When Susie* was placed in a privately run children’s home at 16, it marked the beginning of a traumatic experience she is still recovering from today. “It was more of an institution than a caring environment,” she said. “There was no one to really look after us in a way that family should.”
During the year she spent at the house, which accommodated more than a dozen 12- to 18-year-olds with mental health and other complex needs, Susie, who is now 21, claims she was never given sufficient support for her autism.
She instead recounted being “yelled at a lot” by staff, which triggered sensory overload, a condition often experienced by people with autism that causes hypersensitivity to things such as sights and sounds and can make them feel as if they are in physical agony.
“They called me stupid and retarded quite a lot,” said Susie. “Whenever I tried to speak they always got angry at me, but they never explained why so it was really scary.”
Other factors, including thin walls and loud laminate floorboards, and staff constantly keeping the lights on throughout the house, meant that Susie was constantly in pain.
At times, she said, some of the untrained shift workers at the home – of whom four would usually be working at any time – would also hit her.
Furthering her isolation was the fact that Susie’s placement was about 80 miles outside of her local authority. It meant that contact with her mother, whose neglect had led her to be taken into care, was infrequent.
Her only constant point of contact outside of the children’s home was a social worker. “I tried to tell her what was going on. I think she didn’t have any autism training so we really struggled to communicate with each other,” she said.