Book Review: Little Prisoners by Casey Watson

This past week I read another amazing and heartfelt memoir by Casey Watson.

It describes her work with her third foster placement, a sibling group that’s placed first strictly as an emergency placement. The watsons just step off a plane from their vacation after their second foster Child, Sophie left, when their link worker John calls to inform them of two children taken from their home due to extreme neglect. They’re a brother and Sister, Ashton and Olivia, six and nine. Social services got a report of them being dirty and unfed and of the parents with learning disabilities unable to take care of them. They also have three or four other siblings younger than Olivia.

At first Casey and Mike are unsure about taking on a sibling placement. They also know that this wouldn’t be the work they signed up for, as they became specialized foster carers doing a standard behavioral modicifaction plan. However as specialized carers, it seems that they’re often refered to tak on children other mainstream carers would not.

Within just a day Casey informs her whole family, her young adult son and his girlfriend, and her daughter who has two children of her own and her husband. And they’re all in support of this decision.

When Ashton and Olivia arrive with two social workers the level of neglect takes the watson’s breath away. They describe Olivia’s hair as so covered in lice it looks alive. Both are dressed in extremely dirty clothes casey can’t even imagine using for rags. They are extremely thin and underweight and their skin so dirty they can’t actually see the white of their skin it’s all incrusted with dirt.

They only come with a few things, just as dirty and unusable c lothes and an extremely dirty but loved large doll that Olivia is incredibly attached to called Polly.

The first task is to get the children properly cleaned up. In doing so they find open and scabbed sores all over their bodies, and dirt so stuck between ashton’s toes it first appears they’re webbed.

Once this is done as well as a large amount of lice removing shampoo applied the children seem a bit more happy and normal looking.

A problem that shows itself on their first day and that continues to become worse and worse throughout their stay is their sexuality. Olivia asks to sit on Casey’s father’s lap and when he gets uncomfortable with her movements around his private area she says she’s “ wiggling like with grandad.”

This is unsettling but nothing compared to the pattern that continues. Both Olivia and Ashton treat sex very casually and as a normal part of life. They’re often found touching their own and most unsettling each other’s genitals at meals or just sitting doing stuff. The first time they’re told about how our private parts are private they say , “but it’s ok with family right?” as in that the touching, sexual play ETC was just a part of family life.

It’ sickening to mike and Casey and they don’t know any way to really stop it. Constant teling them this is inappropriate just goes over their heads. The only thing to do is watch them like hawks and even so a lot of sexual acting still happens between them like it’s a normal part of life.

Another issue that’s more disgusting in a physical sense is their toileting issues. The two of them even Ashton age nine, often go to the bathroom in their pants and wet the bed. As well as do a pretty good job of covering surfaces/ themselves with it. This leaves Casey with a lot of cleaning to do, and for her it’s extremely more anxiety provoking than most as she’s obsessed with cleaning. Needless to say it makes for an unsettling environment. The two can’t seem to help it. Olivia does make a point of doing it increasingly when stressed smearing the walls, and even going poo on someone’s front lawn!

This is something over the course of their stay Casey and Mike try to improve. They even use the points system though not formally and this seems to give them some incentive. They also want to do well with it as they’re starting a new school. School seems to go well. The teachers getting a clear understanding right away of Ashton and Olivia’s learning needs as they’re quite behind in school not surprisingly.

As time goes by it’s apparent that this isn’t any emergency placement and that the children are there for the duration until a court hearing when they’ll likely be placed in long term care or adopted. The Children’s social worker Anna is pretty ineffective. In some ways her hands are tied. For example, in the UK children in care can’t start with counseling until it’s decided where they’ll be long term. This is I guess to prevent any sudden changes

In counselor if the child is moved from the area based on the results of the hearing. However this leaves Casey and Mike, mostly casey as she’s at work all day, with children with very serious issues mainly sexual acting out beyond anything the couple can even think of how to best treat. At one point Anna says something really condescending like “I know it must be very hard. Poor you.” Seriously?

While the children are there casey is determined to try to give them some kind of childhood experiences that they never had. Instead their world was filled with horrific repated abuses that both are convinced is normal. Casey and the family go on holiday and have a wonderful time. The whole experience of going somewhere and having fun is so foreign to them. There was of course a minor meltdown when Casey discovers that the children were told by social services that they were “going on holiday” when they were actually going into care and the watson’s weren’t notified of this. Learning they were in fact in care did set the children’s progress back a bit. But they made gains again and by the time the actual holiday came they were in good spirets about it.

They had never been to the beach and were overwhelmed at first by the feel of the sand/ water. Eventually they warmed to it, though mike at one point had to dismantle a couple sculptures of sexual body parts! They celibrated their birthdays, a week apart, on the vacation as well. Towards the end of the vacation Ashton opens up to casey that he was made to “do sex things” with his baby cousin and how he hated it. When told they’d have to tell Anna he shut down even more and became angry and closed off. Trying to rebuild a relationship with him after that was very hard. He being older, seemed more disturbed than Olivia for all her issues she seemed able to adapt and relearn things like about how this sexual stuff wasn’t right at her age. A psychologist who near the end of the book evaluated the children confirmed that Ashton being that much older was more disturbed, in danger of becoming a sexual predator, and had a psychological profile identical to his mother’s.

As the court hearing draws near and is completed social services decides that the two should go to separate long term carers. Many carers will not take a sibling group, and the two of them together particularly ashton’s influence on Olivia was doing more harm than good. When told, as with some other things in life that Casey thought would traumatize them, ashton and Olivia took it quietly. Of course their survival tactics with growing up with so much abuse and unpredictability in their young lives was to numb out on their emotions.

Olivia was found a lovely couple on a farm and it was the perfect placement for her. With lots of room to run she had a lot of energy, part of which was due to her ADHD, along with being able to play with lots of animals. Including a puppy that the social worker brought with her to go with her to the farm so they both could be new members. When leaving Olivia barely said goodbye to Casey and Mike as she was so wrapped up in the new pet. John said that’s the nature of attachment disorder.

It took a bit longer for them to find a place for Ashton but they did. It was a couple with no other children who Ashton did seem to like.

Casey and Mike were forever affected by these two incredible children, the horors they went through literally being prisoners in their own home, and their strength and how much they did heal while in their care. The epilogue said a year later both children were doing very well with their new carers.

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