Young people’s stories – Susan

Susan is aged 12 years and has lived in her long-term foster home for five years. She was accommodated at the age of 4yrs after the police found a quantity of heroin in the house. The police were concerned about the unhygienic state of the house and the lack of food. Both parents were regular drug abusers and the police had suspected that they were dealing heroin and amphetamines. Neighbours had reported people known to the police as heroin users arriving at the home late at night.

The wider family had expressed concern about Susan because her parents left her in her cot alone for prolonged periods and they were worried that her parents did not offer her the attention she needed; their dependence on drugs meant that there were occasions when she was left crying in a wet nappy for several hours. Susan was regularly cared for by an aunt and her grandmother; her grandmother was known to have an alcohol problem and her aunt was suspected of using drugs.

When she was accommodated Susan was placed in a short-term foster home where she remained for four months before moving to another foster carer; she had three subsequent moves of foster carer before moving to her current family. While in foster care Susan made disclosures that suggested that she might have been sexually abused.

Although Susan presented as well behaved at school, she regularly ‘lost’ her homework and she struggled with peer relationships; other children said she was bossy and did not share.

At home with her foster carers Susan alternated between being loving and compliant to being rude and aggressive. She frequently accused her foster carer of being ‘mean’ to her and would say, for example, that her foster carer had deliberately not helped her with homework so that she would get into trouble at school. She had lashed out at her female foster carer and had broken the bathroom door by banging on in. She had gouged holes in her bedroom walls and damaged her own and her foster carers’ property. The family dog was nervous around Susan and the foster carers suspected that Susan had pulled the dog’s tail and kicked him at times; Susan denied this saying that her carers were mean to her and did not trust her. When she was calm she would beg forgiveness and apologise; however she struggled to hear her foster carers accepting her apology and she could repeat her apologies for up to an hour at a time.

Susan had started to ask questions about her past. She has a sister who was born after her mother became drug free and who is living at home. Susan questioned why her sister remained at home while she was accommodated and has said she believes this is because she cried a lot as a baby. She alternated between saying that she wanted to go and live with her mother and clinging to her foster carers saying she loves them and wants to stay with them. Her foster carers felt that, even after four years, she did not trust that they were there for her and wanted to help her.