I feel like I never had a childhood
The system must help children overcome fear and trauma – a story of a 19-year-old girl about her experience as a child with the system
I feel like I never had a childhood. I did not play, I had no toys, I played with mud in the back yard. I had no time to study as from a very young age I had to clean, cook and do the laundry. My mother was gone, and if my father was a parent, things would have been different.
I frequently longed to have a grownup with me, to treat me better. One time when I was eight, while cooking, I burnt my skin badly. I went to the hospital on my own. I remember, back in fourth grade, I loved English and we were supposed to learn a song by heart. After I started singing with the other kids, the teacher stopped us and told me - just me - not to sing, since I am ruining the song. During my first year of high school, the school just expelled me because I stopped attending. I had to start working.
If some of the chores were not done, my father would beat me. Even today, I can't understand why nobody realized that this was the reason why we frequently ran away from home with my brother. We would stay at a friend of my brother’s, my father would report me as a missing person, and then he would come with the police to take us back to him.
They told us to go to the social affairs office together. The social worker there asked me if I wanted to go to a home, and I didn't as I was afraid. The first two weeks with my father were OK. But alcohol has a big impact, and it didn’t take long for things to go back to the way they used to be. He would beat us and even curse my mom, who was already deceased.
They called me to the social affairs office again. They told me I would have better living conditions and that they will take care of me in the small group home. I agreed but I was confused and afraid when they told me they would take me to the home immediately. My brother started to shiver and cry and he kept shouting you can’t take her away from me. We cried together with my brother as I climbed into the van.
I had no idea where I was going, nobody explained anything to me. They left my brother with my father. The centers for social work didn't allow us to see each other for three months, they told me that that’s the way it has to be. They also told me that I won't be able to go anywhere alone for three months. Apparently, it was for me to adapt to my new environment and to make sure I wouldn’t run away again.
At a certain point I thought it was just a dream, I couldn’t believe I was in the home. On the one hand, I didn’t want to be in the group home, even though it was better for me. I wished I could stroll in the park with my parents and my brother for just one birthday. They re-enrolled me in school again, and I started taking all the exams all over again, and they arranged that I attend the lessons, which was better for me as I had a chance to get to know the teachers. At the home, the teachers helped me a great deal to grasp the material.
I didn’t always have the support of the social worker when I needed it. Before leaving the small group home, nobody sat down to talk to me, to prepare me for leaving the home, to help me find a job. I somehow felt as if they couldn’t wait to get rid of me. Apart from the teachers in the small group home, I don't remember receiving any praise from anyone. I had missed out on several years of education, and I still managed to get better at studying. Like every child, I wanted attention, and I was deprived of it.
I made it on my own. I found an apartment and a job, but there are kids who can’t do it on their own. You just need a little support, and then you can continue alone. Now I regularly see my brother and my cousin. But, I still don't trust people much, and I have little self-confidence. And I did try to build my confidence. I am writing positive messages to myself. I applied some other advice they gave me, but that still doesn't do much good. I still avert my eyes whenever I see children with parents. I decided I won't have children until I am certain I can provide them with a childhood. I also want to start studying English and to go to college, so that I can become a social worker and help children like me, so they don’t have the same fate.
The story is part of the campaign “I am more than what happened” which is implemented within the frame of the programme “Just(ice) children – EU for juvenile and child-friendly justice” funded by the European Union and co-funded by UNICEF to support the Government reform efforts to ensure the justice system protects the rights of all children who come in contact with the law.