tough upbringings, and were getting involved in drugs, gangs and violence.  I felt lonely here because I used to lock myself in my room for my own safety, and my only escape from this room was school or work. Social worker visits were also few and far between and I wasn’t able to see my brothers very often – the only family I had contact with at the time.
  • At university
    I went to the University of Edinburgh to study Human Geography. Having grown up in Newham, my ‘corporate parents’ didn’t make much of an effort to visit – I only saw my social worker twice across those four years. Whilst I had great friends around me, there were times where my lack of family felt very obvious when compared with my friends and it felt difficult- not helped by the nonexistent support (and a lack of genuine relationship) with anyone representing my corporate parent. It was always tough to see that those around me could return to their parents in difficult times when this was never an option for me.  Often, in summer or over Christmas, I would be living alone too and those times could be particularly isolating.
  • After university
    When I graduated from university, the minimal support I received from the Local Authority ended abruptly. Unfortunately, this seems normal for looked after young people – as soon as they graduate or become of age, support from corporate parents seizes completely. This time was extremely uncertain for me and I didn’t have many people to turn to, so this was another time when I felt anxious, worried and lonely.

What helped me in the above times was having a great and supportive friendship group, at school and then at university.  I’ve stressed this a lot throughout this profile but it is so true. You can’t choose your family but you can choose your friends, and as an old Kenyan proverb says; many sticks in a bundle are hard to break.

as an old Kenyan proverb says; many sticks in a bundle are hard to break

Did your foster parents help you?
My first two placements lasted for three months each.  These carers did help me – all four of them were nice, caring people who had my interests at heart. They listened to me and were nurturing. I was grateful for these carers in the early stages of my care experience.

My last foster carers, who I stayed with for seven years, were almost completely unhelpful.  They frequently said that they ‘only fostered for the money’ and that I would ‘never amount to much’.  My take on this is that they were jealous that I was more academic than their own children, despite all of the hardship I had faced in my earlier life.  I had been physically abused and emotionally neglected in this placement.  They weren’t nurturing or caring, and the placement always felt like it was ‘strictly business’ to them.  There was a severe a lack of love in this placement and I wouldn’t wish this experience on any looked after young person.

They frequently said that they ‘only fostered for the money’ and that I would ‘never amount to much’

I know that there are loving and deeply dedicated foster carers and whilst it is disappointing that my experiences weren’t better, I am always glad to hear about the impact of excellent foster carers on the lives of young people.

There was a severe a lack of love in this placement and I wouldn’t wish this experience on any looked after young person. 

Jimmy Paul Portraits July 2016 Web-11Photo Credit © Michaela Waddell

What’s your message to children in care?
My key message would be to own your identity as someone growing up in care.  Remember that you are not at fault for what has happened to you in your life.

Remember that you are not at fault for what has happened to you in your life

Even if you’ve had moments of carelessness and gotten into trouble, it isn’t your fault.  Now is the time to accept your challenging, interesting life history.  You can use your amazing story and turn it into the best possible future for yourself, and all others around you.  You have amazing resilience and you can genuinely use it to change the world.

You can use your amazing story and turn it into the best possible future for yourself, and all others around you.

I would also advise children in care to understand their rights and to fight for them.  Services, social workers, foster carers and family members may help you, but ultimately it’s so important to take your life into your own hands.  It can be really challenging to do this but I promise, the most rewarding thing is achieving something through your own undisputed efforts.

Lastly, I would suggest you find out what your passion is, focus on it and pursue it as a life choice. Surround yourself with good friends and people who will help you to achieve your dreams.  Quickly identify negative people and distractions and get rid of those from your life, as these people may drag you down when you need to be built up.

find out what your passion is, focus on it and pursue it as a life choice

What was it like when you first went into care?
The time when I first went into care felt very uncertain and confusing.  The local authority often tried to assure us that they would place me back with my mum but I always knew that this wasn’t likely.  I got mixed messages from my social workers and I didn’t know what to think.

But – my first foster placement was with really nice people, and they put me at ease. If I could go back I would ask more questions and try to understand my options more. I was moved from my first placement after three months even though I didn’t want to move. To this day, I’m still not sure why this happened and the lack of clear, consistent communication from my social workers made this time more difficult than it should have been.

If you could change anything about your life what would it be and why?
I would genuinely change nothing.  I am very happy with my life now. At 26 years of age I own my flat, I have an excellent job, I have a brilliant work-life balance and I wholeheartedly believe that I’m going to help change the world for the better.  My past has helped me to become the person I am today who is deeply happy and very driven.

I believe in the ‘butterfly effect’ so I wouldn’t even change the worst of times, as remembering them helps me to appreciate the best of times.

I believe in the ‘butterfly effect’ so I wouldn’t even change the worst of times, as remembering them helps me to appreciate the best of times. 

In the difficult moments what kept you going?
My focus was always on education, both at school and at University.  I knew that achieving academically would set me up for the secure future I had always craved and to help me move away from an insecure, unstable past. Having this focus was really helpful in the difficult times as it was a constant reminder of what I needed to do to better my life.

I knew that achieving academically would set me up for the secure future I had always craved and to help me move away from an insecure, unstable past

Surrounding myself with good people helped to keep me going.  Teachers and friends at school were brilliant and helped me through some very tough times of transition.  One teacher used to see me every day when I moved to the care unit, asking how I was and keeping an eye on me.  She even did my clothes washing for me so that I had enough time to revise for my exams.

One teacher used to see me every day when I moved to the care unit, asking how I was and keeping an eye on me.  She even did my clothes washing for me so that I had enough time to revise for my exams. 

Another teacher gave me a cheque the day I left for university so I could buy a nice big coat for the winter in Scotland.  Other teachers gave me extra tuition to help me pass my final exams in their own time.  Another teacher drove all of my belongings up to Scotland for when I started university. When times were difficult, teachers and friends used whatever resources they could to help me, and I will always be so grateful to these people.  Friends at university were always willing to lend a listening ear and offer whatever help they could.  I met a brilliant group of friends at university and had my best years there.  Seeing the generosity and kindness of these people has reminded me that there are good people in the world, and that’s a beautiful, motivating thing which I can appreciate so much.

Seeing the generosity and kindness of these people has reminded me that there are good people in the world, and that’s a beautiful, motivating thing which I can appreciate so much

How did it feel proving people wrong?
It felt bloody brilliant! People shouldn’t have doubted me, and people shouldn’t doubt young people who are in care.  We are a strong group of people. We have experienced some of the toughest things as children and we have become so resilient because of it. Even if we don’t feel resilient, the potential is there.  We can give so much back to the world and the fact that I am doing so now feels great.

However, I don’t feel like proving people wrong should be an issue for care leavers.  The low expectations and poor stereotypes shouldn’t exist in the first place.

I don’t feel like proving people wrong should be an issue for care leavers.  The low expectations and poor stereotypes shouldn’t exist in the first place. 

What do you think about the care system now?
It has improved a bit since when I was in care (between 2001 and 2012) but it isn’t perfect. I’m glad that calls to review the care system have been heard in Scotland. The very valid concerns of children in care are being heard, and that can only be good for the future of care.’

The very valid concerns of children in care are being heard, and that can only be good for the future of care.

The system is so overly concerned with ticking bureaucratic boxes.  In having this focus, it completely misses the point of what the system should actually be there to do.  Ultimately, young people in care have had an absence of security and love in their life, but no policy is brash enough to ask carers and local authorities to love their children.  The support that young people get is STILL limited by a ‘time’; whether this is a specific age or time of someone’s life, rather than by a readiness for that young person to flourish in the world.  Looked after children are still ultimately unclaimed by the state and support can just end abruptly, and that just isn’t good enough.

The support that young people get is STILL limited by a ‘time’; whether this is a specific age or time of someone’s life, rather than by a readiness for that young person to flourish in the world

Also, there are still societal challenges which need to be tackled head on with how looked after young people are perceived.  There are some lamentable stereotypes and awfully low expectations which need to be challenged.  I believe that one solution to this requires looked after young people to own their identity as care experienced, and to continue to be bold enough to share their stories.  People will be inspired by this and it will start to challenge these unfounded stereotypes which are all too prevalent.

What challenges have you faced and how did you overcome them?

Being told I wouldn’t succeed because ‘it’s too difficult coming from a care background’ and that I ‘wouldn’t amount to much’

I am now one of the youngest Senior Managers in NHS Scotland.  I have a 2:1 undergraduate degree in Human Geography from one of the best Universities in the world, and a Masters in Health and Social Care Integration from the same institution.  I own my own flat.  I write for the Guardian and use my experiences to inspire others.

How did I overcome this: I focused strongly on my education and prided myself on getting top marks.  This fitted in with my long term plan (to make it to University to study a subject I was passionate about) and knowing this gave me the drive, every day, to study this and prove the doubters wrong.

I focused strongly on my education and prided myself on getting top marks.  This fitted in with my long term plan to make it to University to study a subject I was passionate about

Being told that I wouldn’t win my long running complaint against the local authority. After eight long years of complaining against the Local Authority, I have had my complaint upheld at every stage and I have proven that it is possible for one person to tackle a whole system and improve services as a result, by shining a light on both good and bad practice.

How did I overcome this: I persevered.  I knew that the local authority had treated me wrong and that I needed the evidence to prove this. I spoke to children’s rights advocates and my friends to gather both the mental and emotional strength to do this, as well as the systems knowledge.  When you have good systems knowledge and strong determination, you can achieve anything you set your mind to.

Being branded as ‘aggressive’ by my corporate parents because of the history of my father and because I challenged the status quo.  Sometimes, those who were supposed to look after me weren’t actually focusing on my hopes for the future and I felt like they were trying to push me onto a conveyor belt for what they expected young people to turn out like. I was made to feel like going to university was a hassle because my social worker had never helped somebody move to university before. I was told that I was troublesome because I asked to move when my abusive foster placement became too awful to continue living there.

How did I overcome this: I always did my best to conduct myself with tact, even when those that were supposed to help me were being rude.  I took strength from my close friends who knew me best. They knew that I had never had a fight in my life and that I would only ask for help and support that was totally reasonable.   These people helped me to fight for my rights and I had to do this scores of times across my time in care.

I always did my best to conduct myself with tact, even when those that were supposed to help me were being rude.  I took strength from my close friends who knew me best. They knew that I had never had a fight in my life

Having no consistent, genuine, authentic support from my corporate parents at any stage in my care journey.  This meant that I was effectively left to the mercy of abusive foster carers and largely unsupported by those who were supposed to be my corporate parents.

How did I overcome this: I surrounded myself with strong, positive people and they were always on hand to offer support and advice. When I became old enough and understood how badly I was treated by the local authority, I complained about this and ensured that the local authority had improved processes in place, minimising the chances of this happening to other young people in the future. This gave me a huge sense of satisfaction; feeding my experiences back into the system to improve it gives me a great feeling.

feeding my experiences back into the system to improve it gives me a great feeling

Jimmy Paul Portraits July 2016 Web-13How do you become successful despite a care background?
When you’re frequently hit with the harshest challenges that life could possibly throw at you, you can either get up and fight on, or just give up.  The key to becoming successful is to keep getting up and to keep fighting – being resilient.

Resilience on its own isn’t enough though.  I think it’s important to do a range of other things.  Own your identity as a care leaver.  Surround yourself with positive influences. Speak openly about your feelings.  Demand the best from those that look after you and challenge the boundaries that people say exist!

Own your identity as a care leaver.  Surround yourself with positive influences. Speak openly about your feelings.  Demand the best from those that look after you and challenge the boundaries that people say exist!

Set high goals – you are very capable of achieving them.  Use your determination and learn the ‘systems knowledge’ and you can’t go wrong.  Get involved in voluntary organisations who support those in care, such as Who Cares? Scotland.  Finally, be yourself. Try to be comfortable in your own skin and treat yourself well, because you deserve it.  All of these things will allow you to be happy and to grow in resilience which I feel are the key to success.

be yourself. Try to be comfortable in your own skin and treat yourself well, because you deserve it

What is your message to professionals and foster carers?

Serve your children before you serve your own interests.  Get to know them and be sure to care for them.  Strive to love the children in your care.  If you are in it for any other reason then you need to reconsider what you are doing – children’s lives are no game.

Serve your children before you serve your own interests.  Get to know them and be sure to care for them.  Strive to love the children in your care

Excellent professionals and foster carers are likely to be more reflective and to question their approach constantly.  Thank you for all of the hard work you do, you are genuine heroes.

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You can read more content by Jimmy Paul in two articles he has written for the Guardian, below:

Social workers, please learn from my experience in care

When I left my foster home, getting support became a nightmare

 

 

 

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