Belfast Telegraph

Saturday 12 July 2014

'Who will hear the cries of the little children like me?'

Alex Kane still has terrifying dreams about his time in an orphanage, but is anyone listening to the tales of those who endured worse experiences?

The Jimmy Savile investigation, the inquiry into care homes in north Wales and the scandal surrounding paedophile priests all have their roots in the serial abuse and brutality of children.

Yet headlines are dominated by one word: and that word is crisis. Crisis at the BBC. Crisis in the Catholic Church. Crisis in local authorities. Crisis over police handling of accusations. Somehow the story about child victims has become the story of how institutions and organisations protect themselves and safeguard their own secrets.

I lived in an orphanage from 1959 to 1961. I was aged four when I was taken into care. I have no recollection of anything before I was adopted in the summer of 1961. I don't remember one scrap of my life before I went into the orphanage. I don't remember one scrap of my life inside the orphanage.

All that information and all of those memories have been locked and buried deep, deep down in my psyche. It's a classic way of coping with trauma and, by and large, it has served me pretty well for the last 50 years.

And yet....yet there are still moments: still moments when I wake screaming and whimpering from terrifying dreams. Dreams of utter, utter darkness when all I feel and all I know is fear. Dreams so terrifyingly real that even when I wake, drenched in sweat and with my heart thumping out of my chest, it takes me some time before I can accept that I am in a happy world with my partner and children.

All children from care homes and orphanages carry baggage of one sort or another. Some cope with it. Others don't. Some never come to terms with the sense of loss or betrayal that leads them into care in the first place. Never able to understand why they didn't grow up with their birth parents. Others blame all subsequent failures on the fact that they went into care.

I suspect that the reason I have been able to cope is that I had wonderful, loving, patient and astonishingly courageous adoptive parents. They devoted themselves to me. They gave me the strength and the courage to become another person, a different person: a person who could live with an entirely new identity.

Now then, add in abuse, rape, violence and serial abuse to that mixture. And then put yourself in the position of that child - now an adult - who has carried that additional baggage with them through every single waking moment of their life. Never knowing who to trust. Never knowing if a smile or a kindness has an ulterior motive. Never knowing if they were to blame. Never sure if there is anyone, anyone they can trust with their story and their secrets.

At some point during the last few years of revelations about the Catholic Church a memory will have been unlocked and a thought process triggered for an awful lot of people. Someone - maybe even a number of people - will have watched the Newsnight programme about north Wales and a ghost from the past will have tumbled from the darkest recesses of their mind.

For others, who have read and watched and heard these stories, their own appalling, terrifying dreams will have just begun.

But who do they go to? A journalist? A clergyman? A politician? A policeman? A social worker? Where do they go if they want justice, truth, understanding or just someone they can trust unconditionally? Where do they go if they just want to be believed or relieved of baggage which has dragged them down for decades? Where do they go, what do they do, to deal with the ever present crisis in their lives?

I have no reason to believe I was sexually abused. But whatever happened was enough to trigger a reaction which locked away six years of my life.

It traumatised me so much that I shut down and, at the point of adoption, was accompanied by a psychiatric report which suggested that I was 'probably educationally sub-normal'.

I was saved - quite literally so - by the fact that my adoptive parents saw something else, someone else.

And that's why I worry about the actual victims in all of this. Still hurting, still with the early child locked inside them and wondering if there is any point in telling their story. Why would you complain about a priest when you hear what the Catholic Church has done to protect so many of them? Why would you complain about a 'celebrity' when all you see is an institution like the BBC falling over to protect itself? Why would you go to a council authority when you hear that they pulp inquiry reports? Why would you go to the police when you hear that they wrongly identified a senior political figure?

Those children - and many of them are still trapped in the hell that was a childhood in care - are the real story in all of this. The real victims. Still re-living every horror.

We need to find a way of hearing their stories and lifting their burdens.

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