'Mum's boyfriends keep hurting us'; CASE STUDY

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The Independent Online
Maria, 14, is typical of thousands of children who are placed in care. She had been sexually abused almost all her life at home, where she lived with her mother, a younger brother and sister and lived in fear of male visitors, writes Rebecca Fowler.

But when the abuse was exposed, and she was taken into care, Maria also hated the idea of being separated from her family, and she was concerned the court should understand her conflict. She initially denied she had been abused.

When she was asked what she wanted she explained her dilemma. She said: "I want to live with my mother, but I want not to be afraid when men come to the house and I have to run away."

She added: "I love my mum, and I don't want her to be lonely, but I want the abuse to stop and she keeps choosing boyfriends who hurt us . . . I don't want to be in foster care with foster carers telling me what to do, but I don't want to be at home and hear my sister cry when she's being abused."

Despite her learning difficulties, Maria was able to voice her feelings clearly. She was eventually placed into long-term foster care, but she maintains regular contact with her own family and may return to them before she reaches adulthood.

Gillian Schofield, a social work lecturer and co-author of a report by the Institute of Public Policy Research on children at risk, said: "The basic thing about children in care is that they're ambivalent. They want to be safe, but they want to be at home, and they've got to deal with that tension all the time."