This recount shares about sexual abuse.
Each child’s story of life before coming into foster care and then what happens in care is unique. My new friend bravely shares ‘just some’ of the horrific things she endured before finally being brought into foster care. However, foster care wasn’t the safe haven that it should have been and I am so sad that she once again missed out on the love and care of those who were meant to protect her.
Grab the tissues….
Can you tell me a little about the circumstances, whatever you are comfortable with, that led you to going into foster care?
My earliest memory as a child is being sexually abused by my elderly neighbour, I must have been about 5 and it was happening fairly regularly. Over the next 9 years I was sexually abused by 7 other men, all of whom were family or friends. Some of them were once off and others were continuous. I tried to tell 3 adults on three different occasions about what was happening, but it was easier to believe the carefully crafted lies of an adult rather than the stumbling honesty of a child. I didn’t have a father to protect me as a child, as he died in a car crash when I was a toddler.
I came to Australia with my family when I was 13, I was being abused regularly by my step-father. Eventually I told my school chaplain, thinking that she would do nothing, as no other adult had taken me seriously before. But there was something special about her, she prayed for me, as if I was a precious jewel that was not treated the way it was supposed to be. She then told me that she had to report this as it was very serious but kept me calm.
Who told you that you wouldn’t be going home to your parents and that you would be going into foster care?
My chaplain called DCP and they came out immediately. I was told that I will not be going home that night. The DCP worker drove me to the city, where I had to give a testimony of everything that had happened. It took hours as the report had to be in detail with descriptions of body parts, what was used, the kinds of contraceptives if any, the kinds of digital images that were taken and the clothes I was wearing. I know that that the only way I got through that night of telling strangers my darkest secrets was because Jesus was holding me so close. There was a peace.
I remember thinking that I was so hungry, but I was too scared to say yes when they asked me if I wanted food. I was both relieved and riddled with guilt. I was relieved because I knew that won’t be abused again by my step-father, but I felt the deepest sorrow for my mother and my little brother. I felt as though I had betrayed my mum, she hadn’t done anything wrong. She also knew little English at that time and when I heard that my step-dad was arrested, I was constantly on the verge of tears thinking about my mum and how she was going to have money to buy food. I kept telling my case worker that my mum won’t be able to go grocery shopping and that she has no money. My case-worker said that there was a social worker who was helping my mum. But nothing eased the pain of knowing how much my mum would struggle and she was now faced with raising yet another child all by herself.
What was that initial night like for you? Was there something that happened to make it more comfortable? Do you remember your feelings at the time?
I had to stay with the family of a friend from school for the first few weeks as it was so difficult to find a home for a child who is 14 and could display sexualised behaviours. People go into self-preservation mode; they are worried about allegations, behaviour, confrontation… it’s all understandable, but for a child who is sleeping on a blow-up mattress, waiting for someone to say yes. It’s crushing. My 15th birthday was a few days after I was taken, I remember the clock ticking over to 12:00 am and I just wanted to die.
The family I was staying with were so kind, my friend’s mum would try her best to make me feel included in the family. She would always ask me what I wanted for dinner. I tried my best to name some western foods I could think of, but all my wanted was mum’s Indian food. I also decided I hated peas while I was there.
Did you share with friends what was happening? What was there response like?
I told some of my friends that I was taken away but most of them didn’t know how to respond and asked me why I didn’t say anything before. It was hard, as some implied that I had not said anything and so I must have like it.
In hindsight, it’s hard to expect kids to understand things that children shouldn’t go through. They didn’t know what sexual abuse was. They hear the popular narratives of victim blaming and that is usually the extent of their understanding at that stage. I stopped talking about my issues with my peers and just started acting hyperactive and over-compensated my ‘cheerfulness’, so no one saw me as the ‘poor foster kid’.
How many foster homes did you live in? What were they like?
I was in a foster home for 2 years, it was great at first but soon became hard and toxic as I fought to earn my love. I started to self-harm to gain some control. I tried to suicide on three different occasions as life had never felt so bleak. Sometimes when I would misbehave, I would come home to find all my belongings thrown in garbage bags and hidden away in my carer’s room. I remember my heart would start pounding as the last bell rang at school which meant that I have to go home. I remember when I was left alone in the house to get ready for my school ball and had to climb over the padlocked gate in my ball gown (which was a wedding dress) to be able to go (this was the ball where I met my now husband!).
When I had finally had enough, I ran away and had planned to jump in front of a car, but I decided against it and came back to find myself locked out of the house. I was knocking on the glass door as I needed to use the toilet, but no one would open it and my foster siblings were too scared to open the door as they were told to sit and ignore me. This is when my case worker was called, she came out to talk to me and saw that I needed to be moved but knew that it would be hard to place a 16-year-old.
I was asked if I could manage living semi-independently in a women’s refuge program. I jumped at the opportunity as this would mean that I finally get the freedom to make choices without having to face un-natural and illogical consequences. I lived in semi-independent living for 2 years. While it was the best thing that had happened in a long time, it also meant that I suddenly had to learn to cook, clean, wash, pay bills, take myself to places while studying for my year 12 WACE exams and also working part-time. It was a defining moment in my life. I started attending church with my best friend where my now-husband also went. I started being nurtured as the church welcomed me as if I was a long-lost member of their family. I started having home-cooked meals at some of their houses instead of frozen pizza and baked beans.
When you think back to your time in Foster care, what stands out to you the most?
My time is foster care was difficult. I am so thankful to all the dedicated workers in the department as well as in organisations like Parkerville, as they played a major role in caring for my well-being and took my opinions into account. The best thing about foster care for me was living independently. My foster sibling is also a treasure whom I still have a relationship with. I am so thankful for meeting other girls who were in the independent living program. They also became family.
What is your relationship like now with your biological parents and foster parents?
My relationship with my mum is constantly getting better. I believe this is by the amazing grace of God. I don’t have a relationship with my foster parents however I do love visiting the unit-coordinator at the independent living program as she constantly poured out herself for ‘her girls’.
You now work with vulnerable kids, what made you want to go into this work?
Of course, my lived experience has a lot to do with what drove me to working with disadvantaged young people. I know that God will not allow any of my experiences to go in vain. He turns darkness into light and that is exactly what I see Him doing when He uses me as a tool in effecting change in a young person’s life. When I was young and sacred, the people who had the most impact on me where those who were other-centred, this included many of my teachers, chaplains, case-workers, people at church etc. So, I want to be what I needed when I was younger. I want to be other-centred so that the love that is poured into me by Jesus, is not overflowing into nothing but flows into the darkest, scariest, unloved and unwanted places. The difference between a child who is heading towards juvie and a child who is heading towards university, is the opportunities that they were afforded and the kind of love they received.
If you could give one piece of advice to Foster parents, what would it be?
Continue to seek God is all that you do. We are all called to take care of the vulnerable, so we must be prepared to do whatever it takes to give them a thriving chance. Continue to educate yourself about trauma-informed practices and develop your intellectual, emotional and psychological capabilities on a regular basis. We owe it to the children of God to give them the best possible start, especially after so much devastation. You are needed, and your work is priceless.
If you could give one piece of advice to a child entering the foster system, what would it be?
I believe you. You have had to go through things that no one should. The world is full of broken people and sometimes they may hurt others. If there is one thing that is for sure, it is that things change. Nothing is forever. One day you will look back on this day and it may still be painful, but it won’t be your reality, it will just be a memory. I know that a stranger has just sent you to sleep at another stranger’s house, that’s scary, but I promise that you will be safe. You are so loved and wanted. One day you will be able to help people who feel like this, feel safe again. You are allowed to feel everything that you are feeling. I am here for you. And when I’m not enough, God is here too.
We can all be the unconditional love and care that a hurting child needs by listening, believing and taking the extra step to care.