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
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