When social workers fail those in their care

March 22, 2022

Collage by Exposure with rail track image by jplenio and silhouette by AnnaliseArt from Pixabay

Kerrie Portman shares the ordeal of a girl whose screams for help were ignored

Every year approximately 35,000 children are taken into Care in the UK. I used to know one of those 35,000.

This young girl’s social worker saw her sat on a bench, in a park, in the cold, because she was at risk of homelessness and her social worker got her arrested for this.

The police woke her up and threw her in the back of a van where she just sat on the sticky floor and cried in her pyjamas. She didn’t understand why her social worker had been so upset with her and, after the police sergeant refused custody due to her disability, she went home and overdosed on 90 Paracetamol until she threw up blood.

She’d loved her social worker, considering her the closest thing to a mother she’d ever had. She’s always worked to be good enough for her social worker. It was all she wanted. Now, knowing she never would be, and that she’d hurt her social worker instead, she couldn’t try anymore. It broke her and she just stopped. And when her social worker saw the girl only a few hours after she’d stopped throwing up blood, the social worker called the police again.

They discriminated against her for being disabled. They blamed her for having run away from life-threatening abuse which still affected her vision.

That girl didn’t eat for a week and a half until the police questioned her, but they didn’t care that she’d overdosed. They didn’t care she didn’t understand or hadn’t meant any harm to her social worker, had no mens rea (literally translating to Guilty Mind but in the British legal system referring to criminal intent). They discriminated against her for being disabled. They blamed her for having run away from life-threatening abuse which still affected her vision.

It was so clear the police had already decided what had happened and that, because she was a Care Leaver, she was a criminal. She was frightened, terrified, all alone; and all she could think about was how guilty she felt for having apparently hurt her social worker.

The police took and kept her devices which, during a global pandemic and lockdown, meant she was forced to drop out of school and had no way of contacting anybody she knew. She quit her job due to poor mental health and then became homeless.

That day, the same day she was made homeless, the police served her to appear in court right on her way to the first homelessness shelter. She had to go to the police station with her suitcase, to face the investigator who was discriminating against her disability.

That night she couldn’t sleep. She couldn’t sleep because it was hot and she was in a strange new place all alone; and she was homeless and would have to go to court. So she read the bundle her solicitor had sent her. She read it and reread it until the night became the next day and she’d memorised everything her social worker had told her was wrong with her. And several days later she tried to hang herself.

The blue sky gave way to an unbreakable grey. Being homeless was harder in winter.

Despite this, she still got no help. She begged for help, but was ignored. She was merely shoved from emergency temporary accommodation to emergency temporary accommodation; alone, whilst the police kept harassing her. She stopped having consistent access to food until she grew malnourished and started fainting.

Whilst developing two infections and having her socks fused to her feet with blood because she didn’t have access to a shower or washing machine, her social worker ran into her again and told her she had ruined everything.

In court, the police discarded facts for outright lies and character assassinations and the girl I once knew began attempting suicide every single day.

The blue sky gave way to an unbreakable grey. Being homeless was harder in winter. She got really sick, she kept fainting, she suffered chest pains and breathing problems and such excruciating head pain her vision would go black.

She had nightmares about court every single night until one night, whilst squatting in a flat where the door didn’t lock and thick, fluffy black mould covered the walls until it gave her asthma, the police came again.

She screamed so loudly that it tore her throat and she could taste blood but nobody helped

They woke her in her sleep to sexually and physically harm her. She screamed. She screamed so loudly that it tore her throat and she could taste blood but nobody helped. And later, upon reflection, she wondered if maybe it had actually been silent. A silent scream was more palatable than the knowledge that nobody helped whilst the police brutally sexually and physically harmed her.

They left bruises. Whenever she saw police after that, she hurt her wrist to replicate the pain. She had flashbacks and sometimes could remember the pressure on her hand as they’d violated her and sometimes, when she felt pressure on her hand, she wanted to cut it off so she’d never feel pressure like that again.

She stopped sleeping after that. She broke down when needing to get changed or shower and her body didn’t feel like hers. In the insomnia, she still heard the echoes of her screams.

After this, she was refused homelessness help. She was told by several people at the council that it was because her social worker had wanted her to die on the streets in winter. She was told she wasn’t good enough for social housing.

Everyone refused to help her and she thought she would die

The police would call letting agents to tell them not to rent to her. When she finally found a place to live she got a call from her new landlord to say the police were ‘harassing’ and ‘threatening’ them.

The social services that took her into Care still had legal safeguarding duties to her, but they refused to help. Everyone refused to help her and she thought she would die. And she thought that dying wouldn’t be as bad as living. I think if the girl had been cared for or loved, it could have saved her.

This was because the girl’s social worker rang the police because she had a neurodevelopmental disability and was at risk of being homeless; and that social worker’s actions killed that young girl. It killed something inside her.

But it also gave life to something; the realisation that her social worker had in fact been abusing her since she was a child; and that everything that girl had done was done whilst wanting desperately to be good enough for her social worker.

And that’s why the girl wanted to share her story now. So other victims mightn’t feel so alone and so vulnerable to gaslighting from those meant to be caring for them.

Kerrie is an autistic care leaver, her love of writing originating from the desire to raise awareness of discriminatory practices in social care. This led to her main writing accomplishments, including two published articles in The Guardian and co-authoring a chapter of the book: ‘COVID-19 and Co-production in Health and Social Care Research, Policy, and Practice, Volume 2: Co-production Methods and Working Together at a Distance’. As Kerrie’s love of writing grew, it expanded to most topics and she has also guest-written articles for Ambitious About Autism, National Student Pride, iReader, Heroica, Wearewriteous and North Hertfordshire Pride.

Other work

Donate via PayPal

Exposure is an award-winning youth communications charity giving young people in north London a voice.

Please support us to continue our work. Thank you.