Home Sweet Home – Growing up in residential care

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August 25, 2012 by dontbringlulubook

Louise Onions’ life was not an easy one.

She had hypothyroidism and, unlike some sufferers of the condition, required constant care and attention.

There came a time when the rest of Onions family could no longer look after Lulu  themselves.  Then the heartbreaking decision was made – residential care.

It was by no means an easy decision to make.  Families want to stay together.  That is, by its definition, what a family is – not just a collection of relatives but a home.

Indeed in Lulu’s early life the staff at Hillside School in Portslade first highlighted the need for residential care.

This, however, was easier said than done.  Places in well-thought-of homes were rare.  They had long waiting lists are charged a lot of money.  The other homes tended to have a poorer standard of care.  Some even believed in the Victorian method of locking people away behind closed doors.

When the Onions moved to America to further Ron’s career in the BBC, the search for a residential home continued.

Many ‘institutions’ were backward, leaving the family with a sense of despair.  In an attempt to find a suitable place for Lulu, the family spread their net wider.  They came across a residential school 400 miles away from their apartment in New York City.

Once again, this school had awaiting list but the attitude of the staff was perfect.  Children were happy, enthusiastic and appeared to be well cared for.  Even the buildings were clean, bright and did not attempt to hide away from the outside world.

As luck would have it, they did not have to wait too long.  Lulu started just a few weeks after visiting the school.  The State of New York also covered the majority of the cost.

Lulu received a good education at Cobb Memorial School.  She got involved in school plays, her vocabulary and understanding improved and she was enjoying life.  Even when she was ill, her standard of care was impeccable.

Life in America was not going to last indefinitely and the Onions family moved back to England.  Once again the search was on to find a suitable place for Lulu but before that could begin, the family had to convince social services that residential care was necessary.

Time and again psychiatrists and health visitors would visit but they only acted one Lulu behaved badly in front of them.  Her previous history of a residential school in America seemed irrelevant.

The Council did eventually find a place in Gloucestershire but the reception the family received on arrival gave serious misgivings – children who were too quiet for their age, a darkened reception room, and little communication from the principal – a complete contrast to Cobb Memorial.

Despite these concerns, a trial period was agreed.  Yet where Cobb succeeded, this school failed.  Progress reports were in fact a ‘lack of’ progress reports.  It was not long into Lulu’s stay when the school admitted they could not cope.

Once again, with Lulu back home, the family had to convince the Council to begin the search again for residential care.  The search did eventually resume but again to little avail.  Schools and ‘institutions’ did exist but the care was backward.  Look after them (to the point of feeding, washing and basic living) but education and fun was lacking.

Halland was the location of Lulu’s next residential home.  Similar to Cobb Memorial in America, this home was set up by an individual who had first hand experience of learning difficulties.  They wanted to provide a suitable place for their own child and with state institutions falling well and truly short, set up his own.

This seemed to be an occurring pattern – only those people who had intimate knowledge of caring for those with additional needs understood the environment required for successful development.

The lack of understanding from official bodies is highlighted further when we look at Louise’s transformation into adulthood.


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