‘Tortured’ as a foster child
When Eve Drysdale recounts her childhood in B.C.’s foster care system, it is the stuff of nightmares.
“I was in a state of constant fear. I never knew what she was going to do. You never knew when she was going to snap … it was a game of cat and mouse, and you never wanted to get caught.”
Drysdale, 35, says it has taken her entire adult life to recover enough to come forward with her story of abuse. In August of this year, while finally settled in Kelowna after years of homelessness and transient living, she filed a lawsuit against the B.C. Ministry of Children and Family Development.
It alleges that while she was in the ministry’s custody as a foster child from age three to 17, she was physically and sexually assaulted, as well as being subject to emotional abuse and effectively ignored by her social worker when she complained.
“What you’re supposed to get, developmentally, at every stage of life, I didn’t get,” Drysdale said. “They ripped everything from me.”
Drysdale’s story begins when she was placed in a rural Okanagan foster home at age three, along with her biological sister. The home, where she lived for 14 years, housed varying numbers of kids from the system, some of whom were eventually adopted and others, like Drysdale, were always fosters and treated differently.
The alleged abuse started when she was very young, and escalated as she got older.
She recalls hundreds of incidents, including violent beatings — “She grabbed me by the hair, dragged me down the stairs and slammed my head into the wall,” — forced confinement in the basement, drugging, and psychological torment.
During the interview, she sometimes put her head in her hands and curled into herself while describing the memories, reliving the brutal moments, which she likens to being “tortured.”
“Pain you heal from, it makes you stronger, because I’m still here. But it’s the psychological damage that I’m still suffering from today,” she said.
At 35, Drysdale is a tiny woman, struggling to keep weight on and dealing with metabolic and digestive issues that sometimes leave her prone to fainting spells, with dangerously low blood sugar and iron levels.
She believes these physical problems stem from a childhood riddled with alternating instances of starvation and excessive feeding, with food always used as a weapon. She recalls being force-fed giant plates of food and then forced to defecate while her foster siblings watched, to humiliate her.
Drysdale’s lawsuit also alleges she was sexually abused by a caregiver.
She spoke for nearly two hours, with more horror stories than can be imagined pouring out in a steady stream, unburdening herself.
Speaking out now and filing the lawsuit is a way for her to spread awareness about what she calls flaws in the system she grew up in.
“As a child, you really believe everything the person in charge is telling you to do,” she said. “The whole time I was trying to do things to make (them) love me … Why do people like this get to be in charge of children?”
While she knows the system operates differently now, with one-on-one social workers, she is still afraid others may experience what she did.
Drysdale says welfare checks at the home were meticulously prepared for, and the kids were threatened into obedience. She believes complaints from former and current foster children should be taken more seriously. She claims the first time she plucked up the nerve to tell a ministry worker about her situation was at 12 years old, and she was rebuffed.
Drysdale left the house when she was 17, barely pulling off her high school diploma after years of being called “blockhead” and “stupid.”
She then spent years scraping by, living on the streets and finding herself in unhealthy relationships, as well as struggling with what she believes are concussion-related brain injuries stemming from childhood beatings.
Drysdale is the first to admit her actions during those years were not perfect, including offering sex for money. Her own children are currently in the foster system, which she is hoping to change now that she is settled.
To her, it all stems from an entire childhood and adolescence of being repeatedly beaten down, physically and mentally.
“Everything you did was wrong. There was never a positive encouragement, even though you tried real hard,” Drysdale described, with emotion in her voice. “There was never anything kids are supposed to hear.”
Drysdale currently lives on disability payments. The lawsuit, filed Aug. 30, 2019, claims punitive damages, damages for loss of earnings and loss of future earnings. Drysdale’s foster mother is not named in the suit.
Drysdale is being represented by Penticton lawyer Michael Patterson, who is also currently representing two other former foster children in suits against the Ministry as well as alleged victims of former Kelowna social worker Robert Saunders.
The Ministry said it does not comment on matters currently before the court.