I grew up alone and ‘couldn’t love’ be taken care of

Cared for since the age of two and closed in between foster family and daycare all her life, Ashley John-Baptiste grew up feeling unwanted and alone, believing she was an only child.

But in his twenties, a message on social media, from a man claiming to be his brother, changed his life.

Ashley investigates sibling separation in care in his BBC3 documentary


Ashley investigates sibling separation in care in his BBC3 documentary
His own childhood was a series of foster homes


His own childhood was a series of foster homesCredit: Provided

The former X Factor star, now a BBC presenter, discovered he has at least four other siblings – and he says knowing them as he grows up will provide a much-needed anchor for a while. turbulent childhood.

“My whole childhood was divided between different schools, family and groups of friends,” he told The Sun.

“There wasn’t a single person who knew me in all those walks, who knew me when I was 5, 8 and 15 years old.

“Having a sibling will give me a relationship for life, even if it is fractured and imperfect. That person will know me for the rest of my life. ”

London resident Ashley, 32, has only met her brother once and he reflects on his own experience in the BBC3 documentary Split Up In Care: Life Without Siblings which tackles the issue of division. family.

Ashley’s research shows that, by September 2021, around half of sibling groups in the UK are separated – the equivalent of more than 12,000 children in care who do not live with at least one of their siblings. they.

The documentary – available on iPlayer today – highlights the tragic case of social worker trainee Saskia, 23, and her two brothers, who were abused and abandoned in their foster home during a decade and then separated when they were taken away.

I asked myself the saddest question – ‘Why doesn’t anyone want me?’

Ashley John-Baptiste

In another heartbreaking case, five young brothers, living in different places foster homegathered for a bi-monthly meeting on a farm in Fife – before an emotional parting that made a lump in his throat.

Growing up alone, Ashley is tortured by poignant questions about identity, and told that having a sibling in his life might help.

“I’m struggling with questions like, ‘Why am I being fostered? Why doesn’t mom want me? Why doesn’t my dad want me? Basic but very profound questions about who I am and where I come from.

“There are normal, cherished childhood memories, like hanging out with adoptive siblings or at school, but there are also poignant moments of wondering who I am and asking myself the saddest question – ‘Why doesn’t anyone want me?’

Separated from the happy home at eight o’clock

Ashley’s mother, who took care of herself, was a vulnerable 17-year-old when she gave birth.

Cared for at the age of two, Ashley can’t remember her first time families with adopted children but his earliest memories of his second home, in South London, are happy ones.

He said: “My adoptive mother is a beautiful, larger-than-life Caribbean woman and she is incredible.

“She’s grown up so her kids are like my aunts and uncles and her grandchildren are like my siblings and it’s like a family.

“As an infant, I assumed I would live there forever, and for all the trauma of being a ‘cared-for’ child, she was an incredible rock.”

It happened when Ashley was eight years old and, for reasons unknown to him, it was said that he could no longer live with his adoptive mother.

He recalls: “The day I left, I still vividly remember watching a children’s TV show, eating cereal, and then being attacked by professionals to move me into a children’s home. .

“It was really difficult. It’s really hard to articulate that feeling of being left out and someone rushing into your family and taking you away.

It’s hard to articulate how it feels to be abandoned and someone stabs your family and takes you away

Ashley John-Baptiste

In total, Ashley has four foster homes, as well as children’s homes, plus brief stints in makeshift homes when one of his foster mothers requested a ‘temporary’ break.

“It’s always hard to move and the more that happens, the more cool and number one you become,” he said.

“You find coping mechanisms and defense mechanisms to protect yourself, so it takes longer to connect with a family. You don’t want to fall in love with the people around you because you were trained to believe that one day they will let you go. “

In contrast, Ashley entered Cambridge University at the age of 18 and says leaving his job as a caregiver left him without family once again.

“Everybody wants to be known, to be seen,” he said. “It is a profoundly human thing.

“My relationship with my siblings could mean that I had somewhere to go for Christmas or during the college break.

“But when I left care at 18, it was like starting over. I was picking up my own kitchenware and appliances, cooking dinner every night, and I had no one to call and say ‘I’m a little broken, can you help?’ I don’t have any support network because I’m a stranger. ”

Ashley was two years old when she was first raised


Ashley was two years old when she was first raisedCredit: Provided
Toby and Saskia have broken up, and their brother, after ten years of trauma


Toby and Saskia have broken up, and their brother, after ten years of trauma

Confused by a text from ‘brother’

Ashley first shot to fame when he auditioned for The X Factor in 2011, joined the boy band Risk and abruptly quit while they were still competing.

Just then, as he was honing his career as a BBC journalist, his long-lost brother, who had seen him on TV, reached out.

“It was completely unexpected and, at first, I was confused as to whether this was true or not,” he said.

“I remember being tired just thinking about it, but we were texting each other on social media and talking on the phone and within a few weeks he was clearly my brother.

“He was 11 years older than me and he knew my mother’s name and where she lived, which worried me a lot, and he thought he was babysitting me before I took care of him.

“We have the same father, who is not a great father to either of us, and knowing that there is someone out there who can relate to these feelings and questions of mine is impossible. believable.

“We had a close friendship and connection and that was more than enough for me.”

Through social media, Ashley later discovered more siblings, but was reluctant to meet her new brother – until by chance meeting outside a South London hospital in early 2020, where Ashley and their partner are taking their newborn daughter for a checkup.

“I don’t think I’m going to go see him, it sounds brutal but I’ve always wanted to move forward with my life and stay away from the trauma of caregiving,” he said.

“But I recognized him immediately from his Facebook photos so I called his name, we chatted.

“It’s really hard to describe but there’s a familiarity, as if I’ve run into an old classmate again, and it feels so familiar.

“He met his niece and we took a picture together, so no matter what happens to our relationship, my daughter still has a picture of her uncle.”

Siblings separated after decades of abuse

Told she has no siblings, throughout her life, Ashley questioned whether more could be done to help the children in care stay connected with siblings.

For the documentary, he spoke with Manchester siblings Saskia and Toby, taken from his biological parents and given to abusive adoptive parents.

“The three siblings were really close and were abused for ten years before being separated,” he said.

“How do they handle what they have been through, in isolation, in different parts of the country? And this happens over and over again.”

He admits he has a “new level of empathy” for social workers, speaking to Susanne Lim, director of early support and social care for children at Derby City Council, and admit lack of foster carer and tight resources make their job extremely difficult.

He added: “I can understand that there may not be anyone willing in an area to take on four siblings at once.

“But even if siblings are in different homes, there are ways to facilitate their relationship.”

He just went to the ranch in Fife, where owner Karen gathered family groups, like the five brothers on the show, for a two-hour contact visit.

“I think that is something that can happen in any local government, and it needs to be a priority,” he said.

The shadow of a bad father

Being a father has brought Ashley’s past to the fore and made him want to be the best father he can be.

“I love being a dad and my wife will tell you I am definitely a very happy person,” he said.

“You live your life as a father in the shadow of how your father used to be, and I know I want to be very present, because I don’t know my dad.

“But now I’m trying to establish what it means to be a father on my own terms, and not do it in the shadow of who he is.

“I look at my life, and look at my daughter, and I feel so lucky to be where I am.

“If there’s one positive thing I can take away from growing up in the care of and not knowing my father, it’s a feeling of deep gratitude, because I know what if do not have.”

Farewell in Care: Life Without Siblings now on BBC iPlayer

Ashley says there is no stable person in his life


Ashley says there is no stable person in his life
Presenter meets Lydia Bright's mother, Debbie, who has raised over 200 children, and foster carer Bryleigh, 23


Presenter meets Lydia Bright’s mother, Debbie, who has raised over 200 children, and foster carer Bryleigh, 23 I grew up alone and ‘couldn’t love’ be taken care of

Bobby Allyn

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