This life

People with learning difficulties still face
discrimination when they want a family, writes Julie

My name is Julie and I live in Milton Keynes. I am the
chairperson of Milton Keynes People First, Kathleen Franklin, who
has written this column before, is the secretary. I am an advocate.
I support other people like myself to speak up for themselves. I
have my own flat and I am 40.

As a baby I spent most of my time in long-stay hospitals – at
least seven of them – until I was a child and was adopted. When I
was a teenager, my dad died. My mum didn’t have support, so I went
to live at my neighbour’s. Then a social worker came and sent me to
Manor House – a long-stay hospital in Aylesbury.

While I was at Manor House, I helped take care of little kids. I
fed them and played with them. This made me think I would like a
child of my own some day. I wanted to learn to take care of myself,
so that if I had a child I could take care of it.

When I turned 19, I told one of the staff at the hostel I was at
that I would like to have a home and a family of my own some day.
She said: “You can’t. It’s not possible for someone like you!” My
mum backed her up, which upset me even more.

The staff at the hostel said we were allowed to have boyfriends,
but that if we were caught having sex something would be done to
guarantee that there would be no children as a result. This meant
that we would be sterilised. We didn’t know anything about sex, so
we couldn’t be doing it anyway. I thought the way people got a baby
was to go and choose one out of an orphanage.

I eventually moved out of the hostel to a couple of different
group homes. While I was at one of them, I reconnected with a woman
I met at Manor House. Now her and her family are what I class as
part of my family. She has three children aged 16, 14 and 11. The
eldest has a disability and I am like a mentor to her. I helped
bring up these kids. I love them to bits, but it’s not the same as
having a child of your own.

Although I am happy with the children I have in my life, I feel
I have missed out on the chance to have my own child. It hurts that
I was discriminated against in this way. I think it’s unfair. I
know it still happens to people like me or, if they do have a
child, it is taken off them. Very rarely are they allowed to keep

You could say this kind of discrimination only went on 20 years
ago and that times have changed. Well, last summer I was watching
the kids. My neighbour called social services, saying that some
children next door were in danger because a person with learning
difficulties was looking after them. So have things really

As a woman with learning difficulties I was able, at the age of
19, to take care of the little ones at Manor House. I wasn’t paid
to do this work. I didn’t get an NVQ for it, like a person without
learning difficulties might have. I probably saved the government a
lot of money in free labour. But, outside an institution, I am not
seen as fit to care for kids or to have my own!

Julie Graysmark is chairperson of Milton Keynes People

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