Obsession that turns to violence: Damaged children may become dangerous if warning signs are not heeded, says foster parent Joan Clark

Looking back over the life of the child abductor and murderer Robert Black, his obsession with little girls had been obvious. As a child he sought the company and attention of little girls; he liked looking at them and touching them if he could.

A schoolmate remembers that, though he was attracted to girls, Black lashed out with his feet if one passed by. Why, asked the mother of one of his victims, wasn't Black given treatment then, when his abnormal interest was first noticed? Brought up in foster and residential care after being abandoned by his mother, he claimed to have been sexually abused by a member of staff in a children's home.

For my family, it brought a chilling reminder of an experience we had three years ago with a child we fostered. We had been foster and adoptive parents and had moved on to special fostering.

We dealt with the children at the sticky end, the ones who had suffered most. It was our job, over a period, to discover whether they had the ability to adapt to family life, whether they were adoptable, and to bring them to a level of functioning where 'ordinary' adoptive families could cope. We had therefore a recognised ability and expertise in dealing with deprived and abused children and we worked well with a range of professionals for more than 14 years.

Ian (not his real name) was nearly nine when we took him, and suffered from foetal alcohol syndrome because of his mother's alcoholism. Although this affected him to some degree both mentally and physically, he looked cute.

His main difficulty, however, was what the social workers called 'problems over gender identification'. In fact we quickly realised that Ian didn't have a problem; he was quite clear that he wanted to be a girl. The problem was the social workers', in being unable to accept this.

When my daughter left her bedroom Ian waited to sneak in, to put on her clothes and play with her dolls. If perfume was left around he drenched himself in it, and he didn't play with boys, only girls. He desperately wanted their company, but from the beginning it was obvious that he soon made them uncomfortable in a way they couldn't put a finger on.

We began to notice the absolute obsession he had with girls. He watched them playing outside with a fixed concentration that wasn't normal in a child of his age, and he even followed them in the street.

Once, alerted by an oddly disturbing giggle he had, we discovered him with a girl in the backyard, playing a game, he said, of tracing outlines. Ian was tracing the girl's outline against a wall, and when we found him his hands were between her legs.

She was clearly ill at ease and felt there was something not quite right about this game, but was probably too young to know how to object. There were also a couple of instances of him exposing himself, which he always explained away as a mistake or an accident. We kept a closer eye on him.

A pattern began to emerge, a picture of Ian that the social workers either hadn't noticed or hadn't told us about. He craved the company of girls, and because of his appearance and his seemingly unthreatening feminine demeanour, they tolerated him at first. He didn't just want to be with them, however, he had to do something to them. He grabbed one little girl by her hood and smashed her face against a wall. Though he claimed she had hit him, there had been no provocation; in fact she had ignored him, which for him was the same thing.

He followed another child along the road, screaming obscenities until she was hysterical and ran panic-stricken to her home. Unluckily for Ian, her brothers were there and they beat him up.

Then one Saturday morning he leapt on my youngest daughter as they watched television with the other children. He pinned her on the slope of the settee, got on top of her and put his hand up her nightie. All the time he giggled, that laugh we had come to recognise when he was up to no good with girls.

First he said my daughter had challenged him to a fight, then he said he had been 'giving her a tickle'; he felt absolutely no shame or remorse. The incident fitted into the general picture. He abused girls in whatever way they were most vulnerable, what he did to them depended on what kind of children they were.

We then requested the social workers to remove him and prepared a detailed, written report on his time with our family. We said he was not suitable for adoption because his difficulties were severe and deeply ingrained. In our opinion he needed long-term therapy. If not, we were convinced we would see his name again someday, for attacking and possibly killing females, young or adult. We were so concerned, that we requested that our report be given to any family asked to take him in the future.

The reaction of the social workers was entirely predictable. Part of the dogma is that every child has an inalienable right to a family, and any family is better than none. This leads to the belief that no child is a lost cause, which is as unrealistic as it is absurd. There are children who are so damaged that they are unable to form relationships or handle the intimacies of family life. Ian fitted the bill in every particular.

The social workers' only way of dealing with the situation was to defend themselves and to say that we were to blame. They decided we simply didn't like the child, and that was why we had put in such a bad report, to blacken his name. We thought we were appealing for help for him before it was too late.

Fostering is supposed to be an equal partnership between carers and social workers, but it can't be if the social workers hold all the power. After this experience, we decided never to foster again.

A psychologist who saw Ian at our request formed the opinion that he had been sexually abused at some stage, and he confirmed the child's sadistic attitude to people. What Ian needed, he said, was ongoing therapy with parents who were really therapists, and while therapy was progressing, he should not have unsupervised access to girls.

Three years later we have heard that he has been placed with another family, but I would be willing to bet anything that his new carers haven't been given access to our report.

When he leaves the care system in years to come I have no doubt that girls will continue to absorb Ian, though he may have progressed to women by then. I fear his name will crop up in police reports, and some other bereaved and haunted mother may well ask why he didn't receive treatment, and why, like Robert Black, he was allowed to roam the streets.

Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Life and Style
ebookNow available in paperback
ebooks
ebookPart of The Independent’s new eBook series The Great Composers
Life and Style
love + sex
Arts and Entertainment
Victoria Wood, Kayvan Novak, Alexa Chung, Chris Moyles
tvReview: No soggy bottoms, but plenty of other baking disasters on The Great Comic Relief Bake Off
Sport
Ashley Young celebrates the winner for Manchester United against Newcastle
footballNewcastle 0 Man United 1: Last minute strike seals precious victory
Life and Style
Tikka Masala has been overtaken by Jalfrezi as the nation's most popular curry
food + drink
Arts and Entertainment
Seth Rogan is one of America’s most famous pot smokers
filmAmy Pascal resigned after her personal emails were leaked following a cyber-attack sparked by the actor's film The Interview
News
Benjamin Netanyahu and his cartoon bomb – the Israeli PM shows his ‘evidence’
people
Arts and Entertainment
80s trailblazer: comedian Tracey Ullman
tv
News
i100
Life and Style
A statue of the Flemish geographer Gerard Kremer, Geradus Mercator (1512 - 1594) which was unveiled at the Geographical Congree at Anvers. He was the first person to use the word atlas to describe a book of maps.
techThe 16th century cartographer created the atlas
Arts and Entertainment
Stephen Tompkinson is back as DCI Banks
tvReview: Episode one of the new series played it safe, but at least this drama has a winning formula
News
i100
Latest stories from i100
Have you tried new the Independent Digital Edition apps?
Independent Dating
and  

By clicking 'Search' you
are agreeing to our
Terms of Use.

ES Rentals

    iJobs Job Widget
    iJobs General

    Recruitment Genius: UI / UX Designer

    £25000 - £35000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: This firm are focussed on assis...

    Recruitment Genius: General Processor

    £7 per hour: Recruitment Genius: A vacancy has arisen for a General Processor ...

    Recruitment Genius: Outbound Sales Executive - B2B

    £18000 - £22000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: A great opportunity has arisen ...

    Recruitment Genius: Online Sales and Customer Services Associate

    £14000 - £16000 per annum: Recruitment Genius: Full time and Part time positio...

    Day In a Page

    War with Isis: Iraq's government fights to win back Tikrit from militants - but then what?

    Baghdad fights to win back Tikrit from Isis – but then what?

    Patrick Cockburn reports from Kirkuk on a conflict which sectarianism has made intractable
    Living with Alzheimer's: What is it really like to be diagnosed with early-onset dementia?

    What is it like to live with Alzheimer's?

    Depicting early-onset Alzheimer's, the film 'Still Alice' had a profound effect on Joy Watson, who lives with the illness. She tells Kate Hilpern how she's coped with the diagnosis
    The Internet of Things: Meet the British salesman who gave real-world items a virtual life

    Setting in motion the Internet of Things

    British salesman Kevin Ashton gave real-world items a virtual life
    Election 2015: Latest polling reveals Tories and Labour on course to win the same number of seats - with the SNP holding the balance of power

    Election 2015: A dead heat between Mr Bean and Dick Dastardly!

    Lord Ashcroft reveals latest polling – and which character voters associate with each leader
    Audiences queue up for 'true stories told live' as cult competition The Moth goes global

    Cult competition The Moth goes global

    The non-profit 'slam storytelling' competition was founded in 1997 by the novelist George Dawes Green and has seen Malcolm Gladwell, Salman Rushdie and Molly Ringwald all take their turn at the mic
    Pakistani women come out fighting: A hard-hitting play focuses on female Muslim boxers

    Pakistani women come out fighting

    Hard-hitting new play 'No Guts, No Heart, No Glory' focuses on female Muslim boxers
    Leonora Carrington transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star

    Surreal deal: Leonora Carrington

    The artist transcended her stolid background to become an avant garde star
    LGBT History Month: Pupils discuss topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage

    Education: LGBT History Month

    Pupils have been discussing topics from Sappho to same-sex marriage
    11 best gel eyeliners

    Go bold this season: 11 best gel eyeliners

    Use an ink pot eyeliner to go bold on the eyes with this season's feline flicked winged liner
    Cricket World Cup 2015: Tournament runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    Cricket World Cup runs riot to make the event more hit than miss...

    The tournament has reached its halfway mark and scores of 300 and amazing catches abound. One thing never changes, though – everyone loves beating England
    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Heptathlete ready to jump at first major title

    Katarina Johnson-Thompson: Ready to jump at first major title

    After her 2014 was ruined by injury, 21-year-old Briton is leading pentathlete going into this week’s European Indoors. Now she intends to turn form into gold
    Syrian conflict is the world's first 'climate change war', say scientists, but it won't be the last one

    Climate change key in Syrian conflict

    And it will trigger more war in future
    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    How I outwitted the Gestapo

    My life as a Jew in wartime Berlin
    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    The nation's favourite animal revealed

    Women like cuddly creatures whilst men like creepy-crawlies
    Is this the way to get young people to vote?

    Getting young people to vote

    From #VOTESELFISH to Bite the Ballot