Reality check

Sharon Clarke first encountered Astra in 2000, through the
Gloucester police. Her then partner had been arrested for the
sexual abuse of two of her daughters and the family was in

Astra project co-ordinator Hattie Darkin arrived within an hour of
the call and helped the elder daughter Claire to move to a hostel
and to cope with the upheaval.

The younger daughter Sarah was finding it hard to cope, so Sharon
called on Astra for help. “I was getting to the point where I was
going to kick her out of home and Hattie worked with her to try and
keep us together as a family. I found it very difficult because
there were people there for the girls but no one for me – the
immediate family were brilliant but sometimes you need to talk to
someone outside the family.”

At that point, Anne Harley became Sharon’s family worker. “I had a
mild breakdown and she knew I was having problems. Anne came to the
house and we talked,”

Sarah, who was six when the abuse started, disclosed at school when
she was 12. She had stopped having baths because of the abuse and
was being bullied, which compounded her emotional distress.

Sharon says: “She would lose her temper and take off for two or
three days at a time – the longest was two weeks. She was bunking
off school, shoplifting, and doing a whole manner of things. I
couldn’t cope. In came Anne, and said ‘Have you thought about
approaching that this way?’ which made me look at myself and how I
was handling things. Instead of flying off the handle now I tend to
take five minutes away then I go back down again. I do find it
very, very beneficial.

“Claire is getting married in October and Hattie is coming to the
wedding. Astra has helped us retain the family, which so many of
the other kids don’t have. Without them we probably would have
ended up tearing each other apart – we would not be a functional
family. It’s just nice to know there is a safety net out there for
those kids who need it and it should be nationwide.”

Sharon, who recently left her job because of ill health, now hopes
to retrain as a youth counsellor.

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