Jackie always felt there was "a piece of the puzzle" missing in her life.

She survived sexual abuse by family members when she was aged just 6 to 12.

She survived abusive relationships as a teenager and adult, and the loss of her children to ex-partners and to Child, Youth and Family (CYF).

"I have gone around and looked [for love] in the worst places possible," she says.

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"It's like a puzzle. There has always been a piece missing. I have always wanted to fill that empty space at the pit of my stomach."

Jackie lives in the sprawling South Auckland suburb of Manurewa. Unlike Kaikohe and Flaxmere, also profiled in this series, Manurewa has not suffered traumatic loss of employment or other outward stresses that might lead to child abuse.

Jackie always felt there was
Jackie always felt there was "a piece of the puzzle" missing in her life. Photo / Supplied

Sure, Southmall, at its heart, is ageing now and often almost deserted. But other businesses in Great South Rd are thriving, and the suburb is part of the wider Auckland economy which employs 122,000 more people than before the global financial crisis.

But the roots of child abuse lie deeper.

"It's not just poverty in a financial sense, but a poverty mentality," laments Dream Centre pastor Chris Sola, who is writing a book called The wrong side of the counter.

"Manurewa has a high proportion of Maori and Pacific people, yet when you look at most of the businesses in Manurewa they are not operated by Maori and Pacific people," he says.

"We devalue ourselves: Manurewa/South Auckland is 'the scum of New Zealand'. Everyone else devalues us, so we already start with a deficit model and people are not going to value people with a deficit model."

Manurewa's aging Southmall is often almost deserted. Photo / Simon Collins
Manurewa's aging Southmall is often almost deserted. Photo / Simon Collins

counts 26 per cent of Manurewa preschoolers as "at risk" of poor outcomes, based on mothers without qualifications, parents on benefits and with criminal records, and children reported to CYF. That's the second-highest in Auckland, just behind Papakura's 27 per cent and much higher than the 14.5 per cent national average, but well below Flaxmere (39 per cent) or Kaikohe (55 per cent).

Across generations

"People with money abuse their children too," says Tanya Quedley, who describes her parents as "middle-class" when she was growing up in Māngere and Manurewa.

But the abuse is usually intergenerational. Psychologist Lyn Doherty of the Wiri-based Ohomairangi Trust says 60 per cent of the parents she works with who have been involved with CYF also had CYF involvement in their own childhoods.

Quedley, 48, was sexually abused by her own father from age 9 or 10 until she ran away at 14.

"He was just incredibly controlling," she remembers. "We spoke when we were told to speak, we didn't sit in his chair, we didn't touch his stuff. He was really frightening."

He made her strip naked to be beaten when she misbehaved. He belittled his son because he was never "man enough". He drank heavily and often smashed up the house.

"I did hear through my mother that he was raped as a teenage boy," his daughter says. "I think, to be that cruel, and that controlling, you would definitely be living in your own hell."

He passed that hell down to his children. Tanya cut herself, sniffed glue, then took drugs to drown the pain of abuse by both her father and her own adult partners.

She had vowed never to inject herself with drugs but did it with friends in Australia.

"When I felt the effect from that first shot, I enjoyed it. It took away all my pain," she says.

I said to his body: 'You stole my childhood. You did things no child should have to go through. But my God is going to turn it all around in a way which will help people.'

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Jackie, 42, blamed herself for the abuse that she suffered.

"I felt ashamed because I knew it wasn't right," she says.

Her biological parents separated soon after she was born and she grew up in foster care. Her foster parents also separated. Jackie ran away and had three children in her teens with a man who also had an abusive past.

But her partner became increasingly addicted to drugs and alcohol and increasingly controlling. When she left, he kept the children.

Jackie put herself into rehab at Odyssey House. She became involved in a church and cut drink and drugs completely.

But it didn't last. Her ex-partner invited her back to be part of their children's lives.

"He had the kids. I had access when it suited him as long as I was doing what he felt was right in his eyes," she says.

There were constant arguments. After one fight he threw her off a balcony on to concrete in front of the children. She slipped back into drugs and alcohol, and in 2014 CYF took her two younger children who had been born from short-lived relationships.

Rev Mark Beale, who retired recently from an Anglican church in Clendon, says sexual abuse has usually been going on for two or three generations before someone exposes it.

Breaking the cycle

Manurewa-Papakura Children's Team director Liz Thomas. Photo / Simon Collins
Manurewa-Papakura Children's Team director Liz Thomas. Photo / Simon Collins

Breaking the cycle is never easy. Quedley has done it thanks to a personal experience of God in 2009 which helped her to forgive her father just after he died.

"I said to his body: 'You stole my childhood. You did things no child should have to go through. But my God is going to turn it all around in a way which will help people,'" she says.

"I was howling my eyes out. I said, 'But I forgive you, I forgive you, I forgive you.' I couldn't stop saying it.

"After I said it, I felt this incredible peace, this lightness in my heart."

At Randwick Park on the eastern side of Manurewa, a community group is breaking the cycle by involving people in running a new community centre, maintaining local parks and running micro-enterprises such as a bouncy castle business.

"If we want to deal with child abuse we have to take a development approach," says a member of the group, Dave Tims.

"We have to run our businesses for profit, but we have to use that profit to return back into our workers rather than letting owners walk away with massive profits.

"We also need to get to know our neighbours. The people I employ are my neighbours because I know them and I know their kids, and because I know them I'm willing to trust them."

Many social agencies across Manurewa are trying to help, although they are frustrated by restrictive contracts. Lyn Doherty at Ohomairangi Trust and Joy Fiebiger at Stand Children's Services both say their contracts are to work with children so they can't help parents whose children have been taken off them.

"There is no funding for parenting courses for parents who don't have custody of their children," Doherty says.

A "children's team" was launched in Manurewa-Papakura in March to co-ordinate all the agencies working with "at-risk" children. Director Liz Thomas says it has been "mind-blowing" to see agencies sharing information.

"There is a real connection with, 'Gosh, I didn't know that child hadn't been at school for that length of time,' or 'We didn't know this child was staying there,'" she says.

For Jackie, the catalyst for change was another agency unique to Manurewa which offers "emotional healing" from the traumas people have suffered.

Te Whakaora Tangata ("Life Restoration for the People") runs five three-hour group emotional healing sessions over five weeks, followed by intensive one-to-one mentoring for three to six months.

That's followed by practical help with budgeting, cooking, kicking addictions, parenting, housing, job training and job placement.

Jackie enrolled in an emotional healing course, run by Te Whakaora founders Indranee and Cliffy Reddy, just after her younger children were removed. She did it three times.

"It helps you to understand why what happened happened, and it gives you the strength to see that there is light at the end of the tunnel," she says.

"When you are living a dark life for a long, long time, you accept what comes no matter how bad or horrific it is.

"When you see that light, you just want it. It was that that empowered me and motivated me to get it together."

Forgiveness first

Indranee (left) and Cliffy Reddy sold their restaurant and their home to start Te Whakaora Tangata. Photo / Supplied
Indranee (left) and Cliffy Reddy sold their restaurant and their home to start Te Whakaora Tangata. Photo / Supplied

South African-born Indranee Reddy, a former accountant, and Cliffy, a former police officer, sold their Clendon restaurant and their home in 2005 to start their service at the Manurewa Marae, running it voluntarily until they found philanthropic funders. They now employ 13 staff from a house just down Finlayson Ave from the marae.

They expect to "journey" with each person or couple for at least two years, and respond to calls at any time of the day or night.

Cliffy Reddy says they offer a relationship, not a programme. They disclose their own past. Cliffy's father left before he was born, his mother died when he was 6, and his life was unstable for many years.

"When we carry all of this hurt into adulthood, relationships are incredibly tough," he says.

"That's hope for the people, because most of the people are thinking that they are in a relationship that is toxic and they want out. We tell them actually relationships are tough, it's something that you work at through a lifetime."

He says taking children out of a family is not the answer either and only increases the parents' stress.

"They are going to go even harder on the drugs and become a menace to society," he says.

Instead, based on both their own experience and Christian ethics, the Reddys believe that healing past hurts starts with forgiving the people who hurt you.

"If you choose not to forgive, that bitterness becomes toxic in your family," says Indranee.

"[Our work] is totally built on trust. Because we share our stories, they feel comfortable sharing their story, and then we have to coach them through the process of forgiving, and when you do that is when you get amazing results.

"We've had families in addictions for 20 or 30 years. The addictions are not the issues. Once there is healing, we have seen the worst addicts change."

Dr Myron Friesen of the University of Canterbury, who is helping to evaluate the approach, says "the baffling thing about the programme is that nobody really has the qualifications you might think are necessary".

But he says forgiving someone who has hurt you, and yourself for the hurt you have caused to others, is known to reduce stress.

"What we are seeing in people's lives who have come through the programme is really impressive in terms of change," he says. "It just needs to be more systematically evaluated."

For Jackie: "The key to all of this is to be forgiving. I'll never forget what happened, but you can't change the past, you can change the future."

After her healing, Jackie was reunited with her two youngest children, now aged 10 and 4, in Iosis Family Solutions' Merivale six-month live-in parenting programme.

Last year she started working full-time at the Griffin's biscuit factory in Papakura under a partnership between the biscuit maker and Te Whakaora Tangata.

She has now completed an NCEA Level 1 course and is a health and safety representative at her workplace. Her 10-year-old is at school and her 4-year-old is in home-based daycare.

Finally, the puzzle of her life is solved.

"I've got answers now to many questions that I've had for so long," she says at the end of an often-tearful interview.

"I'm not giving myself the excuse to go running to the bottle store to cure that pain, and I know crying is a beautiful form of releasing all that built-up resentment and anger."

Where to get help:

Lifeline: 0800 543 354 (available 24/7)
Suicide Crisis Helpline: 0508 828 865 (0508 TAUTOKO) (available 24/7)
Youthline: 0800 376 633
Kidsline: 0800 543 754 (available 24/7)
Whatsup: 0800 942 8787 (1pm to 11pm)
Depression helpline: 0800 111 757 (available 24/7)
Rainbow Youth: (09) 376 4155
Samaritans 0800 726 666
If it is an emergency and you feel like you or someone else is at risk, call 111.