Leeanne Elizabeth Clark, My Journey Through Life: The Real Me, 2021, self-published, 9781913632069
Reviewed by Carole Ewart
This autobiography is an intriguing story from an author that would usually be overlooked. It is a route map on how to thrive despite her parents and going on to family-based care. It explains the impact of parents who fail to care for their children’s physical, mental and sensory needs whilst manipulating her ‘very slight’ Cerebral Palsy for their own financial and social gain. The book stands out because of the collective effort to publish it by the Scottish Commission on Learning Disability (SCLD), the Life Changes Trust, RSA Scotland, the Community Fund and Moniack Mhor, Scotland’s Centre for Creative Writing.
As Leeanne points out at the start: ‘Some parts of this book will be upsetting for some readers but I am not apologising. The truth is the truth!’ Attending college prompted her to write down her story and her motivation for writing the book is ‘to help other people who have been in similar situations. If they can see someone like me now, getting on with life and standing on my own two feet, maybe they might believe that there is a chance for them to do the same’.
Leeanne’s frankness about growing up in Fife is powerful: ‘From day one growing up with my birth family they tried to belittle me and treat me as though I was worthless, as though I had no mind of my own, as though I was a scrap of litter on the doormat. However, I had some self-belief. I held my head up high and tried to keep a smile on my face. I felt this was important for the sake of my younger siblings because I was their main role model’.
Leeanne describes her role as a child carer and explains, with substantial and corroborated evidence, that her ‘Mum and dad were selfish and thought nothing of spending money on themselves instead of me and my siblings’. She declares that the main message of her book is that: ‘[E]veryone is unique and important, and we all need to understand that Different can be Great’. Amen to that!
Leeanne’s mum worked at a Remploy Factory and it was due to her colleague, Molly, and her husband James that Leeanne enjoyed safe and happy weekends, learned to walk, was enabled to swim, be cared for and know that she was loved. The significant others in children’s lives, including neighbours, are critical when the state is slow to effectively intervene. However, initially it painfully backfired as her parents wanted her in a wheelchair ‘to claim higher Disability Benefits’.
Church has become one of the main parts of Leeanne’s life and introduced her to a wide variety of people who encourage and enable her to thrive as an individual such as Dennis and Thomas who were invited by the Episcopalian Bishop to sponsor 47 children in India.
Leeanne shares her history to help change people’s lives – those who work in services and those who receive them. At college, she is an active ‘Care Experience Officer’ and promotes the issues faced by care experienced students. Her matter-of-fact description of relatively recent events should incentivise public services of the need to change if they are to achieve their stated purposes. Her account of repeatedly moving home and schools, what led the police to destroying her precious phone with so many memories on it, and the impact of repeated changes of social workers confirms the inability and the failure of the state to deliver joined up care when people are at their most vulnerable.
The book has no pompous analysis. It is illuminating about receiving services and only latterly being able to influence decisions which make a huge impact on happiness, personal safety and development. Its messages will only be powerful if people read and hear them and that remains the challenge. Clearly, it can inform the design and delivery of publicly funded services. But will it?
It is routine now for organisations to say they value diversity and enable inclusion to ensure voices are heard to inform the design and delivery of policy, services and funding. However, some voices are never heard or are filtered, indeed sanitised, so this book is a refreshing as well as sometimes a startling read. It should be a textbook for so many disciplines especially childcare, social care and criminal justice. This book is a page turner, easy to read and utterly thought provoking. It is also a book of hope from an inspirational young woman. Leeanne was 18 in 2015 so I look forward to hearing what she achieves next. Names have been changed by the author to protect people’s privacy.
Carole Ewart is a public policy and human rights consultant. One of her clients is SCLD but she had no part in publishing this book and received no fee for this review.