Samantha Morton: it's time to demand change

It's time we demand that every child who's been abused gets the support they need to recover, says Samantha

Samantha Morten closeup

For years, I didn't know why I'd get panic attacks when I heard keys. I spent most of my childhood in foster homes or children's homes and even now, I don't really understand how the abuse started.

I was befriended by people who worked at the care home, who gave me treats, made me feel special. Then one night, when I was 13, two workers both assaulted me in my bedroom.

All the staff in the home carried keys that gave them access to every bedroom. So the abusers were the people monitoring the home, sleeping in the room next door.

I didn't go to anybody immediately afterwards because I didn't want to get them into trouble. I know now that was a result of the way they'd groomed me. Eventually, I told social workers, but there was never any support, no offer of counselling or therapy. I've no idea if it was available.

The need for support

 When you've been in care it never leaves you. Even now, as an adult, a mother, a successful actor, sometimes I still feel like a kid in care. Looking at me today you may think I've been able to leave the abuse behind. But I'm always going back. It's still so much part of me even though you can't see the scars.

Of course, there are people who've suffered childhood abuse who leave it behind. Not all children who've been abused will go on to develop mental health issues, but they may still need support.

I think every day about the people out there that struggle to survive. The ones who numb the pain through drink or drugs, who have a life of homelessness, or are in and out of prison. Abuse can leave you staggering through life, like a pinball, not knowing when the trauma will rear up and knock you out again.

The reality of help after abuse

Trying to make sense of your emotions can feel like you're trying to juggle with sand. I was an angry teenager after the abuse. I built a fortress around me. And people think you're ok, you're strong. No one realises how vulnerable you are if you act tough.

But I do believe you can heal, you can find ways to love yourself, to live your life free from abuse. That's why it's so important to be offered help.

Support for children who've experienced abuse is alarmingly scarce. The NSPCC has revealed that more than 9 out of 10 professionals, such as GPs, teachers, and social workers, say there is not enough therapeutic support for children who've been abused.

Waiting times for children who need help are measured in months or even years. In the meantime these children are left to carry the burden of abuse.

Government isn't counting the number of children who've been abused

There's a chasm between the prevalence of abuse and available support for children and young people. We don't even know how big this gap is because no one is counting the number of children who've been abused and don't get support to overcome their trauma.

This is wrong. It's time to make it right.

It's time to put more money into therapy services for abused children. It's time for the Government to give children going into care an automatic mental health assessment. And it's time for official data on the numbers of abused children in need of services to be collected and published.

It's time we demand that every child who's been abused gets the support they need to recover.