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Experiences Shared


All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

When Rita was four years old, she and her younger brothers were fostered. These small children were shown no love or kindness from their so-called carers, only cruelty, violence and, in Rita’s case, sexual abuse.

The foster carers meted out violent and vindictive punishments to the three children they had taken in, in complete contrast to the way they treated their own son.

Rita recalls how she and her brothers were made to sit on an oil cloth around the edge of a carpet for hours on end while the foster carers and their own child were in another room watching television. If Rita or her brothers were caught moving or speaking they would be beaten with a leather belt with a large buckle.

Rita’s brother still bears the scars from the beating he received with this belt at the age of five. She describes lying in bed at night listening to the screams of her little brothers as they were beaten and feeling she had failed them as she could not protect them. 

The fostered children were often deprived of food as punishment and given only bread and water. Any gifts they were given were placed in a cabinet, where they were not allowed to touch them.

Rita has children of her own and she remarks that she has never made them ask ‘Please may I leave the table?’ on finishing a meal because her female foster carer made her do this.

Rita says she did not know how it was possible to have said this simple phrase wrong so many times, but apparently it was, as her foster carer ridiculed and humiliated her repeatedly. 

In later life, Rita learned that neighbours on both sides of the foster home had complained to social services regarding the treatment of the children and the screaming they could hear as the children were beaten.

She was told social services had decided not to act as it would be too difficult to find another foster placement for three children.

When Rita was eight years old, the female foster carer took a job at a nightclub. The male carer, Donald, began coming into Rita’s bedroom and would make her hold his penis. She remembers not wanting to do this and being really frightened, and as she cried Donald would put his hand over her mouth to silence her.

The abuse became a regular occurrence. Donald took her with him when he took his son to the Boys’ Brigade, so he could abuse her in the van on the way home. After the abuse he would give her money or chocolate, and he told her that if she said anything about it she would be separated from her brothers. Rita describes how frightened she was by this.

The abuse progressed to Donald making Rita masturbate him. She recalls screaming when he touched her, and he continued to threaten her with beatings and being taken away.

Rita says that she had no one to tell – she had no contact with her parents or any family, and in any case, did not have the language to be able to describe what was happening to her.

She did not feel she could tell a teacher and, although the social worker visited them regularly, the children were lined up to speak to her always in the presence of the other female foster carer, who glared at them threateningly, listening to anything they said. 

She describes how on one occasion after she had been sexually abused and beaten, she fled out the front door but realised she had nowhere to escape to and ran back inside.

The abuse stopped when Rita was 12 years old, following the sudden death of Donald. She and her brothers were moved to a children’s home, where they stayed for a while, before moving to different homes.

Rita says they had difficult experiences in the other children’s homes, but they loved the first one. Here, for the first time in their lives they felt cared for, were fed well and clothed nicely. They were given hugs and smiles, and there were no beatings.

Many years later, Rita describes the lifelong impact the abuse in her childhood has had on her. She struggles to understand why her abusers had become foster carers and why their sexual, physical and emotional abuse and neglect of the children was not picked up.

She says of the sexual abuse by Donald, ‘It made me feel dirty … you can’t stop your feelings, I don’t know if it will ever go away.’ She adds, ‘As an adult … I look back and wonder who is that little girl with the curly hair … it’s like I have had to distance myself from her.’

Despite her very difficult childhood experiences and periods of depression, Rita has a very successful and loving marriage and is close to and proud of her two ‘wonderful daughters’. 

She returned to education as an adult, achieved a degree and enjoyed a professional career. She remains close to her two younger brothers and recently made contact with her older sister and is enjoying this relationship.

However, Rita feels angry at how the people responsible for protecting her and her siblings failed so badly, and she would like an apology for this.

She tried to access her files from social services but was told they had been destroyed. She says that she discussed her experience with a social worker and he said he did not believe her. 

Rita wants foster carers to be more thoroughly vetted and supervised. She feels that children in care need to be able to see social workers on their own, to speak freely and to be believed. She believes that we should look holistically at a child’s life and question why they may be behaving in a particular way. She adds that children in care should not be labelled or assumptions made about them.

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