Mine isn’t just some X Fac­tor sob story.. it’s real. I wasn’t only beaten ev­ery day in fos­ter care, I was tor­tured

Irish Daily Mirror - - WATTS THE GOSS - Julie.mccaffrey@mir­ror.co.uk

the mi­crowave un­til it was boil­ing, then rubbed the bub­bling choco­late down our faces as it burned off our skin. “A cou­ple of days later, I mem­ber sit­ting down with my her, look­ing at each other’s burns, say­ing, ‘I still ab­so­lutely love co­late’.

Now Bran­don uses that phrase whenwe face any­thing tough in life. It’s ‘I still love choco­late’ ref­er­ences how gh we were in child­hood. We re­fused et an abuser turn choco­late into a ative thing .”

Watch­ing Bran­don be­ing pun­ished t Stef more than be­ing beaten self. He says: “My brother used to the bed and they’d threaten to put in the bin.

There was an alarm un­der the bed ch went off if wa­ter went on it. The r would get Bran­don up and keep up the whole night. knew I could deal with what­ever y did to me be­cause I was very con­fit. But my brother is very pri­vate and I was strong while he wasn’t. I tried to fight the carer off, but he was a huge 6ft man try­ing to beat me up and I was never go­ing to win. I used to wish I could trap him in Spi­derman’s webs and wanted a Harry Pot­ter in­vis­i­bil­ity cloak to throw over him.”

Each day, Stef and Bran­don were forced to do ex­treme chores. “They made us clean the car with a tooth­brush – it was ridicu­lous.”

They ran away and hid in a su­per­mar­ket sweet aisle but po­lice re­turned them to their home.

Show­ing ma­tu­rity be­yond his years, Stef told him­self he was for­tu­nate through­out the hellish two years in fos­ter care.

“I felt so lucky that me, Bran­don and Melissa hadn’t been split up be­cause I knew other kids at school who’d been sep­a­rated from sib­lings.

“I knew I was lucky to have food, shel­ter and clothes. I knew they weren’t be­ing vi­o­lent to their own kids, or Melissa. And I knew my fam­ily would be fight­ing for us. I never lost hope. That’s what got us through.” Stef was not al­lowed to lis­ten to mu­sic but dreamt up melodies and lyrics. He handed songs writ­ten in crayon to his teacher, know­ing his car­ers would de­stroy it if they knew it meant some­thing to him.

He still can’t un­der­stand why so­cial work­ers didn’t spot the abuse – and even seemed to en­cour­age it.

Stef says: “On the out­side, this big house with a Jacuzzi looked per­fect. But it wasn’t like that. We weren’t fine.

“When­ever our car­ers told so­cial work­ers we were wet­ting the bed or not eat­ing meals, the so­cial work­ers told them they should dis­ci­pline us much more. They were cor­rupt.

That’s why I want kids in fos­ter care to speak out. So­cial work­ers need to go into homes and ask kids how they feel. No one ever did that for us.

“When you’re moved into an­other house­hold and peo­ple are get­ting money for you be­ing there, it’s hard to speak out.

“We were lucky we had a teacher at school who saw our bruises and burns but knew she couldn’t speak to our so­cial worker. She helped my mum fight to get us back.”

Stef knows noth­ing about his mother’s court bat­tle, but knows when they were re­turned home the bond with their mum be­came stronger than ever.

“Mum sat us down and said, ‘OK, we need to talk about ev­ery­thing, then let’s move on. Any­thing you need in life, tell me and I’m here’. It felt like she’d wrapped a big safety blan­ket

FAVOURITE The duo are X Fac­tor hits around us.” Stef, who taught him­self som­er­saults and back­flips by prac­tis­ing on his mum’s bed, de­vel­oped his raw tal­ent by writ­ing songs to ex­press his emo­tions. His time in so­cial care has af­fected his per­son­al­ity.

“I feel like I have a su­per­power be­cause I know when some­one’s up­set, an­gry, or doesn’t want to talk be­cause they’re ashamed. I say, ‘Are you OK?’.

“I’m al­ways telling peo­ple I’m here for them to speak to.

“I crave ap­proval from my­self,” he says. “Ev­ery day I look in the mir­ror and say, ‘Are you happy?’. I am hap­pi­est writ­ing our own mu­sic and per­form­ing, that’s why I have not stopped for the last nine years.

“I hope our mu­sic in­spires peo­ple. I hope kids in care might see me so happy and know they can be too. One day I want to set up a char­ity to help kids in care – I want for them all to know they have a voice.”

■ The X Fac­tor is on tonight at 8.30pm on Vir­gin Me­dia One.

I hope kids in care might see me so happy and know they can be too

Y E ng um STAR TURN Stef, left, and part­ner Jeff

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