Zoe's story Life in care did nothing to help the effects of physical and emotional abuse for Zoe

Girl talkingThings changed at home when I was about seven. Mum had left and dad moved in with 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 siblings. They would hold us under our arms while the other took turns to punch us.

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.

"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."
Zoe

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 when I was about 12. 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 then. 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.

My four younger siblings and I were put into care after my Dad was arrested. 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. The carers treated their own children a lot better than us and their daughter used to go through our stuff, which really upset me.

"One of my foster parents said 'You are using your childhood as a way to get sympathy' but I'd have given anything to erase all of the memories."
Zoe

My carers took me to the doctors two months after I went into care and I told them that I was self-harming and that I felt like killing myself but I didn't get a mental health assessment. They didn't prescribe me anything or offer me counselling, they just told me that I would get through it. I felt like she didn't care or understand.

Things improved a bit when we were moved to another foster carer as they treated us like family. But dad found out where we were and threatened to petrol bomb the house so social workers moved us to new foster carers miles away.

Two years after I went into care, I tried for a fourth time to kill myself. One of my foster parents said 'You are using your childhood as a way to get sympathy' but I'd have given anything to erase all of the memories. It was only then that I received a mental health assessment. I was referred for counselling but only received that help for two months as by then I was approaching 18 and was due to come out of the care system.

The lady who did the therapy didn't want to talk about the things that my dad had done to me, she just concentrated on the self-harm and depression. For me that was just addressing the symptoms, not the problem.

"If I'd had a specialist mental health assessment when I first went into care or when I first went to the doctors; that would have made such a difference to my life."
Zoe


I've never had specialist help for the abuse I suffered and I still suffer for depression and self-harm. If I'd had a specialist mental health assessment when I first went into care or when I first went to the doctors, that would have made such a difference to my life.

If I had received help then, it would have enabled me to come to terms with my childhood and I wouldn't still be suffering from depression and self-harm now. I think children in care need to be taken more seriously as some people think that you are an attention-seeker and using the fact you are in care to act out but that's because the underlying issues are not being addressed. A lot of people in care suffer from mental health issues and that's usually because they haven't received the help they need to cope with difficulties in their childhood.

*DISCLAIMER

This is a true story but names have been changed to protect identities and photographs have been posed by models.

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