Running away let me regain a sense of control

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Annie, from Sheffield, was 14 years old when she ran away from her foster placement because she was being abused by her female carer.

She had been placed with the foster family aged eight after her parents were jailed for drug dealing and violence-related offences.

But Annie – who is now at university studying politics and international relations – and her younger brother and sister were never allowed in the family rooms of the house and were even separated from each other in the home.

They were punished if they broke the rules and on one occasion, all the furniture was taken out of Annie’s room apart from her bed.

“The carer was manipulative and controlling. We were seeing my birth parents but she stopped that, and when my grandmother used to send us stuff, it was taken away and given to other people in the foster family,” said Annie, now 20.

“For the first year I did try to act out a lot and I was rude. But after that I didn’t really speak to them and I just got up and I ate and I left the house. I became immune to it. But the punishments she put in place made us realise this wasn’t normal.”

Annie finally decided to leave when an argument with the carer turned violent, leaving her with a black eye and bruises.

After contacting her grandmother, with whom she had first lived when she was taken away from her parents, Annie took a train to go and stay with her in Sheffield

“It was lucky my grandmother answered the phone,” she said. “After the foster carer’s reaction, I was going to leave anyway, even if she hadn’t. My grandmother didn’t want to put any pressure on me to come to her but I had decided to go.”

People from the care system tried to persuade Annie to return to her placement. But she said due to a high turnover of social workers with whom she had the “bare minimum contact” because of her foster home’s location several hours from Sheffield, she felt unable to trust or respect their advice.

Annie said: “My grandmother rang the emergency social worker when I arrived and they turned up with two policemen. They sat there and said: ‘You’re coming with us’. I just said I really wasn’t going to go.

“They tried to say my brother and sister couldn’t come and that my grandmother wasn’t going to get any money to look after me.”

Annie was eventually allowed to stay with her grandmother, after she received help from the NSPCC, who worked with her to make sure she was not pressured into living somewhere she was not happy.

She said that running away let her regain a sense of control over her future. She added: “As much as running away is dangerous, it’s one way to dramatically change your situation. None of the adults had every given me any control over what I was doing and running away was a way I could exert power over my life.”

Names have been changed.