In the Hands of Strangers: A New Zealand Childhood Stolen,
by Beverly Wardle-Jackson (Penguin, RRP $38):
When the State steps in to take over the care of a child when families are unable to, those children should be safe.
Unfortunately, that isn’t always the case, and Beverly Wardle-Jackson’s story highlights just how badly things can go wrong.
She was born to a broken family, her father drifting in and out of her life and her mother unwilling or unable to cope with bringing up her 10 children alone. Eventually, Beverly and her siblings were taken in to care and what followed is a shameful example of a country letting down its most vulnerable citizens.
Beverly was separated from her siblings and spent five excruciating years as a ward of the State, subject to beating for the most minor of offenses in the State-approved welfare homes. Her only method of fighting back, of reclaiming her place in the world, was to run away., which inevitably brought a fresh round of beatings from those charged with her care.
Eventually, she was admitted to Porirua Hospital in Wellington for psychiatric treatment, with involved electric shock treatment.
Her story is harrowing and heart-breaking but it should also make us angry: no child should have to live the way Wardle-Jackson and others like her did in welfare homes where little or no effort was actually made to look after the welfare of their charges.
Despite the appalling pain and torture of her stolen childhood, Wardle-Jackson – now a happily married mother and grandmother – has been able to form strong and lasting relationships. Her story is nothing short of inspirational.