Sav's story. Trying to start a new life, and break the cycle of trauma across generations.
“I was in and out of refuges constantly as a child because my mother was always in bad relationships. I had five siblings, but we’d never stay for more than two weeks because she would always go back to one of them. Either the first, second or third. Her last partner dangled me over the staircase when I was seven and dropped me on my head. He beat the living shit out of me on multiple occasions and did the same thing to my mother. They were all physically, emotionally or financially abusive in some way, but eventually they would always get into her head and make her come back. Social services put us on the at-risk register, and would come and do house calls, but other than that, nothing was ever put in place to safeguard us. The only ‘help’ I remember having for me was being sent for behavioural therapy because I was playing up at school.
When my parents divorced my father moved back to Ireland, where he was originally from, and it was only when I visited him when I was ten for my grandfather’s funeral that my aunt noticed the bruises all over me and called social services in Wales. That’s when we were all finally taken away from my mother and put into care. My aunt then fostered me and my sister for sixteen months, but they separated the rest of us because we all had different fathers.
I hated Ireland though. I have a good relationship with my father now and he’s explained that he thought he was doing the right thing by leaving because my mother would just go mental at us whenever he was around, but because of what other people had done to me after he left, I still felt abandoned by him. He was also quite strict, and he worked a lot, so I was raising my sister a lot of the time. Despite all the abuse that had gone on, in my head all I wanted was to have a mum again. One day we had a big argument and I just thought I couldn’t do it anymore. I tried to kill myself and ended up in hospital, then I just ran away. My father tried to get me home, but I refused, and ended up living in a homeless hostel in Cork, where I got the shit beaten out of me every day by the older girls. Eventually my father agreed to let me go back to Wales just for a holiday, but I never returned.
I couldn’t go back to my mother in Port Talbot, but the council refused to help me because I wasn’t registered there, so I slept on the streets in Swansea. A famous homeless man in the area called Teabag took me under his wing for two months. Teabag was a very decent man. He was homeless for years and taught lots of people how to survive on the streets.
Eventually social services said I could go and live with my mother again, but she was still living with the same man she had been with when we were taken away, and after two months she kicked me out because she couldn’t afford to fund his heroin habit as well as having me live there. After that I ended up sleeping rough in Port Talbot under a bridge until social services in Neath put me in a hostel where I was raped. I didn’t tell the staff about it at the time. I was too ashamed.
I then got with a boy I met in there and moved into his flat when he was housed. There was no boiler. There were rats and mould everywhere, but the landlord didn’t care. There was a big hole in the ceiling where flies would come down from constantly. I fell pregnant when I was eighteen, but my ex had become violent by then, so they moved me into temporary accommodation for four and a half months until my daughter was born. We got back together afterwards, but the violence only got worse. I suffered all kinds of abuse with him for two years; sexual, physical, mental, and financial. Then he started to hurt my daughter as well, and that’s when she was taken into care.
After my daughter was taken away we split up, but Swansea still refused to help me because I was now registered in Neath, so I was made homeless again. I was basically living in a squat after that; living on food parcels until social services finally put me into a women’s refuge for nine months. I saw my daughter in a contact centre once a week, but after seven months she was placed in the care of my father in Ireland, where she still is.
I’m 23 now and am married to a man I love. We’re also expecting another baby in three months, but my husband has had problems with depression, and recently had a breakdown that meant we are living separately. The doctors didn’t want to listen to the reasons why he was depressed, and they kept changing his medication which made him worse. They put him on anti-psychotics which caused him to have fits and black outs, and one day he just broke down. It was the anniversary of his uncle’s death who was like a father to him. He’d died when he was hit by a cement mixer. He had my husband’s two younger siblings in the car with him and had both his legs cut off. It was such a traumatic experience for him, but they didn’t want to know about any of that. He wasn’t psychotic. It was grief.
He broke a lot of things in the house, then hurt himself quite badly, but he wasn’t violent towards me, and he never has been, but the police were called and because I’m still under the domestic violence act, they had to call social services and they placed me into temporary accommodation. We’re still together but we’ve taken a break, so he could sort his head out, and get proper treatment. Since he’s been off his medication he’s never been better. He’s totally stabilised now, but we’re trying to build our relationship because we recognise we’ve both got history’s that both affect us now.
I know I’m lucky to have temporary accommodation, but social services say I need a safe, stable environment for when the baby comes. My social worker has already said to the housing office that he will be put on the ‘at-risk’ register, which means he will come home with me under their supervision, but housing won’t give me a permanent address until they’re sure the baby won’t be taken into care when he’s born like my daughter. What happened with my daughter was due to the abuse we suffered from my ex. I was eighteen when all that happened, and I gave him to my father to ensure she was safe. My social worker doesn’t want to take our baby away. I’m trying to move forward. I’ve got an amazing support network around me now, so they’ve said it’s looking very positive at the moment, but without a permanent address it’s still unsure. I can make it safe, but stable in temporary accommodation is impossible.
They’re also using the fact that I was abused growing up as an issue because they never gave me the counselling I was promised after I was taken away from my mother when I was ten. My father fought for four years to have that support put into place, but it never happened. After my own daughter was put into care I was supposed to have psychotherapy again, but social services didn’t put that into place either, and now they’re using that against me.
I’m lucky I’ve got a good support network around me now, but a lot of people who have had their children taken away have been abused as children themselves or never had parents before. Social services did the right thing taking my daughter away because she was being hurt, but I’m not eighteen anymore. There are people out there like me trying to give their children a better life than they had when they were young, but then their children are being taken away because of the life they had as children. A lot of child abuse comes down to not having the confidence to be a parent in the first place, but instead of stepping in earlier and helping them to improve as a parent, social services just take the kids away. I know from experience that kids can get far more screwed up by the system than they do at home. Even my mum’s ex-partner who abused us only became like that after he saw his identical twin brother overdose on heroin. Before that he was a decent bloke. It was trauma that made him that way. I’m not excusing what he did, but everyone’s got a story. Maybe if he had been given some support earlier things would have been different.
My father would do anything for me now, and I would do anything for him. One thing he also did was never allow us to speak badly about our mum, because she had been abused as a child as well, and we actually have a good relationship now as well. She’s got one of my sisters living with her and she’s with a decent bloke whose amazing with the family. He couldn’t be any better. She’s managed to deal with her issues and she’s helping me with baby stuff and we’re quite stable now.
My father and grandfather have always said to me that however you were brought up, when you leave home you can decide whether to make those same mistakes or be a better person. It’s hard when you don’t know any different, but if you have a conscience, and you know the difference between right and wrong I think you can make that difference. I’m choosing not to be like my mum. Not to turn to drugs and drink. I may have had it rough but that doesn’t give you a free pass to just go and do whatever you want. If you had something shitty done to you, you know how it feels, so you shouldn’t go out and do it to someone else.
I’m not planning to try and get my other daughter back here to live with me yet. She’s four now and happy in Ireland with my father. I have one weeks contact every four months with her, and the environment over there is completely different to all the drugs and other issues we have round here in Swansea. She’s in a very safe environment and I don’t want to disrupt that, but the trauma of losing a child, whether they’re with family members or not still hurts just as much.
People who don’t know anything about homelessness just assume you’ve made a mistake in the past and that’s what you deserve. Some people are just stuck in a really bad situation where there’s no way out. People don’t take a step back and think. I know I’m fortunate to be housed at all, but the only reason I’ve got this is because I’m pregnant. If I wasn’t I’d be back on the streets.”
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