I just want to put that out there. Of course, you can decide for yourself after reading this whether you think I am.
I am a married woman, in my early thirties with three children. I have a good job and I am also a student. A pretty good one. I wasn't always this person. For the purpose of this post you don't need to know all of my life. I won't bore you. I'll keep my personal involvement just to a small paragraph if I can, just to set the scene.
I was twenty and fell pregnant. It was not planned, I was not prepared and I wasn't particularly mature. I didn't have a good job, I lived with my parents, I couldn't drive, I hadn't finished my education. The man "responsible" (I'll use that phrase not to imply complete responsibility but because quite frankly any other phrase might involve swear-words, and as I have said, I'm not bitter.) So the man responsible was separated from his long-term partner with whom he had other children. He was also almost twice my age and seemed OK about the pregnancy at first. It was only when I was around 10 weeks (and spending hours in Mothercare thinking about this brand new direction my life could take) that he suggested I "get rid of it." He was reunited with his long-term partner (were they ever separated? I would ask myself much later.) .... I'll take a deep breath and stop there.
That's enough about that.
He never met my daughter. I've not seen him for about twelve years. It doesn't matter. I wrote a book. A narrative. A diary. A memoir of my pregnancy. An agent in London wanted to put it to publishers and it was almost done - but I pulled out. Did I really want that out there?? I retracted the book and consigned it to the "trash" in my emails. But that's another tale.
I got the CSA involved. The CSA - The Child Support Agency. Here is what they do:
The Child Maintenance Service can:
- try to find the other parent if you don’t know where they live to sort out child maintenance
- arrange for the ‘paying’ parent to pay child maintenance - the parent who doesn’t have main day-to-day care of the child
- pass payments on to the ‘receiving’ parent - the parent who has main day-to-day care of the child
- take action if payments aren’t made
It was slightly different for me. As in, entirely different. The man responsible refused to pay any money towards my daughter's upbringing so I had to chase the CSA to chase him. Endless phone calls. Each time, the same conversation.
"What is the absent parent's name?" "Do you know where he lives?"
Each time the same response. We have sent the letters. We are sending someone round. He has been summoned to court. He owes you £3,456. (This was back in 2006.)
Phone calls and phone calls. Five years later, I called again, furious. I had a bit of a rant and a rave. In the meantime I had learned to drive, bought my own house and worked hard to provide for my daughter. The man on the other end of the phone was sympathetic, and do you know what he said?
"The CSA have got new powers now. Basically, we are going to send someone round. We will seize his credit cards and pay you through them. You will have what he owes you very soon."
This, I was to find out after another phone call, was a lie. Nonsense. They have no such powers.
That was pretty much when I stopped calling. When I realised they had lied to me - I didn't need any more of that. To date, I have received exactly £20 in two £10 installments from the CSA. (Apparently the man responsible signed on the dole for a couple of weeks - easily traceable that way.)
I bet you're dying to know what I bought with the money aren't you. I wanted to spend the money on booze and fags, or burn it in (an admittedly small) fire in the garden. But I didn't. With the first £10 I bought her the Big Cook Little Cook DVD. With the second £10 I just frittered it away. I mean, what can you buy with £10 anyway - I had bills and mortgage payments coming out of my ears of course.
So what is my point?
Well, why have a system if it doesn't work? A system that lies. A system that has failed me for over ten years. What do I want? I don't want anything now. I haven't spoken to the CSA in years - they don't contact me at all. They never have. It was always me chasing, desperate as a lone parent to make ends meet.
I'm not bothered about me. I'm alright. And as I have said, I'm not bitter. Should I have been more responsible when I was younger? Yes of course. But I wasn't. Should I have listened to that man and "got rid of it"? Obviously the answer is no for me. And a system put in place to help only failed me as much as the pain that came before.
It could have been so different. And it probably is, in a lot of cases. A lot of young mothers left. Surely it is not just me. This system is failing.
It failed me terribly, when I needed support the most.
The CSA used to be in the news. Do you remember? Now it is dead.
My case is one of the old ones probably consigned to the 'trash' of their email account, just like my book.