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All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

As an adult Alison has obtained a copy of her care file. She describes it as a ‘litany of failures’ and it contains information that supports her account of her experiences.

She was removed from her mother’s care as a toddler, having been found ‘wasting away’ in her cot; her father was in prison. From then, she experienced abuse from staff in the care system that culminated in her becoming pregnant after being raped.

When Alison was first taken from her mother, she was unable to walk. She spent the next 10 months in hospital, where she was labelled ‘retarded’ before being placed in a care home run by a religious children’s charity. 

She was joined by her brother and they were both sent to a children’s home. During her time there, she and other children were regularly physically and sexually abused by staff and older children, who would come into the dormitories and remove children from their beds.

Alison says she feels a deep sense of shame to recall the relief she felt when another child was selected. Some children reported the abuse to other members of staff, but no action was ever taken.

She knows she witnessed things that she could make no sense of at the time but has since read in her file that she was described as having ‘advanced sexual knowledge … being attention seeking and having an over-developed imagination’. Despite signs of abuse, such as blood on her bed sheets, nobody investigated the cause of her behaviour.

Following a scandal, the home was suddenly closed, and the children moved to other care homes across the country. Alison says her new placement was even worse than the previous one. A regime of physical, sexual and emotional abuse was accepted, with children frequently ignored and excluded from meals.

During this time Alison attended the local school. She remembers that she did not want to get undressed for a shower after a PE lesson and a teacher insisted that she did so. Although she had welts across her buttocks and back that had been inflicted during an assault, the teacher ignored her injuries despite having obviously seen them.

Alison ran away from the home on several occasions but was returned without any questions being asked; she was labelled as ‘delinquent’.

At the age of 14 years, Alison was made pregnant by a senior member of staff. She was appalled to read in her file later that her behaviour had been labelled as ‘inappropriate’ when this occurred. No investigation was carried out and she was moved to a mother and baby unit.

In her desperation, she attempted to drown her daughter, feeling it was the only way she had to protect her. Her baby was removed from her care and put up for adoption, despite Alison’s objection.

In her early 20s, Alison emigrated overseas. She says: ‘I thought I could leave it behind but realised I had taken it with me’.

The abuse she endured has had a long-lasting impact on her life. It affected her education, she has been unable to trust people and has difficulty in maintaining relationships – she finds it impossible to kiss anyone. She says she has been ‘full of anger’ and feels that she wears her abuse ‘like a badge of shame’.

Now in her 50s, Alison has a counsellor whom she describes as ‘fabulous’, and she finds solace in creative activities.

Alison recommends there should be statutory reporting of abuse, and that any indicators that something is ‘not right’ must be investigated.

She would like there to be access to free therapies for victims and survivors and an ongoing support for when a life event occurs and ‘knocks you off-kilter’.

Maybe then, she adds: ‘the voices after you will be fewer than those before you’.

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