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Vinny was abandoned as a child to a system that offered no love or care, only indifference and abuse

All names and identifying details have been changed.

Participants have given us permission to share their experiences.

As an adult, Vinny has read a psychiatric report written about him that said ‘This child is in need of some joy in his life’. 

He says, ‘Instead they locked me in an institution’.

Vinny’s mother abandoned him when he was a toddler in the 1960s, and he was taken into care. He has pieced together some of the circumstances by reading his files from the time. He was kept apart from his brother but does not know why.

He stayed in a children’s home until he was 11. He now understands that he was mentally and emotionally abused but says ‘I couldn’t recognise it at the time as that … I was a child’. He remembers that no one showed any care or affection towards the children and he has read in his records specific advice that he should not be cuddled or soothed when he was a baby.

Vinny ran away when he was six years old and wandered round the local town until a man picked him up. He recalls ‘I trusted everyone … he said he was going to take me back to the home but he drove me to the middle of nowhere’. 

The man locked the car doors and sexually abused Vinny. Vinny remembers screaming and crying. The man then drove Vinny back to the children's home where he was ‘patted on the back’ for bringing the child back. Vinny told the staff the man had done things to him, but they called him a liar and sent him to bed.

Vinny says from that point, he believed ‘that adults were allowed to abuse children’. 

When he was 11, his father turned up unexpectedly and Vinny was sent to live with him and his partner. Vinny had not met his dad before. He does not remember any follow-up visits from social workers, but he can remember ‘being passed around like a parcel’ among his dad’s relatives.

On one occasion, he was made to play strip poker with a female cousin who was also 11. The room was full of adults, and Vinny remembers running out crying. 

Vinny’s father became very violent towards him, and would damage his belongings as a form of punishment. ‘He scared me to bits’ says Vinny.

After about a year, Vinny ran away and his father decided he no longer wanted Vinny to live with him. Vinny desperately wanted to go back to the children’s home to be with his brother, but he was sent to an assessment centre. Here, Vinny attempted to hang himself.

He says ‘They thought it was a cry for help but it wasn’t … I didn’t want to be alive. Nobody wanted me … I had no family … nothing’.

Vinny says physical and sexual abuse was commonplace in the centre, mostly by older boys. Even if staff did not take part in the abuse, he feels they allowed it and even enjoyed watching it. 

Eventually Vinny ran away again and was sent to a secure centre for a year. ‘On the first day I got there, they said “your childhood is over”’ he recalls.

One night someone came to fetch him from his room and took him to the gym where there was a group of men he didn’t know. He was made to kneel down face-to-face with his friend. Vinny remembers that as they were sexually abused, he and his friend’s heads were banging together.

The next day Vinny was crying and bleeding. His friend told him the best way was not to cry, but be quiet, because otherwise the abusers would be even rougher. He comments ‘Sexual abuse was a part of the system. You were non-people … you were told you were not of any value’.

Vinny managed to get away from the centre when he was fostered by his friend’s parents. When he was in his mid-teens he moved to a big city. He says he ‘drifted around, and met lots of nasty people’. 

Some years later, he was approached by the police who were investigating abuse in the secure unit, but he did not want to be part of the investigation.

Vinny has grown up feeling he did not deserve love, family or any success. He tried training for a professional career but did not complete it. ‘I couldn’t believe any organisation would want me to be a part of it’ he says. ‘I’ve never achieved anything because I can’t allow myself to.’

He suffers with a debilitating feeling of worthlessness and pain that he was not loved as a child. ‘I’m too badly damaged to be of use to anyone’ he says.

Vinny hopes that some good will come from him and others sharing their experiences, though he is unsure that things will change for the better. He feels strongly that professionals working with children must care for them and not judge them.

He says ‘I was judged to be inferior, from a bad family, and as a result, they didn’t care … and I think that attitude is still there’.

Vinny knows he would have been difficult to look after and manage, but says ‘It’s for professionals to look at why children are behaving in a disruptive or withdrawn manner and to understand them’.

He feels that he simply went through the motions of living until he met the woman who became his wife, and experienced family life through her. But he still finds it difficult to fully embrace this because of his lack of self-esteem. 

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