While the “tragic orphan” trope is a common theme in media, the horror is all to real for many children of the world. The foster care system is a broken one, filled to the brim with abandoned children, abusive homes, and, in some cases, negligent social workers.

So many children fall through the cracks and never find homes where they’re loved and cared for. They hop from home to home until they’re of legal age, and then they’re left to fend for themselves. Some find loving families in friends, partners, and adoptive parents, but the memories of their mistreatment don’t just go away.

In a thread on Reddit, users comfortable enough to share were asked about their experiences growing up in foster care. Many of them came forward with stories ranging from neglect to outright physical abuse.

However, these people aren’t sharing to garner pity, they just want people to know what goes on behind closed doors. Children deserve better, and these people hope their experiences will inspire change. Here are some eye-opening stories about the realities of foster care.

10. Treated no better than a dog.

“For an entire year, I wasn’t allowed to sit on the couch. I had to sit on the floor in front of the couch and stare at the wall. They frequently reminded me that the dogs were better than me, and to this day, the stuff that’s happened to me haunts me at night.”

9. Left to sleep in a barn, and singled out by the school system.

“After the first few months in the foster home, I was not allowed to take any food to school. Prior to that, my lunchbox was a bread bag. The school instituted a rule stopping kids from sharing their food because of me.

My bedroom was in a barn outside the house, despite the fact that there were two spare rooms in the house. The barn was cleaned out days after we moved in (we were sleeping on couches in the lounge in the meantime). It was full of insects, spiders, and even a snake. There was a resident fruit bat in the main room of the barn.

I was locked out of the house (on a farm, 20 kilometers from town) during summer for up to 3 days at a time, with no food or anything to drink. All my clothes except what I was currently wearing at any given time were locked in the house.”

8. Abused by other foster kids.

“I was taking a nap in my room when one of the other foster kids took scalding hot water and poured it into my ear. I’m deaf in that ear as a result of it.”

7. Punished inhumanely.

“I was in multiple homes from what I can remember. I was so young, but some memories will never leave. One of the first homes was the worst one. If I didn’t eat my food, I had to stay the night at the kitchen table. One time I threw up and I got thrown into a room for a full day and wasn’t allowed out. I remember crying under the door saying I was sorry. That same house had six to seven kids in it. I shared a room with four other children. From what I remember though, the children were very nice. The foster parents were terrible.”

6. Denied clothing and warmth.

“I woke up to my 300-pound foster brother sitting on top of me and choking me half to death. Girls would constantly steal anything nice I got. This included shower stuff and soaps. A laptop (it was a school laptop) and so many clothes.

There was a lot of fist fighting. I didn’t get enough food because people would take it. I caught pneumonia twice in one month because my foster parents decided a new sports car was more important than heaters or thick winter coats.”

5. Not being allowed to shower.

“I wasn’t allowed to shower. Only once every couple of weeks. I had to go to other peoples’ houses and the schools to wash. I had to walk on the freeway to school and it rained a lot in the town so my shoes smelt bad and my toes kinda pushed together where the shoes got smaller. Then my toenails got infected and they still are. I got called ugly and dumb. Oh, and the best part: The system told me to suck it up because I could get worse people.”

4. Mocked by other classmates and ignored by teachers.

“We went without groceries for three weeks because of employee embezzlement, so I only ate free lunch from school and nothing on weekends. My bus arrived too late to get school breakfast. We also didn’t have hygiene products during this time so I stank and wore dirty clothes.

My Home Ec teacher did a fundraiser and sold cupcakes during class, and a girl at my table bought three. I was drooling and watching her like a dog watches Thanksgiving dinner. She ate one, then looked me in the eye and said she was too full to eat the others. She spat on the two leftover cupcakes and then threw them away. I put my head down and cried.

After class, I told the teacher I was hungry and the group home had no food. She asked me what I wanted her to do, so I just said I didn’t know and left for my next class. She never spoke about it again or even checked in to see if I had gotten access to food. Later that week, Cupcake Girl told me I was nasty and stank so bad no one could stand me. I dropped out of school a week later.”

3. Given no access to food, and abused by “family” members.

“The food was locked up and we were not allowed to access it freely. There were 11 people in a four-bedroom house. We were treated as servants and bullied by the biological kids. My foster dad was sexually inappropriate with me and made advances. The foster mom was mean and called me stupid a lot. Everything of mine was stolen. I was forced to do manual labor for them and hardly had time to do homework. It was awful.”

2. Forced into ice-cold showers.

I remember being six and moving from my first ever foster home where I had lived for two years. The lady I moved in with got mad at me and threw me off her lap and onto the floor. She told me that when I was done being a baby, we could talk like adults. She also used to put me into ice-cold showers whenever I acted up or cried.

She would lock me in the basement and I wasn’t allowed out of my room during the night, so if I had to go to the bathroom, she made me go in a bucket. There was also three bathrooms in the house, but I was only allowed to use the basement one because she was afraid I would pee on the seat.

1. Denied education and used for manual labor.

“I was not allowed to go to school. Instead, I had to do all the housework for the parents and their three kids.”