Jo Davison: A home for Maisie and an insight for the rest of us...

Picture shows: Neil Morrissey. TX: BBC Two
Picture shows: Neil Morrissey. TX: BBC Two
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It was one of those programmes that made me think: So this is why God let us invent TV.

It was one of those programmes that made me think: So this is why God let us invent TV.

�BBC Picture Shows: Maisie, Jim and Sue

�BBC Picture Shows: Maisie, Jim and Sue

Mostly when we turn on the telly, it’s for a soporific, sudsy bath of light entertainment.

Apart from the news, Antiques Roadshow and yet another programme about how great or how bad the British Isles are, there’s not much that is actually educational. At best, a lesson on how to do something a bit different with a nice slab of lamb and how to cure a bad case of toe nail fungus.

You rarely get an insight into real people’s lives, either. Reality TV isn’t what it says on the tin. It’s manufactured according to a director’s tick-list. Into the mix go the key ingredients: one loud-mouth, one posh type, someone of alternative sexual persuasion and a fat depressive.

But Monday night’s BBC 2 documentary A Home For Maisie – now that was real. And an education – into the plight thousands of children who get taken into care go through.

On the outside, eight-year-old Maisie was pretty and sweet. Just the type of child you’d want if you were looking through one of those sad adoption catalogues.

But inside Maisie there was an emotional maelstrom. Taken from a violent home life at the age of four, she had lived with ten families and been the subject of two failed adoptions.

Now Sue and Jim were trying to become Maisie’s parents. They had done it successfully before. Eight times. But never had it been this hard.

Even though she couldn’t remember it, the little girl had witnessed so many fights that violence had become her default mode.

When she felt upset, she fought. If she was disciplined, she felt controlled – so she kicked off. When she was shown love she felt afraid – and lashed out to protect herself.

Was it any wonder that, after all the pain, rejection and upheaval she had experienced, when she got what she wanted – a loving, ready-made family – she couldn’t believe that it would last. Life was surely waiting to punch her in the stomach as hard as she had seen her father hit her mother and her little brothers. We the viewers could see her thought process as plain as day.

You willed Sue and Jim to break through the barbed wire Maisie had wound around her heart. It nearly tore the family to pieces but they persevered because they knew that, deep down, it was what Maisie wanted.

Usually such stories are only depicted in dramatisations, or in documentaries where subjects retain their anonymity, and you can understand why. Looked-after children are hyper-vulnerable and what they need is protection, not exposure to the nation.

Right the way through A Home For Maisie, I kept wondering how on earth the cameras had been allowed to record a child surely under a care order. And at such a fragile stage in her development.

But I have huge admiration for everyone who gave their permission – and that must, one presumes, have included Maisie herself.

The programme was a priceless piece of public relations on behalf of every child living in long-term care.

It was also a powerful piece of campaigning. More funding clearly needs to be ploughed into intense psychological therapy sessions many adoptive families need if they are to reach a happy outcome.

Currently, one in three adoptions fail. Well-meaning, caring people trying to bond with children desperately in need flounder because they have to go through stormy waters alone.

Jim, Sue and Maisie got help from an agency called Family Futures, although at one stage, money for further sessions for their clearly still-very-distressed little girl seemed about to be lost. Maisie was facing life in a secure therapeutic placement at a cost to Social Services of £300,000 a year. And all for the want of less than £50,000 a year to fund her Family Futures therapy.

The injustice and the short-sightedness had me on the edge of my seat. This was drama of the highest order – the real stuff. Just in time, a few more months of funding were provided. The adoption went ahead, much to Maisie’s delight.

But there are many more Maisies out there. It needs far more people with an abundance of courage, love and selflessness to take them into their families – if not as adoptive parents, then as caring foster parents.

Actor Neil Morrissey is proof that good fostering works. He was taken into care at 10 but was one of the lucky ones; he got loving foster parents who turned his life around.

Still, though, Morrissey had many deep rooted issues about his childhood, all aired and some unravelled in a fascinating BBC 2 documentary earlier this month.

But just as vital as caring strangers stepping into the gap left in these children’s lives is Government support. It has to provide the highly specialised, ongoing therapy that prevents young, innocent little victims from growing up to be ghost people with haunted, angry souls.

One psychologically damaged eight-year-old girl has shown us that.

Now her new parents, and the programme-makers, will just have to pray she doesn’t live to regret having aired her problems to millions. That she remains a mascot for every troubled child in care, not the martyr.