A woman has told the Royal Commission investigating abuse in care she was moved between at least a dozen care homes and raped multiple times – all before she turned 16.
The inquiry investigating abuse in state and faith-based care heard yesterday from Dallas Pickering, who detailed publicly for the first time the violent abuse she experienced as a child.
Published in Radio New Zealand
Dallas Pickering’s whānau never knew she existed. Her mother fell pregnant when she was 16 and felt she had no option but to put Dallas up for adoption – she did so without telling anyone.
After her birth in 1970, Ms Pickering was placed in the care of her adoptive parents.
“On the birth certificate it said that my father was a mechanic, my adopted father was a mechanic as well and the family I was placed with was a white, European, middle-class family.
“So I guess in the state’s eyes, they had matched me up, I guess, with the perfect family.”
She told the inquiry official documents she has since obtained show little assessment was carried out on her adoptive parents suitability before she was put in their care.
She said their references came from people who had known them for no more than six months.
Her records show Plunket, doctors and family friends all later raised concerns about the way her adoptive parents were treating her.
Dallas Pickering was four years old when social welfare officers stepped in.
“I was in hospital for six weeks, I was malnourished, I had broken bones and it was reported that although I was nearly five years of age, I was actually the size of a 12-month-old baby.”
Despite social welfare filing a complaint against her adoptive parents, Ms Pickering was placed under a supervision order and returned to their care.
She was removed briefly but spent the next two and a half years suffering extreme abuse at the hands of those who should have cared for her.
She told the inquiry she drank water from the garden hose and neighbours passed her food under the hedge to survive.
“I was hit with a jug cord, beaten with a broom, I remember being burnt with an iron. I became fearful and started bed wetting and soiled myself.
“There was one occasion in particular where I had soiled and the consequences of that was that the things that I did have were burnt by my adoptive mother.”
Dallas Pickering was also sexually abused by a family member when she was nine years old.
Just months later she was sexually assaulted again, this time by a 13-year-old boy at a foster home.
She told social welfare about both assaults but no action was taken and she was placed back with her adoptive parents.
By the time she was 15 years old, Ms Pickering had moved between foster homes, group family homes and her adoptive parents at least a dozen times.
She said it got to the point where the state had nowhere else to put her.
“In regards to my future, I didn’t know what it would be. I actually felt, to be honest, like nobody’s child.”
During her last year as a child of the state, Ms Pickering was raped twice at two different family group homes, by a caregiver and a caregiver’s brother.
“He asked me if he could have sex with me and he raped me. I couldn’t say no, even if I tried, I was too scared. There’s no way I told the caregiver that happened.
“This place was supposed to be a place of safety but it was the complete opposite.”
Like her mother, Ms Pickering became pregnant with her first child, a son, at 16 and had a daughter a few years later.
“I brought both my children up on my own, there were some real challenges.
“The past doesn’t go away, it impacts on every relationship and it impacted on my children’s relationship and in some sense, there’s still some of those struggles today.”
She has since met her birth father, who is Māori, and has developed a good relationship with him and his whānau.
For the past 20 years, Ms Pickering has worked as a social worker. She told the Royal Commission children in this country were still being put in unsafe situations without support and were crying out for change.
Where to get help:
Victim Support 0800 842 846
Rape Crisis 0800 88 33 00
HELP Call 24/7 (Auckland): 09 623 1700, (Wellington): be 04 801 6655 – 0
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.
By Katie Scotcher
Published in Radio New Zealand
6 November 2019