`I can't cry any more because of what I have seen'

CRISIS OF CARE: Huge study reveals that violence, neglect and sexual abuse forces one in nine youngsters to flee their home before the age of 16
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The Independent Online
LEE RAN away for the first time when he was just nine years old. He and his 10-year-old brother stayed with squatters for a couple of weeks, slept on dirty mattresses in a damp terraced house and stole food. When they returned home they both received a severe beating.

Since then, Lee has run away and slept rough more than 200 times and has been in and out of children's homes. His education has been severely disrupted and now, at the age of 16, he is illiterate.

Lee, from Leeds, said living at home had become intolerable because his mother drank heavily. "My mum didn't want me for anything more than child benefit," he said.

"Once when I was 13, I went home and there were smackheads in the house. They were on the stairs taking drugs in front of me."

"My brother has messed his life up because of my mum. He's now a heroin addict. But I am trying to get things sorted out."

Lee said he couldn't bear children's homes because he was beaten and propositioned by gay men so he ran away. He tried to live on the streets of Leeds.

He added: "I have seen stuff on the streets that would make you cry. I don't cry any more. I can't cry any more because of what I have seen. When I went to the safe house for children in Leeds, it was the first time people seemed to care about me."

Lee is living with a guardian and is learning to read and write. He said that he wanted to do something with his life.

"I used to sit on my guardian's knee crying my eyes out because my head was that messed up," he said.

"I am totally illiterate but I am not stupid. But I am sure I will end up in a dull job, working long hours for little money because I cannot yet read words of more than three letters," he said.

"I would like to be an astrophysicist but there is no chance of that because I haven't got any education."

Lee said that his guardian had offered him somewhere safe, had clothed him and given him trainers and a Walkman. "He's been really great to me," he said. "He is educating me and he cares about me in a way that my mum didn't."

"If I learn to read and write I am going to try and get a decent job and change this country."

Lee, has six brothers and sisters but is estranged from them due to his experiences. "I still see my mum because she has sorted her head out a bit."