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A life is not a life if you have to stay quiet

A group of Five Rivers fostered children wrote this poem based on their personal experiences. The words form a soundtrack for an art installation created by them in collaboration with professional artists and filmmakers. The work highlights the importance of disclosure.   

The nightmare

Nightmare Voice:

Are you ready for the interview? Don’t be late…


What are they going to see?

Are they going to see the real me? What is the real me anyway?

The little kid in care or the adult that cares?

Nightmare Voice:

You’re an idiot,

a nothing,

a loser,

a creep!


I’m a person who’s grown from all the things that she’s seen.

Nightmare Voice:

You’re a waster,

a weirdo,

a true waste of space.


I’m a person who’s learned from many others’ mistakes…


The interview

Thank you for coming, sitting down and talking to me today.
As you know, we’re looking for a social worker,
and wondered what experience you might have
and what you might be able to bring to the position?




My CV might look empty, but it’s not about that
Cos a life’s not like a record that can be played back
It goes forward, but lessons cut into the grooves
Each time you learn a new thing there’s a scar that’s smoothed.
You might look at me, think that you know my kind,
But no-one is who they are on the outside,

I’m gonna tell my tale, I hope you understand. 
It’s a life well-spent that was never as planned

Well it was always about my sister and me

At the back of the class – we were both thicker than thieves

Laughing and chatting and not doing maths

We’d rather be together than to do that crap

Later that same day, when we both went home

Teacher looked at us strange, why he did, I don’t know

And back at home mum and dad were both fighting

Empty bottles in the kitchen, drunk and back-biting.

Alone in my room with them fighting below

Shouting at each other, saying ‘Change or go!’


But there are better ways to change if the right words are spoken

Cos silence can be deadly if it never gets broken.


Well, the next day at school the teacher called us both in

First, he asked my sister if she’d stole something

From the changing room, the day before,

She just stayed quiet


But word was out that she was a thief, and me – a liar

Then he looked beneath my sleeve, on my arm saw scars

He asked me how they’d got there. If I‘d done myself harm?

I didn’t say nothing,

He said he couldn’t hide it.

That a life’s not a life if you have to stay quiet.



On the way home, mum and dad were on the street

Shouting insults at us, so we pretended not to see

But then they came across, lost the plot, knocked me down to the ground

Screaming and shouting while people just walked round.

The next day, social services came,

Came and took both me and my sister away

Then we were separated, felt like I’d nothing at all

‘My life had no meaning’ was the writing on the wall.


And that night as I slept, I had the worst dream ever

Playing back all the things that we’d once seen

That I was nothing, a nobody, a waste of space

A life without hope, no home, no place

And when I woke up, it was just me in a room

Just me and my thoughts, just me and this doom

And I thought about the people who’d been there in my life

That they were not as they seemed when you saw them inside.



My mum was a kid once, the youngest of five

Her brothers bullied and abused her most of her life

But she never spoke up, never learnt how to love

Instead stuck with the story of a life so tough.



And my dad was the child of a violent man

Who kept him in line by raising his hand

But the weed gave him freedom, at least in his head

So he kept on smoking til his brain went dead


And the teacher was a man who tried to speak up

Tired of the silence we all keep bottled up.

Cos a life’s not a life if you have to stay quiet

And if a life’s worth grabbing then you just have to try it


After that moment, I was just given care

Never truly felt alone cos there was always help there

A hand to help, an ear to hear

To make me laugh when I was down and to listen to my fear


So I guess that’s why I’m here now, applying for this

To help as I’ve been helped is my number one wish

I’m a child of the state, know this system inside out

Foster carers showed me care, offered me a way out.


So like I say, my CV might look empty

But all the skills I need to know are deep down inside me

And when I saw the job come up, I had to try it


Cos a life’s not a life if you have to stay quiet

…a life’s not a life if you have to stay quiet

…if a life’s worth grabbing then you just have to try it


The Masks We Wear
© Five Rivers Youth Council in collaboration with Daniel Marcus Clark

The Masks We Wear is a powerful 5-minute film made by our Youth Council as part of our participation programme. The young people involved are very proud of it and would like it to be seen by teachers and other professionals who come into contact with looked after children. Please contact for an information  and advice on how to arrange a screening. 



The collaborators  

Writer, Daniel Marcus Clark

Drama workshop specialist, Jo Tatum,

Composer, Adrian Chappell,

Mask-maker, Vikki Liton

Film Maker, Beccy Strong


We are grateful to the Reed Family Foundation whose donation made this possible.

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