Bringing harm to heal

When Dawn was 12-years-old she was sexually abused. She didn’t
recognise it at the time. She thought she was in love with the
30-year-old man responsible. It was only a couple of years later
when she started self-harming that the hurt of what had happened
came out.

Dawn explains: “When it happened I had to go to the police station
to be interviewed. My mum is disabled and my brother was under-18
at the time so my stepdad had to go in with me. I only found out
recently that I should have been allowed a social worker. That
would have been a lot easier for me.

“The man who abused me was sent down and I was offered help from
Victim Support but I turned it down because I wasn’t ready to speak
about it. You don’t realise you need help at the time, they should
check to see how people are coping a while later.”

By the time she was 14, Dawn had started self-harming. “It started
as a joke with my friends – to see who could handle the most pain
kind of thing. But it went on from there for me. I would burn my
arms regularly. I was trying to block out what had happened but I
was blaming myself for it. Self-harming meant I finally had the
hurt in my heart on my arm. It calmed me down and people could see
I was in pain in a different way.”

Dawn sought help through a counsellor but when she moved to a new
school, the counsellor warned them about her self-harm, betraying
Dawn’s trust in the process. She didn’t get much help from school
either, one teacher told her to wear long sleeves to cover up the
scars on her arms. “It was like all they were thinking about was
the school’s reputation,” says Dawn.

An education welfare officer put her in touch with a therapy group.
Dawn got on well with her first key worker but took an instant
dislike to her replacement. “She introduced herself by walking up
to my mum with me standing there and saying, ‘has she been good
this week?’ Like I didn’t exist.”

Dawn, now 16, also spent some time as a psychiatric out-patient but
was upset that she wasn’t offered a female psychiatrist and refused
to talk to the male one. Eventually she was referred to 42nd
Street, a community-based resource for young people under stress in
Manchester, which runs a young women’s support group. She has made
huge progress since.

“When I came here they asked if I wanted a male or female key
worker and we have a say in the management side of things which is
great. I stopped self-harming for quite a while. I’ve slipped back
a bit recently but I’m finally getting the help I need.”

Fifteen-year-old Tina’s relationship with her mum broke down when
she was 11. She continually ran away from home and both she and her
mother decided she would be better off in care.

Tina has a succession of short-term foster placements which she
found very unsettling before going to her current foster mum. But
the combination of feeling rejected by her mum, missing her six
younger brothers and sisters and being bullied at school left Tina
feeling depressed and angry.

After threatening to kill herself and taking an overdose, Tina’s
social worker referred her to 42nd Street and she has been
attending the project for a year. Tina says: “It’s good here, it’s
like a youth club and if you’ve got troubles you can speak to a
worker and it’s all confidential. I didn’t feel I had any support
before except for my social worker and she was always too busy to
speak to me.

“I’ve also found that since talking to staff here I’ve been able to
speak to my foster mum more.”

Tina says she doesn’t feel the urge to self-harm anywhere near as
much as she used to although she still misses her brothers and
sisters. She has never received any medical help for her problems
and says she doesn’t want to. “I wouldn’t go to a doctor, they’ll
just think I’m loony and I don’t want to go to a mental

Tina acknowledges that her school work has suffered because of her
problems. She says: “I got bullied a lot at school because I was in
care and I’ve done a lot of truanting. But some of the teachers
have been really supportive and things have got better. I want to
go to college and train to be a nursery teacher, I want to show my
mum I can get a good education.”

Family and behaviour problems were at the root of Kelly’s
unhappiness. She found herself getting increasingly stressed and
her short temper led to frequent outbursts.

For Kelly, aged 15, attending the young women’s group at the 42nd
Street project has been like releasing a pressure valve. She says:
“I used to have a go at everyone in my house all the time but
coming here has calmed me down at home and school. I also find it
easier to talk to someone outside my family about my problems. If
I’m upset I can talk to one of the workers here and feel

Kelly says her teachers at school have been supportive about her
difficulties but she hasn’t sought medical help because she is
worried about confidentiality. She explains: “If I go to my doctor
about my problems my mum would have to come with me. I think they
should have doctors you can go to if you are having problems about
your behaviour, without your mum having to know about it.”

Michelle has been in care since she was six. Now 15, she has been
moved between a bewildering array of foster carers and care homes.
Not surprisingly, the ordeal has taken its toll on her emotional
well-being. She says: “I found it very difficult moving schools all
the time. I found it very hard trying to make friends and then
having to leave them behind. It wasn’t very good for me.”

Michelle is now able to get help with her social and emotional
problems from her key worker at 42nd Street. She says: “I’ve been
better since I’ve been coming here. I can speak to the workers and
I like everything we do here.”

Some names have been changed to protect

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