This is a powerful and disturbing book, the story of a child removed from her home and family and thrown into a Child Welfare system that should have protected and nurtured her, but in fact did the opposite.
For whatever reasons, her mother found herself unable/unwilling to cope with the demands of raising Beverly and her siblings, and in what was considered a good option in those days, handed them over to Child Welfare, perhaps imagining that the children were going to live a life that would be far better than the one on offer with her.
They were not. Beverly, a pretty, intelligent girl found herself being beaten, punished for the most trivial of childish behaviour, the smallest mistakes and the simple behaviour we would now call adolescence. Nothing was unworthy of a good beating at the hands of the adults that most rational outsiders would have thought were there to look out for the children. It is very hard to imagine the mindsets of these “caregivers”, how anything in their psyche could have lead them to believe that they were doing the right thing for the children. One might simply say that at one time in NZ, children were perceived as being in need of correction to the extent that it was decided that beating, abusing them, and locking them up was the best way to go.
This book was not an easy read, but it was a very good one. Beverly tells her story with a straight up honesty and a transparency that you can’t help but be moved by. In spite of all her trauma and suffering, despite the psychiatric treatment forced upon her, Beverly has moved forward, leading a very normal and satisfying life with children and grandchildren. She is active in seeking justice for her suffering, and in making society aware of what went on in those once highly-regarded Social Welfare Homes; and the damage caused to the many thousands who passed through them. On top of their ill treatment, these children also lost their families, their identities and are still relatively voiceless to this day.
A well-written book, it adds a voice to a time and place in New Zealand history that shouldn’t simply be brushed aside. This book should be compulsory reading for anyone wishing to work with children who have come into our still-flawed welfare system; it should also be read by those working with suffers of PTSD which can be traced back to their childhood and adolescence experiences in schools and homes linked to Social Welfare Care.
I thank Penguin Random House for this book.
Reivewed by Marion Dreadon
In the hands of strangers…a memoir
by Beverly Wardle-Jackson
Published by Penguin Books (NZ)