Harry Potter felt alone for a really long time. After his parents died, he went to live with his aunt and uncle. They didn’t talk to him much about his life or how he was coping. He spent a lot of his childhood feeling different and like no one got him. Despite this, there was a burning desire in him. He wanted to be part of something bigger but had no idea how to get there.
I think all of this is why I related to him. I might have stayed in Easterhouse, rather than Privet Drive, but I still wondered if there was more for me out there in the world than what I had.
My mum died when I was six years old. This was preceded by her alcohol addiction, social work intervention in my life and me being referred to the Children’s Panel. I also spent some time in Kinship Care with my Grandmother, before the state ultimately placed me in the care of my Father. Despite these early experiences, I consider myself extremely lucky compared to most other Care Experienced people. I feel like there’s people who have it a lot worse than I did.
In the books, Harry doesn’t truly feel like he belongs anywhere until he gets to Hogwarts where he starts to learn about his real identity, his family history and make friends with people who are like him. At the age of 27, I didn’t expect that it would be a conversation about Harry Potter that helped me realise I was already part of something bigger. I was talking with my friend, Charlotte, about our mutual love of the Harry Potter stories, and how we could both relate to Harry’s story. She has experience of care too and had found a place to belong with others who had experienced care. Although the state stopped being involved in my life when I was 7, I have always lived with a feeling of being different to my peers.
People would talk about their Mum and Dad at school and I would change the subject. Every birthday, Christmas, anniversary or other major life event I would be reminded that I am not like most people. Teachers would ask whether my Mum would be proud of a story I had written in English, what Mum and Dad would be getting me for Christmas, or whether my Mum would be along to parents evening; and every time I would get that familiar wrenching in my stomach. I’d then have an internal argument about whether I should embarrass them by telling them the truth, or just let them believe their presumption. Those feelings have pursued me throughout my entire life. I’ve managed other people’s feelings, even though it’s my mum that died and me who was in care.
The Harry Potter stories provided escapism when I needed it most; but they also told the story of someone who had lost his parents at an early age, but who had overcome that adversity and had become a role model.
Care Experienced people are rarely portrayed this way in the media. I learned very early that if I mentioned the Children’s Panel or certain other aspects of my childhood, a lot of people would automatically presume that I was ‘bad’, ‘troubled’ ‘damaged’ or one of the other numerous judgements attached to people like me. I think that’s why so many Care Experienced people can relate to the Harry Potter stories and the characters within them. They show that even if you have suffered trauma, you can still go on to have friends, find success, find love and ultimately, find happiness.
This summer, aged 27, I graduated with a First Class Honours degree in law. I’m the first person in any generation of my family to do this. In September, I begin the Post-Graduate Diploma in Professional Legal Practice at the University of Glasgow. I’m really proud of how far I’ve come, but it has not been easy. I had to take an alternative route into university, much later than most of my peers, and I felt like I didn’t belong there up until the day I graduated. If it wasn’t for the love of reading that I developed as a child, I never would have been able to achieve what I have. That’s one of the many reasons why I love the Harry Potter stories so much.
I recently had a conversation with a 9-year-old Care Experienced girl and I felt like I had more in common with her than most of my peers at university. It feels amazing to be part of a collective, all working together to give a voice to Care Experienced people and improve the life chances of those who are in care now and those who will come after us.