Free Loaves on Fridays: 100 care experienced children and adults tell their story

Anthology, which includes contributions from renowned poet Lemn Sissay, as well as first-time writers, seeks to 'expose potential of good social work and lifelong consequences when children are let down'

A group picture of contributors to Free Loaves on Fridays, an anthology of writings by people who are, or were, in care
Contributors to Free Loaves on Fridays at the launch event

Free Loaves on Fridays, a new anthology containing letters, stories and poems by 100 care experienced children and adults, was launched last week.

The book, edited by Rebekah Pierre, professional officer at the British Association of Social Workers (BASW), features contributions from people aged 13 to 68, from renowned poet and author Lemn Sissay to first-time writers.

“The book holds up a mirror to the system, exposing both the wonderful potential that good, well-funded social work can have, as well as the lifelong consequences when children are let down,” said Pierre, who spent time in care before becoming a social worker.

Speaking at the launch, Pierre said she hoped Free Loaves on Fridays humanised care leavers and challenged “the stigma and stereotypes that still exist”.

“I hope it flips everything on its head to show we don’t have to just be a small voice at the end of a feedback form but we’re capable of the whole narrative,” she added. “I hope it leads people to action.”

‘It brought up a lot of memories’

Free Loaves on FridaysThe book, whose proceeds are going to children’s rights charities Article 39 and The Together Trust, took Pierre two years to put together and edit.

She attributed this in part to how deeply the stories resonated with her own experience in care – so much so that she had to take time off at times to reflect.

“Having lived experience of [care], [the stories] resonated at a deep level and it brought up a lot of memories so the process [of editing] was very slow,” she said.

“It couldn’t be rushed but it was a privilege. My hope is that the next generation will see themselves represented in bookshops, so it’s absolutely worth it.”

Pierre spent ages 16-18 living in an unregulated hostel after her foster placement broke down unexpectedly, right before Christmas.

Years later she decided to read her case files, only to find “pages and pages of cold, very formal language” where her name had been misspelt “over 100 times”.

Pierre later addressed her social worker in an open letter that included extracts of her case notes, criticising the language used. This is now part of Free Loaves on Fridays.

‘Care experienced people telling their stories in their own words’

Kirsty Capes, care experienced author and one of the contributors, said the book gave care leavers the opportunity to do something rare, to “tell their own stories in their own words”.

Capes, whose debut novel, Careless, is the story of a teenage girl in foster care, strongly praised Free Loves on Fridays’ no-rejection policy, which meant that all submissions were accepted, no matter the author’s level of writing experience.

“To have that no rejection policy, and for [care experienced people] to speak truth to their stories in their own words, that’s an incredibly powerful thing,” she added. “It’s even more powerful for people who’ve often had other people speaking for them.

“I hope it’s just the start of a wider conversation that we all need to have about how [care] experienced people are spoken about and how they’re represented.”

Similarly to Pierre, Capes’s entry in the book highlights the shame she felt when reading her notes, where her social worker often labelled her as a “liar”.

Changing language, she said, was a small thing that practitioners could do that would have “a big impact on care experienced people’s self-identity”, she added.

Another contributor, Kasmira Kincaid, highlighted the importance of acknowledging both the pressures social workers were under and the complexity of children in care’s lives.

“I think children in care will often not see the complexity and challenges social workers are confronted with,” she said. “[But] social workers often have the tendency to do the same thing.

“I think it’s important for them to take away that children in care might have different struggles, but they’re no less numerous and not that substantially different. So, I suppose it’s about seeing people as individuals. To see the complexity and avoid seeing people as a simple stereotype.”

A must-read for every social worker

Emma Lewell-Buck, MP for South Shields and a former social worker, described Free Loaves on Fridays as an emotional journey that would make readers “understand the reality of our system and why it absolutely must change”.

“So often, care experienced people are not listened to, their exclusion from policy setting and decision making is ever apparent,” she said. “Often those who have experienced care are spoken about as though they are all one homogenous group. They aren’t. Their diverse experiences are brought to life in this book.”

National director of BASW England Maris Stratulis called the book a “must-read for every social worker”.

“We must hear and learn from the voices of the care experienced community, and influence and change practice and systems for the better.”

Free Loaves on Fridays is published by Unbound and is currently available from and

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