I find myself wondering about a little girl named Sally every now and then. She pops into my head at the most unlikely of times.
She would be around twenty two years old now from memory. I wonder what she has done with her life. Is she happy? Did she make it? –and by this I mean break the vicious cycle of family abuse that she was subjected to.
I first met Sally- then eight years old – when I was teaching in London at a school that catered for children with severe emotional and social behavioural issues. As part of my role I was working as an Outreach Teacher who went to visit children who were on the brink of exclusion in their mainstream setting.
I was bought in by the Principal as a last effort to try and keep this student, and many others, in school and to support their exhausted and emotionally drained teachers and support workers.
Sally’s teacher was on the brink of a breakdown when I first met her, as she was so distraught over Sally’s behaviour and violence in the classroom. I remember clearly how her voice and hands shook as she described to me what it was like to be Sally’s teacher.
Now in my time, I had seen some very disturbing behaviour, and dealt with my fair share of violent students, so I was not alarmed. I was prepared for the worst, but my initial issue was being able to actually see her!
The old schools in London you see were not designed very well when it came to being able to contain children who liked to run away as part of their coping strategies. They were beautiful multi layered old brick buildings with stair wells at either end. She ran up – she ran down. We played cat and mouse for about an hour, before I was finally actually able to lay my eyes on the girl that was causing such uproar!
When I finally was able to physically contain her, the smell coming from her clothing was something that I will never forget. Her hair was matted and knotty. I could see nits the size of fleas crawling all over her head. They were everywhere. She had a front tooth partially missing from the top row of her teeth. Her arms were like twigs that felt like they could snap at any moment, she was so thin.
But boy could she scream, and boy could she fight. She was literally like a caged wild animal.
It took every ounce of my adult strength and support from my co-worker to hold her safely. Eventually she collapsed exhausted and broken into my arms. I held her whilst she sobbed her little heart out.
From this point on I began to build on my relationship with Sally. I would come to visit her and she would be bought by bus to our Special Educational Setting, so that I could do some intensive work with her, in the hope of changing her behaviour.
She became a bit like a little celebrity actually, as she was the first female student at the all boy school with a tiny population of only 32 students. Everybody knew her name, gave her the cuddles she so desperately needed, and gave her more attention than she had probably ever had in her entire life.
It was during this time that Sally felt safe enough in our relationship to reveal to me that she was being sexually abused by her older brother. Her family was by far the most complex and dysfunctional I have ever encountered. There were ten children – all with the same mother. Their fathers were however, three different brothers from the same family, and they were all living in the same three bedroom house together.
The family were well known to Social services, and there had been suspicions of abuse for many years, but it had never been founded – until now.
Nine of the ten children were taken out of the family home and placed into Foster Care. Sadly they were all separated. Now we all know foster carers are downright amazing, but placing nine children together was an impossible task.
The transformation in Sally was almost instant. The next time I saw her she was sparkling clean; her hair was tied up in beautiful pig tails with blue ribbons in them. Her skin was shiny smooth. She was wearing new clothes. I had only ever seen her in her worn out, putrid school uniform.
Sally was transferred to our school so that we could continue to build on all of the things we had been teaching her, and give her the emotional support and guidance she so desperately needed.
One day she came running onto my arms with her smile beaming. She had her tooth repaired and her smile said it all. The time she stood up in front of the whole school and read out loud I almost dissolved into tears. We had come so far on this journey together.
There really were days when I could have just taken her home. I was so invested in her wellbeing.
Sometimes at night when I was alone, I cried for the pain that she had endured in her short life.
As difficult as it was at the time, I live in hope that the difficult decisions we made around her wellbeing, helped her to create some sort of future for herself.
I will NEVER forget you Sally – I hope you are safe.
(Note – Names have been changed for the purpose of this story).
Chaos to Calm Consultancy would like to acknowledge the Wurundjeri and Boon Wurung people of the Kulin Nation.We acknowledge the elders past, present and emerging - particularly the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander parents who walked before us supporting and connecting their children to the earth, water and community. Always was. Always will be.