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One in 26 looked after children contact ChildLine about failings and weaknesses in the care system, a new ChildLine report reveals today.
The report calls on local authorities to ensure fostered and other looked after children always have an adult to speak up for them when they need help. At present, children only have a right to an ‘advocate’ if they want to make a formal complaint about their care.
There were over 83,000 children in foster, residential or other forms of care in 2009 in the UK, including 3,920 in the East Midlands.
In all, 3,196 looked after children – some as young as five - contacted ChildLine over 2009-10 with problems about being in care, with the East Midlands ChildLine base in Nottingham receiving 174 calls. Many callers were suffering physical and sexual abuse and neglect and felt lost and helpless in the care system.
Zoe from the Midlands was helped by the NSPCC - read her story below:
Names and identifying details have been changed.
Things changed at home when I was about seven. Mum had left and dad moved in his 16-year-old girlfriend Jenny who he had been secretly dating for a year. At first she was nice to us but soon her and dad started dishing out daily beatings to me and my six siblings. They would hold us under our arms while the other took turns to punch us and they’d make us put our hands into hot water.
My dad once tried to strangle my older sister Tracy. ‘Stop it’ I screamed, but he wouldn’t let her down until her eyes were rolling back in her head.
On another occasion Jenny scratched one of the younger children’s necks and blamed me. Dad was shouting at me and said ‘Beg for your life or I’ll kill you’ before putting an air riffle in my mouth. I’ve lived in fear from that moment on.
The mental torture was as bad as the physical abuse. They chopped off the head of the family cat and drowned the kittens and said they were going to draw our names out of a hat to see whose fingers they were going to chop off.
My dad also started to sexually abuse me and my 12-year-old friend Debbie. I knew it wasn’t right but he was my dad and the only person in my life who had stuck around as Jenny had also left by now. With my dad I felt as if I couldn’t say no because of the amount of control he had over me. I started to self harm to get myself through it as it was a way of releasing the pain.
I felt loyal to dad so I was angry at Tracy when she went to the police. He was arrested but no action was taken as Debbie wouldn’t say anything, despite the police finding notes from her at our house and notes from dad at hers. When he abused me he said ‘I’m pretending you are Debbie’ but I didn’t want to say anything against him and I was glad he didn’t go to prison.
But my four younger siblings and I were put into care when I was 15 and I was upset at having to leave dad. We were split up and put into different foster homes, with just Kim coming with me. I’d helped raise my siblings and I felt lost. I was ready to kill myself and my self-harming continued.
The house we were sent to seemed like a show home and I didn’t feel like I fitted in. The carers treated their own children a lot better than us and their eldest daughter used to go through my belongings while her mum just sat in the conservatory smoking all the time. I was made to feel like an outsider.
Things improved when I was moved to Claire and James’ house. They were a lot more down to earth and we seemed to just click. If I had a problem I felt that I could tell Claire and she would listen. She treated Kim and I as if we were family and not foster children. She took us on holiday to the caravan with her.
She also suggested that I see an advocate from the NSPCC who could talk to me about my problems and make sure that my thoughts, views, wishes and hopes were listened to at meetings. I was sceptical at first as I thought it was another person in authority who would want to control me but Kerry from the NSPCC explained everything as a friend and I learnt to trust and confide in her.
Even though I was away from dad he was still affecting my life. He’d found out where I was staying and threatened to petrol bomb the house. Because of this I wasn’t allowed to go to school in case he tried to see me and I never went back to school
Despite this I still wanted to see him and I ran away twice to go back to his, including on my 16th birthday. Both times I was picked up by the police and taken back to my foster carers.
After this I got a phone call from my dad saying ‘I’m just reminding you that I am your dad’. He was good at manipulating people and this was his way of controlling me.
He continued his threats to attack the house so social workers decided they needed to move me to be with other foster carers miles away.
I was really sad to leave Claire and James as I was happy there. I hoped I would fit into the new place but as soon as I got there I was told the family were friends with my first set of foster carers who had told them that I was bad. They’d had a report from them saying that I was messy and had got pen marks on my bed covers so Jane and Jim, my carers, took an instant dislike to me.
I had friends and Claire back at my old place but now I had to start over again and I felt alone. But Kerry continued to come and visit me and helped me express my concerns. If I was too scared to say something she would say it for me until I had the guts to speak for myself. As well as being able to stand up for me in meetings, Kerry also became a trusted adult who occasionally took me out for meals and to the cinema.
My self harming started again while I was there and the slightest thing would tip me over the edge, like Jane or Jim coming into my room without knocking. I had cuts all up my arms and I didn’t want to live anymore so I took an overdose of paracetamols. I panicked and told Jane but her main concern was that her granddaughter could have walked in on me. Jim drove me to the hospital through the centre of town rather than going the back route so lots of people saw me slumped in the front covered in sick. I felt humiliated.
I took two more overdoses but both times I made myself sick. I tried for a fourth time to kill myself after I’d had an argument with Jim as he’d listened in to me speaking to her cousin on the phone and went mad and hit me with a hairbrush. He said ‘You are using your childhood as a way to get sympathy’ but I’d have given anything to erase all of the memories. I was so upset I took around 18 paracetamols. I didn’t want to wake up and was disappointed when I did. I spent three days in hospital and left the foster home not long after, sneaking off early in the morning and going to my grandfather’s before moving to supported lodgings.
Now that I was 18 I could go home and I moved in with dad for six months. But his behaviour hadn’t changed. Once he said to me ‘my groin hurts, I need you to rub cream in’. He also tried to kiss me inappropriately when I went to bed. It wasn’t until I met Gavin and he told me ‘it’s me or him’ that I left home and moved out.
It was a new start for me and Kerry continued to support me either though I had left care
Because my circumstances had changed I found the strength to tell the police that my dad had abused me when I was younger. Dad managed to get away with it as police said there wasn’t enough evidence to press charges but I had stood up to him at last and shown him he couldn’t control me.
I remember standing in front of him shouting ‘You know what you did, you know it was wrong and you shouldn’t have done it’. I told him my life would have turned out better if he hadn’t abused me but by reporting him to the police and standing up for myself it’s allowed me to come to terms with what happened.
I lost contact with a lot of my siblings while in care as we were split up and moved around but I’m now trying to reunite with them and catch up for lost time.
I didn't contact ChildLine when I was younger but I wish I had. Knowing there was someone there who I could talk to anonymously would have helped.