Its embarrassing to even have the word care in our kinship care system. Day after day horror stories arise of kids being sent to live with family they may never have met. A social worker would pick them up maybe from the family home or police station, then dump them with the mystery family member. The social worker may or may not ever see the young person again.
This is the reality many young people and their carers experience. It sounds all well and good to place a young person preferably with family, however this is often done under stressful conditions for both carer and young person.
Imagine being in your 70’s. Your starting to get some health problems and are struggling, but its ok, your not working anymore. Then one day you get a phone call. Your son got some girl you only met once or twice pregnant. The child is now 8 years old. Your son and this girl ran off together years ago and hit the drugs hard. Your son is now in jail, and the girl has being looking after the kid on her own for the last 2 years. The person on the other end of the phone is a social worker. They inform you of what has been going on. You are surprised to learn you have a grandchild. They then ask if you can look after the said grandchild. You inform them that you are not very healthy, and struggle to care for yourself at times. The worker makes you feel bad for saying no and tells you that “YOUR grandchild, will have to go in a residential unit or live with the maternal grandparents who are also known drug users”. You feel bad and agree to take the child. The kid gets dropped of with nothing but the clothes on their back.
Now you have to try and obtain clothes, bedding, toys and anything else a young person needs. This young person was dropped off to you 10pm, so it is now difficult to get anything for them. Your are on an aged pension so money is tight. You may get Centrelink payments for this child, but it will be weeks or months before you do. Depending on what orders are in place for the young person, you may not be eligible for much at all. The worker that dropped the kid off is nowhere to be seen, and its now been 2 months. Your broke and exhausted. This kid is acting like a terror and your near ready to throttle it. You don’t recall your kids ever behaving that way. This kid screams day and night, smashes up the house, swears and abuses you and anyone that comes to the house. You have no idea how to tame this tiger.
You later find out that this little person was sold for sex to pay for their Mum’s drug habit. They were also beaten and abused by your son, his girlfriend and her “special friends”. This child has only ever known violence and abuse. The child starts to share stories of finding their parents unconscious in their own faeces and vomit. Stories of how their parents would sleep for days and they would have to find food. Sometimes there was no food, so they would eat grass from the garden. The child tells of graphic and horrendous physical and sexual assaults they experienced, the stories horrify and haunt you. Your desperate for support, but case workers are too busy as there are more pressing cases. After all, your grandchild is now safe, and they have children who are not safe that need to be prioritised. You ask why you weren’t told what to expect when getting this child. You wonder how not being told of this child’s abuse is helpful to anyone. Well my friends, its called the privacy act. The workers aren’t allowed to tell you even if they wanted to.
Lets now look at this from the child’s perspective.
You have never known a day in your life where you could trust anyone. You have had to protect and provide for yourself all of your 8 years. You have experienced horrifying abuse at the hands of your parents. Then they let others do even more horrifying things to you. You trust no one, because that is what life has taught you. One day you get the courage to take yourself to the police station and tell them you don’t ever want to go home again. After a long day at the police station, workers come and take you to some old peoples house late at night. They tell you this is your grandparents. You recall Dad telling you about these people and how they screwed him over. The house stinks and they talk weird. You have to sleep on their couch for a few days while they clean out their spare room. You can hear them talking in the other room when they put you to sleep. They say things like “Why us? What did we do wrong? “That kids not normal”. You don’t trust them, but it seems better then other places you have lived. Its only the 2 old people, and they don’t have parties and stuff, which is good. You don’t always understand the big words they use. They are really fancy with the way they eat at the table. They have a lot of stupid rules, like no shoes in the house, eat at the table, no going outside when its dark time. You think its stupid, especially the going out at night time. All your life you have been able to go where ever you wanted, when ever you wanted. It was actually safer in the park at night, then your house.
How is this in the best interest of the child?
Its easy to blame the social worker, but its the system and legislation they work in that is the problem. Child protective workers are working long hours to try and keep kids safe. But the system is letting them down. Privacy Act is not always helpful, legislation doesn’t account for every situation. What would help is supportive, intensive trauma informed, transitional support for children, young people and their carers. This includes a budget to help a young person have their room set up with a new bed just for them, fresh bedding, toys and school stuff, within 12 hrs of being placed in their new home. This could make a huge difference to the coping of carers, and how welcome a young person feels into their new family home. Carers should be briefed on what behaviours to expect and why. They should be given therapeutic interventions that they can easily apply with the young person. This should be complemented with intense therapy for young person and carer.These children have experienced terrible things before being removed. Lets not forget that. Children’s behaviour is communication. If they have terrible behaviour they are communicating something to you. Lets not set up young people to be handed around the family, and out of home care system. Lets make their first stop their last. They deserve that much.
Just under half of all kids in care experience 2 – 5 placements. When do they get to feel at home?