Read A Stolen Childhood Online

Authors: Casey Watson

A Stolen Childhood

Copyright

This book is a work of non-fiction based on the author’s experiences. In order to protect privacy, names, identifying characteristics, dialogue and details have been changed or reconstructed.

HarperElement

An imprint of HarperCollins
Publishers

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London SE1 9GF

www.harpercollins.co.uk

First published by HarperElement 2015

FIRST EDITION

© Casey Watson 2015

Cover layout design © HarperCollins
Publishers
Ltd 2015

Cover photograph © Marzena Kosicka/plainpicture (posed by model)

Casey Watson asserts the moral right to

be identified as the author of this work

A catalogue record of this book

is available from the British Library

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Source ISBN: 9780007543090

Ebook Edition © June 2015 ISBN: 9780008118624

Version: 2015-05-14

By the Same Author

The Boy No One Loved

Crying for Help

Little Prisoners

Too Hurt to Stay

Mummy’s Little Helper

Just a Boy (short story)

Breaking the Silence

A Last Kiss for Mummy

Scarlett’s Secret (short story)

The Girl Without a Voice

Nowhere to Go

No Place for Nathan (short story)

Contents

Cover

Title Page

Copyright

By the Same Author

Dedication

 

Acknowledgements

 

Chapter 1

Chapter 2

Chapter 3

Chapter 4

Chapter 5

Chapter 6

Chapter 7

Chapter 8

Chapter 9

Chapter 10

Chapter 11

Chapter 12

Chapter 13

Chapter 14

Chapter 15

Chapter 16

Chapter 17

Chapter 18

Chapter 19

Chapter 20

 

Epilogue

 

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About the Publisher

Dedication

Some wise person, somewhere, coined the phrase, ‘It’s the little things,’ and you know, it really is. This book is dedicated to all those who do the little things without thinking, every working day. The dinner ladies, the playground assistants, the volunteer mentors and the teachers, the classroom assistants, the school nurses, the year heads and the support staff. These people, in their dedicated roles and in the busy school environment, often have no idea what a positive effect they have on their students. Continue doing what you do, and know that every little smile you give, every pat on the back, every wink or nod in the corridor, really makes somebody’s day. I raise a glass to all of you.

Acknowledgements

I would like to thank my agent, the lovely Andrew Lownie, for continuing to believe in me; Carolyn and the wonderful team at HarperCollins for their dedicated and hard work; and as ever my very talented friend and mentor, Lynne, for always being there.

Chapter 1

What Lies Beneath
. That was the name of the film, wasn’t it? The one where the wife thinks she’s seeing things that aren’t there? As titles went, it was a good one for a psychological thriller. But though it would soon strike a chilling chord with me for professional reasons, right now I was oblivious of what lay in store, so it came to mind for more practical ones. I was busy digging – digging deep into my capacious school satchel, to see if what lay beneath in this case was a pen that actually worked.

It was touch and go whether I’d have any success. In fact, it was an action that, at times, put me in mind of one of those celebrities in the jungle plunging a hand into a black hole while being blindfold. It was a very big satchel and there was a great deal of stuff generally at the bottom of it, which was par for the course given the nature of my job. ‘You know what?’ I said to Kelly, my sometime assistant, having turfed out half the contents in order to find one, ‘you would think that after all this time, someone would finally work out how to operate the heating system in this place, wouldn’t you? It’s not exactly rocket science, after all.’

It was mid-morning break and Kelly and I, along with a lot of the other teaching staff, were spending it in the staff-room – not just so we could warm ourselves up a bit with hot drinks, but so we could retrieve any extra clothing we might have in our lockers.

It was only the beginning of March, but it was almost as if all the radiators in the place somehow knew that the weathermen had announced that morning that it was officially the first day of spring. They had then apparently decided in unison that they should break down, quite possibly for the entire season. This in turn meant that the school was already going into the usual ‘cold weather meltdown’, with key staff bustling about the place bearing thermometers and recording temperatures, while the children – always quick to sniff an opportunity on the breeze, particularly a chilly one – could already be heard up and down the corridors making plans for a possible early exit, if there were insufficient degrees Celsius for them to be allowed to stay.

‘It’s not boiler science either,’ Kelly told me. ‘Not on this occasion, anyway. I just saw Donald on the way up here and he said it’s not the boilers. Apparently someone turned the whole system off over the weekend by mistake and it’s just taking a long time to kick in again. Still,’ she said, grabbing a biscuit from the half-opened packet on the table in front of us, ‘didn’t Ranulph Fiennes say that when it’s really cold you burn loads of extra calories through shivering? So that’s fine by me. Custard cream?’

Her enthusiasm for trying to force-feed me biscuits aside, Kelly Vickers was a godsend in my working life. One of the school’s 20 or so teaching assistants, she was assigned, first and foremost, to help me as and when required in my role as the school’s Behaviour Manager. Ours was a busy inner-city comprehensive, big enough to have a specialised behaviour unit (well, to us, just ‘the Unit’) where my job was all about helping the various children who, for one reason or another, couldn’t cope effectively in mainstream classes. It was a veritable ‘mixed bag’ of reasons, as well, including children who were in danger of being excluded, those who had problems in school (be they academic and/or social) and kids who were struggling because of problems at home – something that naturally tended to impact on a child’s progress and well-being.

The diversity of my pupils’ needs meant that no day was ever just like another and, unlike most of the mainstream teachers, who had clear curriculum-based briefs, I couldn’t plan too far ahead because I never knew from one day to the next just who I might have in my classroom.

Today, though, I was completely child-free. ‘Well, I hope they sort it out soon,’ I said, declining the proffered biscuit packet and reaching for my coffee, ‘or we’ll have a hard time engaging our new brood tomorrow, won’t we? I don’t think there’s anything moodier than a kid that’s too hot or too cold.’

Kelly nodded as she cupped her own plastic vending-machine cup. ‘Have they told you who’s coming in yet?’

I shook my head. What with all the kerfuffle over the heating, my scheduled meeting with Julia Styles, the school’s Special Educational Needs Co-ordinator (or SENCO) had been knocked off the morning’s agenda. ‘No names, no pack drill, not as yet,’ I told her. ‘All I know is that there are three of them – a lad from year seven, another from year eight and a girl from year nine with long-standing learning difficulties. I’m hoping to get more up to speed on them later on today.’

‘I tell you what,’ Kelly said, ‘I think I know who the girl might be. I remember someone mentioning to me she was joining the unit when you came back. If it’s the one I’m thinking of, her name’s Chloe Jones. Mother’s a long-standing alcoholic and social services are heavily involved with them, though as far as I know there are no plans to place her in care. There
are
moves afoot, however, to try and get Chloe moved out of mainstream education. She can be difficult to keep an eye on, bless her.’

‘How do you mean?’ I asked, having had my fair share of serial absconders since working at the school. ‘You mean she runs off all the time?’

Kelly shook her head. ‘No, not that – it’s more that she’s rather vulnerable, particularly now she’s an adolescent; tends to put herself in potentially dangerous situations. She has this thing where she wants to hug and kiss almost everyone. She automatically assumes that everyone loves her. The other kids tease her mercilessly and she believes anything they tell her. You’ll love her though, Casey, if it is her. She’s so adorable.’

‘Well, that’s always a bonus,’ I said. ‘I’d much prefer a surfeit of hugs than tantrums and rages. And I guess we’ll see what we’ll see come the morning. Right now I’m looking forward to a bit of peace and quiet in that classroom of mine.’ I picked up the piece of paper I’d been scribbling on before my pen gave up the ghost. ‘And a little light shopping from the stationery catalogue. You know me – I do like to be organised to a fault.’

‘Well, you know where I am if you need a hand in the morning,’ Kelly said as we gathered our things together. ‘You know, to help settle them in, whoever they turn out to be. Just give me a buzz and I’ll be there. I’m only helping out in the learning support room for the rest of the week, and at the moment there are more staff than children. ‘Oh, and Casey,’ Kelly added, grinning, as I slung my satchel over my shoulder, ‘remember Baden-Powell!’

‘Baden Powell? I don’t get you.’

She handed me a nail file, a packet of tissues, my purse and some lip balm. ‘Yours, I think?’ she added, with a mocking salute. ‘Be prepared!’

Only in schools, I mused as I walked the chilly corridors on the well-trodden route to my classroom. In no other job I could think of did you hear about all the staff being sent home because the temperature had dropped by just a few degrees. A great occasion for most of the children, no doubt about it, but not so much for teachers, some of whom had travelled miles to get to work, and definitely not for working parents who would have to quickly arrange transport and unexpected childcare.

Hopefully the radiators would chunter into life before it came to that, and we could all warm up and get to grips with the day. Not that I imagined I’d be cold for long as I had lots of physical work to be doing before welcoming my new brood to the Unit. I unlocked the door and opened it onto the cold, empty room, which smelt faintly musty from its long period unused. Since coming back to school after Christmas, I had had an unusual sort of term; one where I hadn’t really had the usual set group to work with. Only three kids from the previous term had returned to me after the holidays: Gavin and Shona, who’d both returned to mainstream classes by mid-January, and Imogen, a girl who’d had selective mutism and had come to us from another school, and who was settled into a new class by the end of the month. Since then the Unit had been temporarily de-commissioned, as I’d been working away from the main school, helping set up a new off-site facility that would deliver a brand new teaching programme.

It had been a big project, led by our visionary headteacher, Mike Moore, and enthusiastically supported by our Child Protection Officer, Gary Clark. Called ‘Reach for Success’ it was the culmination of research, endless meetings, and lots of political toing and froing with the education authorities, most of which I wasn’t personally involved with, but some of which I was, and we were now the proud ‘owners’ of a dedicated teaching facility in the local youth centre. It was designed to bring out the potential of a specific group of children – those who would not, in all probability, achieve academically in the same way as the majority of the kids.

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