By Mel Lynch
Doing a degree that requires weekly reams of readings, I’m ashamed to say has resulted in the recent realisation that it’s been months, if not years, since I’ve read a book simply for pleasure. In order to remedy this, I decided to pick up Hackney Child, a true story depicting the harrowing life of nine-year-old Hope Daniels. The central themes of Hope’s story are about the neglect, disappointment, poverty and the true reality of the fundamental issues within the UK’s care system for children. Yet, after struggling to put the book down, it quickly became clear her story is so much more than the hardship she faced.
Set in the late 1970s, Hope Daniels lives in Hackney with her alcoholic parents and two brothers. Barely surviving, Hope takes care of her brothers while her mother and father use their weekly child support funds for booze and weekend benders, leaving them to essentially starve for the rest of the week. Adding to this, Hope’s mother works as a prostitute and regularly entertains her clients in the room Hope shares with her parents in their Stoke Newington council house. Already, this doesn’t paint the best picture of Hope’s home life.
The book is ghost written by Morag Livingstone for Hope Daniels (with the pseudonym of Jenny Molloy). The vivid imagery and raw use of language used to depict Hope’s abuse makes the book feel painfully realistic, and often too difficult to read. However, one could argue that the simplistic use of language throughout does act in the book’s detriment, breaking its flow. Nevertheless, this style continuously reminds the reader of the innocence of the protagonist, shockingly reminding us that this is a child’s tale we are reading.
However, the most surprising part of Hope’s story was not the awful abuse she and her siblings were subjected to, but how her ordeal was not over even when she and her brothers were placed into care (after she herself requested it). Consistently let down by her social worker’s neglect, Hope is denied her dream of a foster placement due to an administrative error, serving to highlight how such small mistakes can massively impact the happiness and mental wellbeing of a child. Yet, an especially memorable aspect of the book was how perfectly this story highlighted the resilience of children. The innocent naivety of narrative voice highlights not only the atrocity of the abuse Hope is exposed to, but also how this abuse becomes normalised in her daily life; it is how she crafted her understanding of the world.
To me this book is important. It is a raw and eye-opening account about the reality of life for some children in the care system. And it is just one account of the physical and emotional trauma some children are forced to deal with on a daily basis.
This novel is also a harsh reminder that, though this book has been set in different era, the key issues of neglect and poverty (both in and out of care) are far too relevant today. It’s painfully evident in Hope’s story how much of her abuse could have been avoided from the earliest stages if the right social care had been provided. Yet, even in this era this social development has not occurred. The stigma around social workers remains and the correct training is not implemented to ensure that these social workers can work with children who are in desperate need of their support. If you’re after a book to make you think, I’d highly recommend Hackney Child.
Also, if you’d like to know more about a career in social work, you can visit Frontline’s website. Frontline is a social work charity with a mission to recruit and train outstanding individuals to become social workers. On their website you can find more out more about their graduate opportunities and how you yourself can make a real change in the lives of vulnerable children. Alternatively, visit Cardiff University’s Frontline Facebook page to find out more about their events and drop in stands they’re running around campus this autumn.