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Young woman tells Cambridge city councillors of abuse in children’s home and how she became homeless at 13

A young woman has told how she was abused in a children’s home and ended up homeless at 13 - and warned her story is far from unique among care leavers.

Kerrie Portman said professionals have described her experiences in the children’s home as “torture” and child abuse.

Kerrie Portman telling Cambridge City Council of her experience in care. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR
Kerrie Portman telling Cambridge City Council of her experience in care. Picture: Hannah Brown, LDR

She shared her story with councillors at a Cambridge City Council meeting lat Thursday (February 15) as its members agreed to recognise care experience as a protected characteristic.

Ms Portman was born in 1998, a year that the then health secretary wrote to all councils about their role as a corporate parent for looked-after children, asking them to consider if the care provided was good enough for their own children.

Ms Portman told how she faced abuse after being taken into care as a child, recalling that she was told early on that nobody would love her because she was disabled.

“I heard staff members boasting about raping another child and I heard he killed himself,” she told councillors.

“I was told that children’s home was shut - after I aged out - from ‘too many incidents of child abuse’. I do not know what counts as ‘too many’, but I do know that number was higher than one.

“As a care leaver I have still never received the support I needed. Only one of the supported accommodations I have ever been in was not abusive.

“I ran away from abuse that was ignored and they were later found guilty of institutional abuse.

“I had to drop out of university because I had no support during the pandemic, I became homeless and I was told ‘I did not deserve a home’.

“The police repeatedly harassed me when I was homeless, leaving me with debilitating PTSD.

“Nobody was kind to me for a year until I finally thought I had friends, who ended up taking advantage of me.

“When my best friend killed herself and I felt like it was my fault I gave up on the idea I could ever have friends.

“I did not have a friend until I was 19 years old, I did not feel I had a home until I was 22, I was not loved until I was 24.

“I first attempted suicide at 10, I was first homeless at 13.

“My story is not unique. I know there is some data in the motion on how systematic the issues for care experienced people are.

“You are corporate parents. Is anything I have told you about my life good enough for your child?”

Councillors thanked Ms Portman for sharing her powerful story and unanimously agreed to pass a motion recognising care experience as a protected characteristic.

Similar motions have also been passed by Cambridgeshire County Council and the Cambridgeshire and Peterborough Combined Authority.

Cllr Gerri Bird
Cllr Gerri Bird

Cllr Geri Bird (Lab, East Chesterton) recalled that she too had spent time in the care system and agreed more should be done to support young people with care experience.

She said: “I was shocked when I was looking at statistics that disabled children are still treated the same way as they were when I was in care.

“They are put in a home and left there to rot really. They get a bit of schooling, and then when it comes to the end for the disabled child to leave, they then have to go into another institute.

“That is what happened to me. They looked all over England. There were 10 institutes they tried for me to go into, so I would have ended up my life being in an institute. But I was lucky.”

She said one social worker gave her a chance to live with a family - something she had never before.

“I did manage to get adopted and I was adopted in this building [the Guildhall] believe it or not,” recalled Cllr Bird.

“To this day we are now discussing the same issues. Why? Why are we discussing it now. It is wrong. This should have all been sorted out years ago.

“Young people who are in care who come out and then have to start living a normal life have the biggest problems we’ll ever face.

“Housing, knowing how to cook, knowing how to sort out money, pay the bills, everything like that.

“Once the care people drop them - it is a horrible word to use, but that is what happens - then they have got nowhere to go.

“Why is the government not putting in steps so these young people can have help for at least two years after leaving the care system?

“I shall never ever forget my time in care and I know Kerrie won’t. It lives with you forever and it is horrible when you do not feel loved. We have got to make a difference, we really have.

“I think we should push whatever government is there. We have got to push for them to put money into this system so we look after these people, so as soon as they come out of care they get a council house or a flat to start them off.”

Councillors said passing the motion to recognise care experience as a protected characteristic was only the first step and more still needed to be done.

Cllr Cameron Holloway (Lab, Newnham), who proposed the motion, said he hoped the recognition will “go a small way to mitigate the harm experienced by people throughout their lives”.

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