“If I had help as a child, it would’ve have helped later in life”: Sarah’s story

Tuesday 08 March 2022
Portrait of young black woman looking in the camera, smilling

Sarah* grew up with an abusive father. Now she’s using her experience to support other children in similar situations through volunteering

Trigger warning: This is a true story containing themes of domestic abuse

A childhood laced with fear

We literally lived in fear for years. We didn’t know when he was going to turn up. This went on for 10 years.

Sarah*, one of Action for Children's volunteer mentors in Liverpool, describes her own childhood as “terrifying”. As a child, Sarah witnessed her dad subject her mum to horrible abuse.

She remembers, aged six, her family moving to live with her grandfather in an effort to escape her father.

“Before we left, I’d seen occasions where dad came home and annihilated [my mum]... I can remember crying myself to sleep thinking ‘what would happen if mum died?’"

Despite the family’s move and Sarah’s mum leaving the relationship, the abuse didn’t cease. At their new house, the whole street was on alert. Their neighbours would even catch her dad hiding in the bushes.

“We were terrorised by him [and] living in fear,” Sarah said. “I wanted to protect my mum; she was like a prisoner in her own house.”

Lonely little girl sitting on the floor at the end of a long apratment corridor. Her knees to her chest and she is looking down sadly

The impact of abuse

It was confusing, and I couldn’t understand… ‘Why doesn’t my dad love me the way my friends’ dads love them?’

Sarah never remembers receiving any praise, “just nasty comments” from her dad. He would try to get to her mum through her and her siblings. The situation got so bad they needed to be escorted to and from school by police officers.

Sarah says “[he] wasn’t bothered by us. He was too busy getting back at my mum.”

All of this took a severe toll on Sarah. She explained, “I felt sad and stressed. I used to come out in rashes; my skin used to flare up.

“It was only that we had our mum and Aunty who put us first and gave us a better future. If we didn’t have them, it could have turned out completely different.”

Close up shot of a woman hugging a young girl. The young girls arms are wrapped tightly around the woman's back

Becoming who she needed

There are kids that are going through the same things now who don’t have that same [support].

Many years later, Sarah is now a volunteer mentor at Action for Children’s Merseyside Junior Mentoring service. Sarah knows that having someone to talk to would have helped in her own childhood.

“I’m a proper strong independent woman," Sarah said. "But I do find it hard to trust someone when I meet new people. I put barriers up, push people away… I wished there had been counselling or something in place for us… it would have helped in later life.

“The only reason I got into [mentoring] was because I wished there was someone there for me when we were younger.

“A lot of children don’t have anything… sometimes they don’t have someone there at home and they’re wandering the streets, no homework gets done.

“Consistency and stability are what they need. Telling them they’re doing good – even it’s the smallest thing… [and] pushing them with their confidence.”

Two laughing children taking a selfie with their mother smiling in the background

Sarah’s experience so far

Sarah’s been paired with three children so far. The children supported by this service have been through challenging times. Some experience homelessness, others neglect and abuse. But what they all need is a listening ear.

Sarah describes the time they spend together as “problem-free time and [a chance] to have fun.” Together they go out, talk and do something the child enjoys.

Reflecting back to when she started, three years ago, Sarah told us it was “Exciting, but scary as well. You’ve got to commit yourself to one child, so it was scary thinking I’ve got a child to look after. But once you get into it, it’s fun.”

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