“My mum was a prostitute and both my parents were heroin users. My mum had me when she was sixteen and then she had three more children by the time she was 23. I think it got a bit much for them both because they ended up abandoning all four of us. One day my dad came home, took the money that was meant for the babysitter, beat up my mum, sent her back to work on the street, and then went out to buy more heroin. Neither of them ever came back. I was seven at the time, my two sisters were 3 and 5, and my brother was eight-months old. We were alone for two months before anyone found us. After that, we were all taken into care.

When I first left the system at 16 they gave me what they called a ‘training flat’, but looking back I was too young and it was too much responsibility. I was just unprepared for life in general. When I had to move on I didn’t know what to do and I became homeless for a while, but eventually I got myself together and later became pregnant with my son. I got a £500 maternity grant that gave me just enough to pay the deposit on a privately rented flat, and that’s where I lived with my son for five years. I was working and trying to get some qualifications, but I also started having contact with my mum again.

She had found a new partner and had two more children by then, but she was also neglecting them and the relationship was very violent, so social services decided to take them into care as well. I was settled and doing well with my own child and they asked if my half-siblings could stay with us for a week until they found a foster home. They were only six and nine at the time and I wanted to help, but they ended up leaving them with me for nearly two years with no financial support at all.

My mum would spend a lot of time at the flat with us, but she was angry and drinking all the time, and that’s when she started to be violent towards me. My son was going to school saying that he didn’t like it when Nanny hits Mummy. I would have to go and pick him up with black eyes and fat lips and lie about what happened. After my half-siblings were found a foster home the abuse got worse and I gradually became more and more isolated. The school told social services and they said that if I wasn’t able to safeguard him appropriately they would take him into care too, but I just didn’t feel mentally strong enough to stop it. There was something in me that felt I deserved it. I became more like a mum to her than the other way around. Eventually my mental health got so bad that I began to feel convinced I couldn’t look after my son after all, and they took him away.

After my son was fostered some people in my block of flats started making complaints to the landlord about my mum’s behaviour. He said this broke the terms of my tenancy agreement and evicted me, which also meant I lost my entitlement to housing benefit. It was as though as soon as my son was taken away all the support I had for me was taken away too. I lost my flat and ended up back on the streets.

It’s been nine weeks now. I don’t want to go into a hostel because it will just prolong the process of trying to get my son back. They’ll only consider that if I’m securely housed with no other service users around, and so the little money I do get I put some away in a savings account with a charity until I have enough for a deposit on my own place again.  

I don’t have contact with my mum anymore. Another charity helped me get a restraining order on her for domestic violence. I know being on the streets isn’t good for me, but in a way it’s like self-punishment too. Maybe I should have changed things sooner. I don’t know. It was too late though. Now this is the way I’ve got to learn.”

Tracey*, Birmingham.
*(name changed)

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