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Care Experienced Activists

Care Experience & Culture are adding a new genre an ‘Activists’ section and first off we’re Introducing Care Experienced Activist Catherine “Catt” Burland of Portsmouth, UK

 

Born in 1988 and as part of the first generation of 'The Children's Act '89', Catherine was removed from her biological mother pending a protection order based around Emotional Neglect. Catherine has vivid memories of being in multiple foster care placements and moved around the country (sometimes on a whim, sometimes for safety). She also recalls trying to tell parents and carers what it was like—her thoughts and feelings—for a young person in this scenario.


In 2012 Catherine became aware of 'Attachment Disorder' which gave light to her difficult experiences growing up with her adoptive family, and having postbox contact with her biological family.

 

Adoption is when a child is ‘legally freed’ to become part of another family. Until more recently Catherine believed this was like a ‘marriage’, that an adoptive family would promise to love and care for you, but in reality it is more like a contract of ownership.

 

This was not explicity her experience although it was enlightening for Catherine to learn the legal implications. Usually, adoption involves changing your name and birth certificate, something which always baffles Catherine as she asked for ‘previous name’ including for DBS certifications, technically her birth name doesn’t exist ‘legally’. But it still means something to her!

 

Postbox contact is something that happens in the UK Child Protective system. It means (often for safety reasons) you aren’t allowed ‘regular’ contact with your birth family. For Catherine, it was because her birth father especially was deemed to be a threat to her emotional wellbeing; when he and Catherine’s birth mum died it became much easier to manage.

 

Catherine would have managed contact twice a year between her various birth families (her birth father, mother, grandparents, and aunt and uncle, although she believes her birth father had his rights rescinded due to control and manipulative behaviour). It meant that social workers could not disclose Catherine’s address or new name. It was something the courts decided when Catherine was adopted to keep her safe and manage her emotional wellbeing in her new family. However, this came with challenges, including Catherine not being told her birth father had died until many months later and being acutely aware of her birth mother’s mental health states depending on her handwriting, and cards sent. Catherine’s birthday and Christmas are very Close together and some years she would receive multiples of one and none of the other.

 

Attachment is the biological function whereby children (and other infantile creatures) learn societal and emotional behaviour to keep them safe, and identify who primary care givers are. When this is disrupted, children may struggle to identify who is safe, and sometimes, in cases like Catherine’s, they become the caregiver instead.

 

A real turning point for Catherine was becoming aware of Jessie Hogsett, US Detached: Surviving Reactive Attachment Disorder


And Donald Craig Peterson

 

An activist since 2012, Catherine has expressed support and ideas to parents, carers, and fellow care experienced individuals of all generations. She has, as well as working in a residential children's home and being a Child Protection Advocate, managed an Independent Visitors project, later becoming an 'IV' herself.

 

With both biological parents having passed away, in 2015 Catherine gained her 'files', which have since been donated to her employer (and care-provider!) Portsmouth City Council.

 

Catherine has managed numerous projects for Portsmouth City Council and is in support of an Employability Academy for Care-experienced young people.

 

Highlights of Catherine’s activism include speaking twice at the 'Open Nest' Fostering and Adoption conferences, once alongside Lemn Sissay; appearing on the Adoption and Fostering Podcast (you can hear Catherine here); assisting a fellow Korean/American adoptee with their dissertation 'The Role of Perspective on Human Development'; supporting other traumatised and incredible young people across the globe to find their place in the world (including at Google HQ!); and making lifelong friends with shared and varied experience.

 

With many others from Mexico to Scotland, Catherine has also been involved in forming 'PATCHES Family Foundation' (still on Facebook), a support group for families with children who have RAD - which is the American definition of attachment disorder – ‘Reactive Attachment Disorder’. This was Catherine’s first attempt at being involved in such a venture. On one occasion she was invited to explain the purpose of the group informally to a founder of both ‘One Small Thing’ – where the focus is on understanding the impact of trauma – and the ‘Hope Street’ women’s prisoner rehabilitation centre.  

 

Catherine also has had a professional career in Horticulture, which she credits as giving her an ability to nurture and grow, not something which came naturally to her. Until she became unwell, she ran her own business: Waterfront Garden Centre.

 

Also until she became unwell, Catherine chaired a local community allotment (as a volunteer) and believes there is more to be done around care experience and horticulture.

 

Catherine’s current project is for Portsmouth City Council as a project manager, funded by Arts Council England and commissioned by the central government (the Department for Culture, Media and Sports) for the Cabinet Member (Culture, Leisure and Economic Development Portfolio and City Council Leader). You can see and hear Catherine talking about the Volunteer Futures Project during this 16 February 2024 meeting (at the 36.38 minute mark).

 

If you're an ACIVIST for the Care Experience community and would like us to feature you and your activism, contact us via email: careexperienceandculture@gmail.com

 

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