Bev Adair tells what it is like to be a child at risk
I know how it feels to have a life of apparently no value to anyone. I was born in 1952 in Otahuhu, the middle child of ten children. My Dad was European and my mother was Maori. Both were alcoholics. My mother was a street girl as well.
From my earliest years I lived with violence. I remember knives, blood on walls, being beaten, being locked up in cupboards, being molested by my Dad, being used by my mother’s men friends – she put me on show for them.
I remember sitting in the gutter outside the hotel waiting for my mother. When she finally came we used to hide down the back of the garden. We knew if Dad got home and everything wasn’t perfect then we’d all get it – especially my mother – and his hobnailed boots could make quite a dent in a body.
When I was nine, my Dad was jailed for molestation. I was taken to the Papakura police station in a car, put in a room, and given away to foster parents. I had little contact with my mother after that. I visited my father in jail and never saw him again. Abuse by foster dads followed.
All ten of us children were separated. I lived in seventeen different foster homes and attended seventeen schools. Although there was stigma in being a Maori foster child, school was mostly a good experience for me. I had some caring teachers and I did well in sport. In fact I was a netball and athletics representative for my schools and districts.
How does abuse affect a child?
I had “shame” written across my forehead. You couldn’t see it – it was hidden deep within me. I used to hide, only coming out when I felt safe. It takes a lot of the right kind of love and care to right the wrongs in the lives of abused and neglected children. They grow up into teenagers and adults but the child within them stays shamed and hurt. We must do something as a community to love this hurt and pain out of the lives of these children who are filled with heartache and shame. Our children are paying a huge price for the fact that we are ignoring those silent screams in so many of the homes in our Nation…..
“Abuse” is a dark place that eats at the heart of who you are. I could always see this young girl – me – looking up into the faces of those all around, searching for a safe place, trying to find an adult who would help me and love me in the way that a child should be loved. Something in me died back then and I have spent a lifetime trying to get back what was taken from me: my sense of value and my sense of being valuable. My father took that from me, and all of the other adults that allowed it to happen, helped to rob me as well.
I paid such a high price for the lack of a safe loving environment in which to grow up. Somebody somewhere must have seen. “Why the silence”, I have asked myself so many times. I was just a baby – why didn’t someone save me? Why wasn’t I worth fighting for? Why didn’t the adults in my home stop my mother from putting me on show and allowing her men friends to do what they did to me? Where were the Maori Elders and Whanau?
Physical and sexual abuse robs you, deep within, and you lock yourself away just to survive. You lose all sense of feeling because ‘to feel’ brings pain. You learn to hide away, never to let people get close. Your ability to trust others and believe in yourself is destroyed. You lose feeling – that’s why abused children sometimes cut themselves – it’s the only way to find out whether you are still alive. You lose the ability to love and be loved – there’s a deep cry from within that screams to be let out but you can’t because you are moving from home to home.
Seventeen foster homes. You are their foster child for a reason: they’re doing their duty; their kids need a slave; they need a companion. I was not blonde, blue eyed or cute, so I wasn’t really wanted. You learnt to comply if you wanted to stay. You had to try to be everything to everyone so they would want to keep you. But in the end you didn’t know who you were.
It’s the deep, deep pain – deeper than you can possibly express – that’s the hardest to deal with. Words cut deep. The scars heal, but the words and actions against a child, scars them for life. I had been through 17 homes and schools, terrible physical and sexual abuse, my father jailed for abusing me, divorce, the death of my daughter, loneliness, no-one to call Mum or Dad, no white picket fence, no family to love and protect me.
But then things changed and my life was never the same again. It was April 15 1973 when I had a personal encounter with God. I learnt to trust again, to realise that I am valuable, that I do have a future, that I could experience a love beyond anything that I thought was possible for someone like me. God has made the defining difference to all my choices from that day to this; my inner strength has come from that experience. ‘I AM NOT A VICTIM’. I will not allow those people to rob me anymore; they took enough of my life.
Abuse can rob us for life – or we can choose to break the cycle. That’s what I did. We have to ‘get over ourselves’, our inadequacies and insecurities – all the ‘stuff’ that life has handed to us – and for the sake of our children and the future, join together and find some real answers.
The way forward for New Zealand is to face up to the reality of what is happening. Things should have improved since my childhood but it hasn’t. Instead things have got a whole lot worse.
We have to get rid of welfare benefits – or at least have to work to receive one and then only for a set time. We have stop living in isolation and stop being so selfish. Children have to stop having children. We as a society must stand up and take ownership of what is happening.
Our communities must admit that we have a problem: we need our fathers to stand up and be fathers, and mother to be the nurturers that they were born to be.
No more welfare – get people into work and stop the drinking and the drug-taking. Our kids need adults to take responsibility for their lives and for the lives of their families. Our boys and our girls are desperate for a Mum and a Dad who will love and nurture and care for them, helping them to become all they were intended to be.
We have to stop all this PC stuff and call it like it is. Stop blaming everyone else for our problems. Instead we must look at what we can do for ourselves.
NO MORE HANDOUTS: why is it that all of the programmes that are working and making a difference in our communities are not funded (with no strings attached) by this government? Don’t they want successful programmes or would they rather spend huge amounts of money keeping the administrators employed?
I believe in personal responsibility and asking for help when needed. Our communities have to reach out to help each other and we have to intervene for the sake of our children: we can make smoking unacceptable and make sure seat belts are worn, so why can’t we make it unacceptable to form bad relationships and go from one relationship to another? Why can’t we try to make better partner choices so we can make a stable caring home for our children?
Drugs and alcohol and the break down of the family are at the heart of the child abuse problem. How many more talk fests do we have to have to wake up to that fact? I don’t believe poverty is as big an issue as we are lead to believe. It is a factor, for sure, but that’s not an excuse to harm our babies as there are countries with real poverty and they don’t brutalise their children. We have to stop making excuses; instead we have to own the problem and do something about it.
Meanwhile another child is killed and maimed; why can’t we hear the cries?
I am a Maori Mum and Nana and it tears my heart out to see the devastation and brokenness of our young people and children. We have so much going for us as a race. Like all races we have our faults, but let’s own them and not be so precious and defensive.
Please hear the cries of the children. Come on, men and women of New Zealand. Come on, elders of our tribes. Come on, the Maori Party. Come on one and all, whatever your race or creed, let’s stand up and own these problems and do something about them. Each moment we wait another one of our precious babies – born with so much potential and with such a great future – is being brutalised and damaged.
Please, please hear the deep scream of our children. The silence is deafening. Never in all of our history has it been so ‘cool’ to be Maori. Never have we been so well represented in all sectors of life. BUT WHAT ARE WE DOING WITH IT ALL?
Let’s join hands
Get off welfare
Say NO to drugs and alcohol
Create a good work ethic
Stop hiding behind our culture as an excuse for not working
Get rid of the lie that the world owes us anything
Stop the acceptance of violence in our culture
Stop the acceptance of incest
Come on Mums and Dads – be the adults you are meant to be, and if you don’t know how to parent, then find out!
Our children need adults, not best friends; they need us to be their parents not their mate…
Our children need to know their boundaries
Education must become a priority
Don’t allow the so called ‘shame’ of not being educated yourself, to stop you asking for help; your children will love you for trying…
Look at who we allow near our children
Take responsibility for our children
YOU are the primary care giver regardless of the extended family
YOU must nurture your children and make sure they have the right friends in their lives…
Our children are desperate for heroes and you as their parents should be that hero. Don’t give that away to celebrities and sports people. Sure it’s nice to have them, but have you looked closely at the lives of these so call celebrities? Have a closer look – it is you who should be influencing your child …and for good!