My name is Kenny and I love animals
When I was 11 years old, I was taken in to care. I was separated from my brothers and sisters. I was suffering through trauma compounded by this.
I was taken to a foster home and although I struggled being in care, one of the positives was that they had two dogs. Two German Shepherds who would love me, unconditionally, when I didn’t feel loved from anyone I lived with.
I swore to myself, that as soon as I was in a stable home of my own I would get a dog. I knew that love from a pet was unconditional and who wouldn’t want that in their life?
Research has shown that children who have witnessed or experienced abuse at a young age sometimes don’t know that cruelty is wrong and will copy this behaviour.
This quote is part of a new campaign by the RSPCA (England & Wales). In their campaign, #GenerationKind, the RSPCA highlights a report that asserts Care Experienced people are more likely to harm animals as a result of their exposure to trauma. They have a solution. They have launched a referral based programme in partnership with foster care providers and social workers that will give young people a place at a ‘Looked After Children Animal Action Day’.
What I struggle with is that by highlighting that Care Experienced people need to be shown how to be kind to animals, it gives the impression that they need this more than others or that they don’t know how to do it at all.
At first I got angry. I recently blogged about why I was no longer talking to the system about keeping brothers and sisters together. I never thought I’d have to to convince people I wasn’t going to abuse animals because I was in care. This campaign though, makes me feel like I have to.
The quote from the report is as follows:
Research has shown that children who have witnessed or experienced abuse at a young age sometimes don’t know that cruelty is wrong and will copy this behaviour. In some cases, children take out their feelings of powerlessness on innocent animals and this can cause their foster placement to break down…
This helps to ensure the children begin to have more positive interactions with the animals around them. Not only does this keep animals safe from harm, it also helps to keep the children in secure and loving foster homes and out of the youth justice system.
I’d like to highlight some parts of this quote, to clarify my disappointment.
“In some cases, children take out their feelings of powerlessness on innocent animals and this can cause their foster placement to break down.”
Sure, I felt powerless in care and I was anxious every day that I would be moved placement, again, but I never took that out on an animal. In fact, the language in this is quite interesting. Language is never neutral. I’ve noticed that they’ve used the word innocent as a prefix for the animals but not for the children.
“Not only does this keep animals safe from harm, it also helps to keep the children in secure and loving foster homes and out of the youth justice system.”
All of the language in this, however, is built towards a preconceived idea that if you are Care Experienced you are more likely to harm animals and that if only you learned to love animals you could be in a more stable home. You might not go go to prison. Because you’re more likely to end up in prison if you’re Care Experienced.
I understand that when charities create projects they need funding, buy-in or internal support to get it off the ground. They need to make it sound like the project is worthwhile.
What is uncomfortable for me though, is that it gives society permission to stigmatise Care Experienced people. I was judged for being in care. Every single day, Care Experienced people are discriminated against in the media, in their schools, their communities and across society. Now, I feel like our engagements with our pets are being treated with suspicion too.
For too long, the narrative around Care Experienced people has been deficit based. Society has focused on what’s wrong with Care Experienced people, rather than taking the time to ask what has happened to them. We’ve decided that young people in care need a mentor, a befriender and now, a programme to stop them hurting animals. Care Experienced people’s lives are crowded out by services, interventions and inauthentic relationships as it is.
Care Experienced people want to be loved.
The reason that this part of the RSPCA campaign stings for me is that throughout my time in care, pets didn’t ask questions about love. They just did it whilst the adults in my life actively avoided the topic and used words like “attachment” and “nurture”.
I can’t believe I’ve had to write a blog to say;
“My name is Kenny and I love animals.”
I would hope that those involved with this campaign would revisit the direction of travel on this particular area of their work because my Care Experienced peers and I have suffered from discrimination for too long. This will only serve to compound it further.
From my experience and that of my Care Experienced peers, our pets, the animals in our lives are very often the only sources of unconditional love. I don’t abuse animals. I cherish them.
Don’t just take my word for it though. I’ve asked some of my Care Experienced friends to share a photo of their pets with me and tell me why they love them.
I said at the beginning, that I fundamentally believe in #GenerationKind but at the moment, this campaign focuses only on those in foster care. What about people in residential care or kinship care? This campaign problematises young people and doesn’t get near their lives.
It’s great that an RSPCA report recognises that Care Experienced people need love. I believe that too. The language in their report, however, pathologises Care Experienced people. The effects of trauma, abandonment and a lack of love are real. The challenge for me is that entering the fray of Care Experienced people’s mental health, with a budget of £140M, and concluding that what’s needed is a one day session on how Care Experienced people, not those delivering care, can demonstrate more empathy, misses the point.
I’ve tried to help the campaign, because I believe in kindness and I’ve taken the time to speak to my Care Experienced friends, not service providers. I asked them what their pets mean to them.
We are Care Experienced. We are kind. And we LOVE animals.
My name is Laura.
The reason I got Luna, was because I had grew up with pets almost every placement except when I was in secure had pets.
My longest foster placement had pets, to be exact 8 dogs, 3 cats and 2 fish.
Luna is my best friend.
She helps with my mental health — I have BPD — due to childhood abuse — she helps me keep a routine — she’s the reason I have to get out of bed even on my worst days.
She brings me so much joy, and unconditional love.
I love animals and I’m Care Experienced.
My name is Lisa
I had recently moved into my own home and was feeling extremely lonely.
I took a lot of time to think about what I’d love and what could help me fight that loneliness.
I got Pablo.
Pablo means I have a friend to come home to. My home is never empty now and I know that I’ve always got someone that loves me, to come home to.
I love animals and I’m Care Experienced.
My name is Carmel.
My dogs are my best friends, they are my family. They are loyal and they love me unconditionally and I feel the same way towards them.
They are a huge source of comfort for me. My oldest dog, Mr Pumba, was standing at the top of the aisle on my wedding day!
Animals need protection, and there are children and young people that need supported to develop empathy and build positive and safe relationships with animals and humans, but to implicate that this is just children from care risks perpetuating yet another negative stereotype.
I love animals and I’m Care Experienced.
My name is Beth-Anne.
Willow is one of the best things to ever happen to me.
She is my best friend and I love her.
I’m Care Experienced & I love animals.
My name is Alicia.
This is Miko. He’s 14 now, but I got him when he was one year old. Throughout all of the trauma in my childhood, my dog was beside me, and he never, ever left. When my mum would start kicking off, I’d go for a long walk with my dog. We would escape, just him and I — that’s how it always was. My mum would always use the dog as a threat because she knew how close I was to him. She would threaten to take him ‘back to the kennels’, and I’d have to take him elsewhere until she calmed down. Regardless, the bond my dog and I have is unbreakable. I’ve loved him from the moment I met him, and I know he loves me too.
I am Care Experienced and I love animals.