'you stink and your mum's a baghead'!

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“You stink and your mum’s a bag head”!

“School kids, addicted families”

When I began teaching I would never have imagined that I would witness children arriving at school unfed, unwashed, uniforms covered in stains and reeking of urine. Worst of all, their empty eyes and disillusioned demeanour.

Over the years I have been shocked and saddened by stories and first hand experiences of children having their childhoods ripped away by families addicted to drugs and alcohol.

Children whose families have “known” illnesses such as cancer, heart disease or have suffered a stroke receive huge amounts of sympathy from staff and pupils alike. But children affected by addictive behaviour can be stigmatised for their condition without their abusers having any idea why.

More than one million children are affected by parental alcohol and drug misuse. This makes them increasingly vulnerable to abuse and neglect and more likely to develop addiction problems of their own due to their frequent exposure to such substances.

I saw children arriving to school on a daily basis, hungry, dirty and having dealt regularly with sights and behaviour that would leave most of us speechless. They would regularly confide in me about their numerous problems. Tragic issues for anyone to deal with, let alone those who should be enjoying their childhoods.

“Kids arriving at school having witnessed behaviour that would horrify most of us”

Should they have to observe parents injecting heroin into their groin? Should they have to change their parents urine soaked sheets? Should they come to school covered in bruises and chronic feelings of low self worth?

Children whose loved ones have mental illness are often targeted by bullies because of a lack of understanding.”

This also occurs with children dealing with addicted families. They are often victim to name calling by other pupils. Eg “your mums a bag head” or “your dads a tramp” which often, understandably, causes a negative reaction from the child concerned.

This then attracts negative attention from peers, teachers, parents and social workers. Negative attention though is better than none. If a child is sent out of the classroom for example, it is highly likely that a teaching assistant or another teacher will talk to the child on a one to one basis. Sadly, a luxury many children never get at home from their parents.

“Conflicting pressures for children of addicted families”

Every child is entitled to a good education. Every child has the right to learn in a calm and safe learning environment. Every child has a designated amount of homework they need to complete as part of the curriculum, without which they will fall behind and struggle to catch up.

This could be down to lack of motivation and peer pressure. What if children through no fault of their own are practically bringing themselves up whilst dealing with parents and relatives with addictions?

“Kids having to put drunken family members to bed in the early hours”

Children that have had to put drunken family members to bed in the early hours should be applauded for making it to school at all. They arrive hungry, tired and depressed. Although generally frowned upon, both I and a number of colleagues would make or buy them tea and toast.

How are they meant to concentrate with empty stomachs never mind their anxieties and fear of going home?

They may have to put up with taunts from other pupils saying they“stink” as many of these troubled youngsters suffer from the humiliation of bed-wetting. There is no loving family member at home to make sure their bedding and uniform is clean and ironed.

Admittedly, there are children disrupting classes with challenging behaviour, which hinders the learning experience of other pupils. Is it any wonder that many of these burdened pupil’s exhibit bad behaviour in the classroom? At least it allows them attention.

It is natural for all children to crave attention and to be entitled to it; after all, they don’t receive any at home. Home in an ideal world should be a safe haven, not a war zone.

Attention seeking behaviour or withdrawing into isolation”?

Ideally, school should provide a safe and nurturing environment. The role of the teacher is as much pastoral as one of facilitating learning. Pupils need to feel they can confide in us. Often, we are the only ones they can trust. I consider it a privilege that children have felt they can trust and confide in me despite what I have heard still haunting me to this day.

Some pupils do the opposite and rather than attention seeking, withdraw into isolation, bottling up their problems. Other pupils turn to addictive substances to numb the pain and temporarily forget their troubles. They’ve observed their families use or drink on a regular basis and see that for a small amount of time, oblivion can be found and reality temporarily melts away.

Inevitably, some pupils will turn to crime for the ‘buzz’ they crave and the respect and fear it creates in their peers. It may also be the only way to get a reaction from the addicts they live with.

Some parents may even encourage their children to steal or even deal for them or send them to the off-licence to support their addiction.

Living in a chaotic world is the norm for these children. They have never known any difference. The lack of role models, stability, and the consistency of a secure family unit has been a normal part of their young lives.

In addition to this, today’s society puts so much emphasis on wearing the “right” clothes or having the latest gadget, be it a mobile phone, laptop or computer game, can lead to children from dysfunctional families stealing these items in a quest for peer group acceptance.

It is a fact that individuals can be known to misuse substances by the authorities, yet their children are NOT automatically removed and taken into care. There has to be provable child cruelty before the authorities intervene. This leads us to the questions; ‘Are children better off being left to live with their dysfunctional families or put into care?’ ‘Is trying to keep the family unit together causing more harm than good?’

School children have one lesson each week of Personal and social health care education (PSHCE).

‘Issues of drug and alcohol misuse should be taught in a non-judgemental manner, impressing upon children the dangers but also pointing out that these are illnesses, like any other, that require support and understanding rather than judging’

The problem being that many children never attend these lessons for a number of reasons. They may be subjected to bullying, feel ashamed; blame themselves or even be truanting as they have been brought up by adults who had not attended school at their age.

They have never had working role models around them. They see using the benefits system as the acceptable and normal way to live. What have they had to compare their way of life with? They have never seen motivated adults and can be trapped in a cycle of worthlessness.

“Some simple solutions”?

So, what is the UK government’s response to this tragic situation? ‘Every Child matters’ or ECM, which was an initiative, launched in 2003 and led to ‘the children’s act’ 2004. ‘Every child matters’ is repeated like a mantra in school halls around the country. However, if every child did matter so much, why do they have to put up with physical and verbal abuse from their families? Their childhoods are virtually non-existent.

‘ECM’s main aims for each child regardless of their background are:

●be healthy

●stay safe

●enjoy and achieve

●make a positive contribution

●achieve economic well being

There is evidence ‘for’ and ‘against’ that ‘Every child matters’ is an effective concept on paper and ‘ticks all the right boxes’ but needs addressing and refining.

“Every child could be fed, showered and clothed”

There are shower facilities at school, which could be used by children in the morning. The school could organize a ‘uniform recycling club’ where children hand in their uniforms when they grow out of them. Designated volunteers could wash and iron them.

With funding and a rota of staff and pupil volunteers, a breakfast club could be organised. A local bakery or supermarket could sponsor the school. Bread at its sell by date could be donated or bought cheaply. It is a social responsibility to ensure children are fed, washed and clean before we begin to think about educating them.

How can the psychological health of children be addressed when their basic human needs are not catered for?


Tara Carbery © October 2010

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Comments 41 comments

gmwilliams profile image

gmwilliams 5 years ago from the Greatest City In The World-New York City, New York

This hub is very sad. No child should go through this-childhood should be a time of joy and exploration. Unfortunately, many of our precious children go through HELL on earth at such tender ages.


LRoss 5 years ago

This is an excellent article, both enlightening and desperately sad. To think we are meant to be one of the most modern of societies, yet face these very real and demoralising issues in our young, and then throughout adulthood as a knock on effect, which then in turn encircles the whole problem for another generation. The suggestions given here are good solid, well-meaning and attainable answers to a huge problem of neglect and suffering - partic the school uniform exchange, the showering and food, all lie in the underlying self respect of each one of us as individuals and as a whole. To gain these, small yet every day necesseties, would make a massive difference to the young who would normally be stigmatised for their individual situations.


leni sands profile image

leni sands 5 years ago from UK

Enlightening though depressingly true. Your suggestions for using the school showers, the uniform recycling and the breakfast club should be mandatory in all schools, in my humble opinion.

A very informative, hard-hitting article, Tara. Looking forward to your next hub.


Sarah Storm 5 years ago

As someone who has worked with young people with issues, it is certainly true that their problems can often be traced back to their parents. It is a very accurate and highly depressing fact of modern day life for some children, often ignored by the media. Well done for hilighting such an important issue!


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thank you for all your comments 'gmwilliams','LRoss', 'Leni Sands' and 'Sarah Storm'. Apologies for responding so late. I'm only just getting the hang of this. I'm not as computer literate as I hoped. I'm trying though! It is a depressing state of affairs when children are trapped in a cycle of despair like this. Some children look so haunted like they've never had the chance of a childhood at all.


Erin Boggs1 profile image

Erin Boggs1 5 years ago from Western Maryland

I was just reading this hub and I started to cry. It is amazingly sad that these children are suffering. A lot of the young women that I often deal with have issues too. But the drugs make it even worse. Having to change their parents bedding because the drugs rule the parents life. This kind of thing is exactly what makes me want to adopt an older child/or teenager. These poor children going through life is already hard enough but to have to deal with the neglect of a parent who should love you is a horrible tragedy.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

I know what you mean Erin. Some poor kids reach their teenage years with a dysfunctional family that frankly are not fit to be parents. It would be nice to think you gave them a second stab at life and happiness. It's like when you get an animal companion. I always get a rescue one that's adult. It's nice that they get a bit of happiness in their later years.


Erin Boggs1 profile image

Erin Boggs1 5 years ago from Western Maryland

I have a huge family of rescued animals. Two of them are dogs. I got the oldest when he was two because his owner didn't have time for him anymore, he is now 13 which isn't bad for a lab/shepherd mix. The younger is a twelve year old white shepherd who I received due to the fact that he was considered unruly. I have several adult cats and 4 kittens. 2 of them had their mother shot by a farmer and the other two were thrown out of car on the road, so I have adopted them. I also have found that I have an tendency to adopt homeless adult people, too. So far so good, lots of litter pans, lots of pet food, but in my house there is a lot of love. My children love all of the pets and we have an active life. I wouldn't be able to neglect my children as they are always by my side. They are the reason that I live my life and I wish other parents would put there children first. It is a shame that I have seen full grown women who neglect their kids out of shear laziness. It further irritates me that these same women treat their pets better than their children.

People that neglect the lives that they have brought into the world should be jailed. I couldn't be a teacher, I would probably be fired for conflicts with neglectful parents, you are much stronger than me.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

You sound like me! I haven't any children but adore my animals. They make me feel complete. There's nothing like coming home to purring Cats and Dog's wagging their tail excitedly! I have a border collie rescue with 3 legs. He was about to get shot/drowned when I got him. He is the most faithful cuddly dog going! It's good to hear that there are a few of us that genuinely care for those without a voice.

It was difficult teaching at times. The teaching itself I adored. I used to get a real buzz from standing in front of the class. The pastoral side can be hard though. I would go home so depressed and disillusioned. You'd worry what hell the poor kids were going through when they got home. I had many moments where I had to 'bite my lip' in case I blasted out something that wasn't considered 'PC'!!!


Erin Boggs1 profile image

Erin Boggs1 5 years ago from Western Maryland

Yes we do sound a lot a like. That had to wreck your nerves in the evenings. At least the children had someone there life that worried about them. Do you ever here from previous students?


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Yes I do. I see them now and again and get lovely messages on facebook! I always hear 'Hiya Miss!' when I'm walking through town!


epigramman profile image

epigramman 5 years ago

..when if you are living and working on this front line, so to speak , you are indeed authorized to write about this story with blemishes intact and sadness throughout.

I admire you so much for what you do and what you have written - this is the truth as spoken by you - this is an essential hub subject and must be posted to my FACEBOOK page with a direct link back here so hopefully others will see your raw but sincere writing

lake erie time ontario canada 8:39pm

and yes that's quite an eye catching title


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks epigramman. Your comments mean a lot and make it all worthwhile. Yes, the title is indeed eyecatching. There were many worse insults hurled around by the pupils that could not have been used as one without causing offense! Thank you so much for posting my hub to facebook. I'm off to read through your hubs now. Take care.


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

Very sad...I can only imagine what these children are experiencing. It really is a tragedy. Thank you for writing about this difficult situation.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Denise, It is a tragic situation and so common. It seems the kids with stable home lives are in the minority. What the hell has gone wrong in our society?


Denise Handlon profile image

Denise Handlon 5 years ago from North Carolina

It is a multilayered problem-I think the disintegration has been going on for awhile, however there are several factors that seemed to create the 'right storm'.


Stewart 5 years ago

A very moving hub,which shows great sensitivity and empathetic understanding of the problems confronting these children and the difficult circumstances in which dedicated and concerned teachers work to motivate and educate tired and disillusioned young people.The article should be compulsory reading for all politicians and educationalists


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thank you stewart for your comments. I'd love politicians to read it and pretend they care as soon as the camera is pointing at them ha ha!


Spiritsandghosts profile image

Spiritsandghosts 5 years ago from Melbourne, Victoria, Australia

I was very saddened to read this article about the neglected children. Every little bit counts and you are absolutely correct, if people at the school helped with food, showers and instill some hope, at least the school can be the haven away from home.

From experience, unless the addicts ask for help, it's best to leave them alone. It's an infringement to just walk in and accuse people or try and stop their addictions. They must want to change on their own. Anyhow children need the real help, they are the ones that are suffering. Love the post...be blessed....Thalia (spiritsandghosts).


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks Thalia for reading and your comments. I totally agree with you. Unless the addict want's help it's best to leave them to it however hard that may be.


angela p profile image

angela p 5 years ago from Richmond, Virginia

This made me cry to think of children going through these things. It is so unfair. My home life as a child was not great but I did have clean clothes and food to eat. School is where I put all of my energy because it took me away from the craziness and drama of home. My teachers played an important role in my life and are the key to my successes as an adult. You do make a difference!


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 5 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks angela.


Ruchi Urvashi profile image

Ruchi Urvashi 4 years ago from Singapore

Great writing. I agree that it is very difficult for children when parents are addicted to substance like alcohol, smoking. People think that they have parents but the situation is really bad at home. They suffer in silence and need to recover during their adult life. I think they need to find some outlet where they can meet other families like going to church or anything that is positive and good for them.


Lady_E profile image

Lady_E 4 years ago from London, UK

Wow... that was touching to read. I Teach adults but teaching kids that you described above would be so challenging and I mean that in a positive way.

1) You would want to reach out. Maybe buy a box of moist wipes and have it in class, so they can always clean up or box of snacks for those who never have breakfast.

2) Give them lots of Hugs.

3) You would hurt for them too, as they didn't deserve it.

In UK, we are so restricted. You could give a learner a hug and get into trouble for it.

People like you play a very important part in these kids life. What you sow in them will stay with them forever. The teaching, the care, your words etc. Many times I look past the behaviour of rebellious teens and put it down to them having issues at home.

I remember a story last year of a Teacher who sprayed Indian Kids with Air-freshner because they alway stank of curry and Garlic. What would she do if she worked in your school? (I think she got the sack).

Well done and thanks so much for sharing. The good you do will come back to you and I hope you meet many of them later in life to see how they have progressed.

So sorry for long comment... it got me. xx


teachertalking1 profile image

teachertalking1 4 years ago

Very informative hub that, as a fellow teacher at at at-risk school, I can relate to. I agree with you student's basic needs not being met. Most people fail to realize the significance of Maslow's Hierarchy of Needs - if these needs are not met, students will fail to thrive. Thanks for sharing!


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Ruchi, I agree that the children need an outlet. Bottling up your problems is the worst thing you can do.

Lady, Political correctness has gone bonkers in the UK. Sometimes, what you need is a hug. I'm so pleased that it 'got' you. Thanks.

teacher, you're right, we all have the right to have food, water, shelter and someone in our life who cares and worries about us. When I feel in a huge depression I try to remember this. I'm lucky to have friends and family that love me and care about me.


fpherj48 profile image

fpherj48 4 years ago from Beautiful Upstate New York

This touches me deeply.....and makes me quite sad for the children. My heart breaks a hundred times when I think of children having to suffer and be neglected for any reason........especially when we can know that the source of their pain is the people they love the very most............UP++


AlexK2009 profile image

AlexK2009 4 years ago from Edinburgh, Scotland

Children should never have to suffer this. Perhaps the parents need counselling and advice but getting them to take it can be hard. At the least if determined to get drunk the children should never see it. I once knew a woman who divorced here husband because he got drunk in front of their child: she told him to go out and get drunk and sober up a bit before coming home. He refused the compromise.

And some parents just do not care about their children. I heard of one couple who left their child in the house and went shopping at the time the council were coming to take them into care.

The bottom line is perhaps that drink and drugs are good servants but bad masters.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

fpher and Alex, thanks so much. It's heart wrenching that people's lives are mapped out before they have a chance to try and change it. It takes a very special and astute individual to get out of their pre-determined trap.


Peter Geekie profile image

Peter Geekie 4 years ago from Sittingbourne

Dear Peanutritious

Thank you for a well researched and incisive article on an increasing social and personal problem faced by many kids today. Thank you again for your understanding and the help you give - many of us may sit in our comfortable chairs and tut, but so few of us are actually willing to get our hands dirty.

Kind regards Peter


Mazzy Bolero profile image

Mazzy Bolero 4 years ago from the U.K.

It's more than sad. Teachers often fail to understand what a child is going through as they themselves come from such a different background. I came from a very poor background but in those days drug addiction was rare. However, I still recall one little girl who always came to school dirty, smelly and dressed in rags, wearing hole-covered slippers instead of shoes. I'm horrified to admit that my friends and I avoided her. We looked down on her. But we were only 5 years old. I'm even more horrified to admit that the teachers also seemed to look down on her. Thank heaven your pupils have a teacher like you - but for one person to fight it is like punching a waterfall. Do those in government genuinely care?


bac2basics profile image

bac2basics 4 years ago from Spain

Hi Tara. What a very sad and disturbing hub this was to read, but you cannot turn a blind eye to what is clearly a huge problem now in the UK. Using the showers and setting up breakfast clubs is a fantastic idea..it may subject the poor kids using these facilities to yet more taunting from bullies, and so that would have to be kept an eye on. But at least they they would feel a whole lot better with something in their stomachs and clean clothes and bodies. I think it´s disgusting that when local authorities are clearly aware that children are being neglected, they don´t step in and do something. The same has to be said for the relatives of these poor kids being dragged up by addicts...and the neighbors too. Years ago when perhaps community spirit and neighborliness seemed more in evidence, some kind person would make sure a neglected child had at least one good meal a day, and way´s would be found to pass on " out grown clothes " from their kids without causing offense. Has all this now changed in the UK ? It´s been a while since I lived there myself, but certainly people of my generation and from my neck of the woods ( the North of England) surely can´t have changed that much.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Peter, you are so right. So many people don't want to get their hands dirty. Society has changed so much it's all 'everyone for themselves'. I find that attitude extremely depressing. Sorry for the late response too.

Mazzy, No I don't think the Government care apart from when a camera is pointed at them of course. When you avoided that little girl you were only 5 and didn't know any better, teachers that could make a difference do know better which makes it far worse. Thanks for commenting.

bac2basics, i'm sorry to say that the UK has changed for the worse. Society is so selfish and self obsessed. As long as they're ok then everyone else can lump it. Obviously not everyone is like this but it can sometimes feel that the good ones are in the minority! You've done the right thing moving to Spain! Thanks for your comment. Take care.


DDE profile image

DDE 4 years ago from Dubrovnik, Croatia

The neglected children are often the ones deprived of many good things in life a growing problem worldwide


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Thanks for your thoughts DDE, it is sadly a growing problem.


Lauryallan profile image

Lauryallan 4 years ago

It's sad to think that nowadays these things continue to happen. Most people are more willing to turn a blind eye than get involved and in many cases you can't really blame them.

Even if schools did organize to shower, clothe and feed these children it's going to create a "them and us" society. Many families are hurting financially and would probably love for someone else to deal with some of the feeding and clothing of their children. Plus if you go down that line, where does it stop? Will these families just use it as another way to fob off their responsibilities.

Teachers aren't supposed to be your parents. And even if they do the things above, what happens at the end of the school day? They return to their "could do better" parents. It's a temporary bandage that falls off every evening and is re-applied on school mornings.

And on the subject of care or fostering etc. I know a number of foster carers and I have to say many of them only really care about the money they get for looking after the kid. They may be washed, feed and sent to school on time, but other things tend to be lacking instead, such as unconditional love or a sense of belonging.

I know it sounds bad, but some people shouldn't be allowed to have kids. Most of these parents wouldn't even be able to care for a cat properly, let alone a child.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Lauryallan, I couldn't agree more. I'm sick of parents (who frankly shouldn't be) passing the buck and blaming everything on their kid's teachers. We only see them for a few hours each day. They need to take responsibility. There are a staggering amount of people breeding to get benefits and housing, it disgusts me.

When I was all excited about buying my first house a 13 year old girl said to me 'Why are you buying a house miss, just have a baby and you'll get given one!'

I appreciate what you're saying about 'them and us' but for the short time we had the pupils, I couldn't bear to see them hungry, smelly and in utter despair. If nothing else, it showed those unfortunate souls that not everyone in the world was selfish and evil.

I also know foster carer's I would not let look after an animal let alone child. They do it purely for the money.

Controversial this may be but i really think 'parents' (I use the term loosely) that continue popping out unloved children like peas to increase their benefits need to be sterilised. What sort of life are they offering these kids? They are doomed before they are born in many cases.

I despise the tory government here in the UK but the one thing they are implementing that I agree on is that benefits will stop after two children. I have a strong feeling that many will think before they breed after that's put in place.

This though only focuses on those on benefits. There are many middle class families that have children and just hand them over to hired help and not giving the child love and attention. It's not merely down to finances but ignorance. Some people just havent got the intelligence and empathy to bring up a child.


Lauryallan profile image

Lauryallan 4 years ago

I agree with most of what you've said. I understand why you help these children. I was just saying if it became an official program across all schools I could see "issues" coming up. Why should these families be rewarded for what is essentially bad behaviour while middle class families struggle to get by and do the best for their kids. In the end, they'll end up paying more to cover the extra in taxes, yet again.

I wasn't really meaning that foster carers can't look after children. They at least tick the boxes and get the basics covered. However, most of these biological parents we are talking about can't look after a cat. They are too busy with whatever it is they are doing or not doing that day.

I think there should at least be some kind of test in place b4 people can have even 1 kid. Why ruin 2 kids lives before something kicks in?

To be honest, I can't get behind any government in the UK. All of them disgust me, but that's a completely separate hub...

I agree some people are ignorant, but I also think it's because that's how they were raised. The next generation can't be improved when the fundamentals were never shown or taught to their parents when they were growing up. Some of the things that I take for granted such as what is deemed polite or nice is basically not even seen in other households. They have no idea that their actions can be taken negatively because it's "normal" to them... Hard to break conditioning.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 4 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

I am sure there are some excellent foster carer's but I happen to know of some dreadful ones who do it purely for the money. I agree with much of what you're saying and in an ideal world something would be done. Sadly, to sterilise a drug addict who gets pregnant numerous times to unwanted children is seen as 'an infringement of her human rights'. Agreeing to a kind of 'test' before people are allowed to have children would never happen either.


Lauryallan profile image

Lauryallan 4 years ago

Yeah it's one of those issues that we all know happens and there's very little to nothing we can do to eliminate it.


Peanutritious profile image

Peanutritious 3 years ago from Cheshire, UK Author

Hi Laury, yes sadly I can't see there being a big improvement, we can only hope.

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