Christa Ackroyd on her upbringing as an adopted child - and why we need to do better for our children

The simplest of things trigger the greatest of memories. But who would have thought shelling peas in front of the telly watching Wimbledon would be a powerful reminder of the childhood I was lucky enough to have?

Firstly I had no intention of shelling peas. I mean, who does that any more?

I actually thought I had bought a pack of mange tout at the supermarket only to find to my surprise that they were actually the real thing. And so I got out a pan spread out a newspaper on the pouffe and turned into my mother.

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Mum came from a generation that believed to do nothing was a sin. Yet she loved tennis and Wimbledon in particular. So what to do when those two weeks came around to justify long hours in front of the TV but to find something that would be useful that would assuage her guilt at doing nothing but watch telly?

Christa AckroydChrista Ackroyd
Christa Ackroyd

Shelling peas or hulking strawberries was the answer, to the point that when we came home from school the sitting room was awash with bowls of peas to add to the freezer or strawberries to add to the jam pan.

I have no such qualms. If I am engrossed in something on television the pots in the sink and the household chores can wait.

No doubt mum would be secretly horrified, although like many a good daughter the house was always spick and span when she came to call. Though I often did wonder why she brought with her a pair of marigolds to help me in ‘my busy life’ as she used to call it.

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Far from being insulted I was and remain eternally grateful that this was just my mum, house proud to the nth degree… with a place for everything and everything in its place. And that included a place for me.

This week it has been more than shelling peas which has triggered a thought process which takes me back to those days of not knowing who I was or where I came from. And of the parents who gave me the chance to feel secure, and more importantly safe in my own skin.

Everywhere I have turned, adoption or fostering has been the topic I have been surrounded by. It has been a storyline on Emmerdale, a new series of Long Lost Families, a documentary by Joe Swash about fostering and the news that he and his wife Stacey Solomon plan to add to their growing family by becoming foster carers themselves.

And above all interviews on BBC Breakfast with campaigners who claim to have found proof that the government of the 50s and 60s had a deliberate policy to make it difficult, nay impossible, for unmarried mothers like my birth mother to keep their child.

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And for that they want an apology, as has already been given in Scotland, Ireland and Wales.

So what difference does would an apology make now? The answer is a huge one.

Although I was only ten days old and although my life could not have been better there always has been the niggling question of who am I really. It is a constant theme in the life of an adopted child … why was I given away?

It comes up when hospitals ask for a family history as they did this week. It is a topic of conversation when people ask who I take after when all I can answer truthfully is ‘I don’t know’. But my mum, because that is who she was, became without training and guidance an expert in answering my childhood questions with love and compassion not just for me but for the woman who had given me away.

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"But why didn’t she want me mum,” I remember asking. She answered: “It’s not that she didn’t want you Christa, never think that, it’s because she was forced to give you up."

And now it seems that it was more true than I ever believed.

I was always told that because of societal pressures on unmarried mothers and the judgement that followed they and their unborn child were seen as a problem. To even contemplate it was a deliberate policy to make it not only difficult but impossible to stay together breaks my heart all over again.

Not because I would have changed a moment of my life, but because of a woman forced to change hers, forced being the operative word.

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To hear of such women as were interviewed this week telling of how they were told they would never be offer housing, how their children would be called ‘bastards’ and how they live with the guilt of wanting to but not being able to keep their child has made me so angry. But all that is in the past isn’t it? Things cannot be the same now, especially since unmarried mothers are quite the norm.

Well things are every bit as bad as they ever were. And children, children like I once was, are slipping through the net on a daily basis. The figures of youngsters up for adoption are huge. And while I am at it, isn’t that a terrible phrase. ‘Up for adoption’ - it suggests a throwaway disposable commodity when really it relates to a child in need of love.

So too are the figures of young people needing fostering. And so this week having my own adoption on my mind I contacted the Children’s Family Trust.

Our conversation led me to write this today. The number of children in care actively seeking adoption or fostering is spirally out of control. At last count it was 100,000 and rising.

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That is 100,000 children whose lives and possibilities are being wasted. Add to that a shortage of at least 25,000 carers and we are back to where we were all those years ago.

And it is not just children from abusive or unsafe homes who make up the figures. There are even families shockingly coming forward and saying take my child as we can’t afford to support them.

So here’s the thing. If the government can’t find it in their hard hearts to say sorry for the past they can and should be doing more to protect vulnerable children in the future.

No one should be forced to give up their children because they can’t feed them. And they can also add financial support to those who want to adopt rather than end it overnight when they want to take the next step from fostering.

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So here is my message to those running the country. Say you are sorry and pledge to do better, or children will continue to fall through the cracks that are widening every day.

I started this column by talking about my mum shelling peas. And do you know why I did so? Because that represents normal. It was a little idiosyncrasy in a life of routine and regimes that made me feel normal too.

Not abandoned, not unwanted, but part of a family and so worthy of love. And that is all children ever need. Do not let us repeat the same mistakes of 50 or 60 years ago, because that is where we are heading.

There are 100,000 children waiting to start a new life, with new possibilities, just as I once was. Their future and so ours as a country depends on it. Remember all they ever want is normal, in all its shapes and forms.