Opinion: Alice vs the system: Lessons from a lifetime of “help” from public services #3

“Begin at the beginning,” the King said, very gravely, “and go on till you come to the end: then stop.”
― Lewis Carroll, Alice in Wonderland

This is the third in the series about Alice and her experience of ‘the system’ and covers her life as a young adult. The first article, introducing the series, can be found here and the second, on her adoption and early life, here.

It’s taken me longer to write this article than I thought it would. Things have been difficult for Alice over the past few months; she has recently come off her meds and we’re dealing with the fallout (my contribution is largely indirect, trying to support my mum), and I haven’t had the heart to bring myself to write about it. David Cameron’s “family test” fired me up again though.

I’ve not really known how to write about the last decade of Alice’s life, so I’ve decided to concentrate four events in her life that I think are particularly important in terms of her story.

The attack

The academic year 2002/03 was a good one for Alice. She started a BTEC and it really seemed to work for her. She was enjoying the freedom that college life with live-in accomodation gave her. My only concern at that time was that she insisted on going ‘home’ to my mum’s every weekend so that she could have her washing done and be fed, but there seemed to be a balance.

But Alice wanted to fit in. And she wanted to go out, to go out and have a drink with friends. But she wasn’t allowed to because of the medication she was on. And so, she stopped taking the medication. This was the cause of rows between her and my mum, as was her changing attitude to her course and the work.

I never did quite get to the bottom of what went wrong that day. Alice used a glass ashtray to hit my mum a number of times. She was left with serious bruising. Alice was arrested and cautioned, but the police didn’t entirely take it seriously. Alice has never lived with my mum since then.

Shortly after this she was thrown off her course for not completing assessments.


Since the attack Alice has been sectioned a small number of times. If I’m honest they rather merge into one. At one point the difference between a secion 2 ‘section’ (assessment) and a section 3 (treatment) was important. It was wandering on railway lines that did it, the first time I think. Another time it was thinking that a boyfriend was a werewolf – that needed to be killed. The unit where she was detained over one Christmas was a dismal place. It was like a secondary school ‘after hours’, empty halls that smelled of polish used on the floors, lots of echos. We all put a brave face on it, even Alice. The staff were strangely absent, and the patients seemingly left to their own devices. Once she was established on antipsychotics she was allowed back to her flat.

A baby

2 years ago Alice had a daughter. She wanted a baby. In a way we were surprised it hadn’t happened sooner. We knew what the outcome would be. The mental health workers told her what would happen if she had a baby. Whilst she was pregnant she became a different person. More mature than ever before, more like a woman in her early 20s than she normally seemed. Gone were the mood swings, the deliberat e awkwardness and the argumentativeness, the risky behaviour, drink and drugs.

The father was considered quite inappropriate to play a role in Alice’s daughter’s life and isn’t allowed access. But we allowed ourselves to think that she could do it. Social services allowed Alice to take her daughter home as long as she wasn’t living on her own. My mum moved onto the sofa in Alice’s flat. I think this situation lasted two weeks. Alice disliked the responsibility – of getting up for night feeds, the need to maintain routine. Living with my mum stopped working. Alice made various allegations about my mum, we think, but we’re not allowed to know what they are, or to challenge them – or even respond to them. Alice’s daughter was taken into care, although Alice was briefly allowed to live with the woman who became her daughter’s guardian. She tired of being treated like a teenager, with a curfew, not allowed to see friends, or my mum or gran and eventually moved back to her flat, and now sees her daughter once a month, with a supervised visit.

Current life

Alice is currently in a bad place. She refuses to take her medication for days on end. Then she overdoses. She’s in and out of hospital a couple of times a week. No one seems to be doing anything. My mum and I discuss if being sectioned again would help – to re-establish her medication routine, calm her behaviour, but we’re unsure of how to access the people and information we need to speak to. Reasoning with Alice doesn’t seem to work, although – fortunately – she always calls the ambulance.  When her Disibility Living Allowance is paid (fortnightly), she spends it on cocaine. I don’t think it can go on much longer.

My last piece will look at how Alice’s life has challenged some of the assumptions I have about the role of social services, mental health support, education, benefits, and what I think about nature vs nurture.

* The author is known to the Liberal Democrat team and is a party member. They are, however, writing anonymously to protect theirs and Alice's (not her real name) identities.

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