THE harrowing, horrific life of a little girl born in 21st Century Scotland can be detailed today.
Sarah was born with opiates in her blood and drank heroin with her mother’s milk. Raised by her gran before being taken into care, she would freefall through the care system until, aged just 14, she was taking Class A drugs and selling herself on the streets of Scotland’s biggest city.
The shocking litany of chaos and desperation is revealed in hundreds of pages of official reports passed to the Sunday Post by Sarah and her family. Today, she lays bare her traumatic childhood in an attempt to inspire better protection for vulnerable families as leading experts demand urgent action to save Scotland’s lost children.
Sarah, not her real name, now 16 and again living with her family, is determined to rebuild her shattered life. She said: “I have got a lot of things wrong and I need to take responsibility for the mistakes I made.
“I know I put myself in some dangerous, terrible situations but I was only a wee girl. I thought nothing could hurt me.
“Things went wrong for me so quickly and just kept going wrong. Sometimes I feel like I never had a chance.”
A file of official documents – including NHS reports, social work assessments and care unit logs – detail every month of the 14 short years between Sarah’s birth to her heroin-addicted mother and her spiralling into a life in care, spending her nights on the streets, in a nightmarish world of squalor, drugs and sexual exploitation.
At school Sarah was a bright and intelligent pupil, with near-perfect attendance and good grades but she found it hard to make friends. Her gran had agreed to raise her because of her mum’s problems, hoping she could still give her granddaughter a good start in life.
But, the official documents reveal, her traumatic birth and early months may have already inflicted profound psychological trauma.
Doctors diagnosed an attachment disorder caused by her troubled infancy, and she spent four years in therapy. As she got older her gran, who was trying to care for her alcoholic husband while holding down a job, was unable to cope with the increasingly rebellious girl and asked social workers for help.
In 2014, Sarah ended up in foster care before being moved to a residential unit in Glasgow. She saw child and adolescent mental health services, who in 2015, decided she had “no mental health needs.” However, according to the files, within months she was talking about killing herself, self-harming and asking for antidepressants.
She said: “I tried to ask for help but felt like I was a bother to everyone, like nobody could help me.
“When I told the truth about what I was doing, I wasn’t believed. I didn’t know how to get out or what to do.
“I ended up walking out of school one day, and never went back. I really wish I hadn’t done that now.
“I used to love school but when I got caught up in what other people were doing on the streets I just stopped going. It was another mistake.”
In summer 2016, Sarah moved to a residential unit but within three weeks was running away continually to the streets of the city centre. She said: “There was a girl who was always going out, so I just went out with her. She was selling herself to anyone she could find. So I started. I don’t know why. She would get picked up in cars and stuff and I started going with her to different places.”
The girls would also go to private flats and houses where they drank and had sex for money or drugs.
Sarah said: “The other girl organised things. She got picked up, and sometimes I’d go with her. It was often older Asian men that used to pick us up and we’d go all over the place, Clarkston, Govan, into town.
“There was a house in Govanhill that was just rooms with mattresses on the floor.
“I was only there once, but it was disgusting. Looking back, it was all disgusting.” Reports prepared by Glasgow City Council social workers reveal Sarah’s incessant absconding and behaviour on the streets was alarming staff.
A few months later Sarah was moved to another residential unit but concerns continued, with reports stating she was “continuing to be extremely vulnerable” and “continuing to place herself at risk of further sexual exploitation by older males, drug and alcohol misuse.” Over a six-month period, the 14-year-old girl went missing 78 times, for more than 26 days in total increasing, according to police, “her ongoing vulnerability and risk of further harm and sexual exploitation.”
She was also groomed by a dealer who started buying her gifts before convincing her to start pushing drugs for him. Sarah said: “I wanted help, and I didn’t want to live like that any more but I didn’t know what to do.
“I just stopped caring. I just gave up.”
Finally, after lashing out at a member of staff, Sarah was removed from care and is now living with her mum, whom she had not seen for six years. Her family do not believe the care system helped her, protected her or bolstered her mental health.
Resilient and determined, she now intends to start a course to prepare her for work and hopes her troubled years are behind her.
But, she says, she was not the only child at risk on the streets and hopes her story can inspire change and a better understanding of the need to bolster vulnerable families.
She said: “I wish I was the only one but there are plenty of children out there, just like I was, at risk from men who only exploit them, who don’t care about them.
“If my story can help prevent just one of them ending up where I was, then it will be worth telling.” Yesterday, Sarah’s story prompted leading experts to demand an action plan to ensure more children at risk are identified and their parents supported as early as possible.
Tam Baillie, the former children’s commissioner for Scotland, said: “Developing early years child care is not the same as supporting families in the months before children are born and immediately afterwards.
“We have too few people trying to do too much with insufficient resources, and unless this is addressed on a national basis we will continue to have young people who cannot access the services they need. They will remain in danger.”
“It felt like when I was pregnant, the authorities didn’t want me to have the baby and wanted me to give her up for adoption.
“I wasn’t offered any help to get off the drugs, and it was only when I went to a special mother and baby unit after Sarah was born that they really did help me.
“Things got too much again and I relapsed and they took her away. I still remember when they took her from me, she was screaming and crying. It was horrible.
“I know I have missed so much, but I want to help build our relationship again.
“I am clean now, and trying my best to help my daughter.
“I want to do everything I can to make our lives better. We have been through too much to give up now.”
“I was helpless watching Sarah spiral away from me. It made me ill, to be honest.
“I had asked for help because I couldn’t cope but didn’t think for a moment Sarah would end up in a residential unit.
“Growing up, she was the kindest, loveliest wee thing. We had such a good relationship.
“But things got awful. We went to meetings with about a dozen social workers, people from the units, police, and they would all say how vulnerable Sarah was but it just carried on.
“I don’t feel emotional just for Sarah, but for children who are still on the streets in this danger. Families are being ruined, children’s lives are being made worse.”