They say you don’t know what it is like for someone else until you walk a mile in their shoes. I have often wondered what the Out of home care system would look like if we all ‘swapped’ roles for a day. If a foster carer could stand in as the magistrate. If the Social worker could be a foster child. If a magistrate could live a day as a foster carer! I wonder if there would be any changes to the system if we really understood what it was like for others to live amongst this chaos.
While running an experiment like that mentioned above isn’t within my capacity, I have been able to gather people’s stories who have a different experience within the out of home care sphere.
Over the next month I will be sharing these stories with all of you. My hope is that by ‘walking’ in someone else’s shoes, even for just a few minutes, we may have our eyes opened to a side of the story that we don’t think about often. Perhaps it will start a conversation that is empathetic and compassionate. This is a complex problem. With no simple solution.
So often in Foster Care we can ‘other’ or demonise the biological parents. Without meeting them and having to ‘pick up the pieces’ of their child’s emotions, literally making their children clean and building trust with a child who may never have learnt to rely on an adult, we can paint a pretty horrid picture of those who were meant to keep the child safe.
Children very rarely come into care after just one incident. Often it is a series of events that leads to the climax of kids being removed from their homes and taken to live with strangers. Just as it is a series of events that lead to kids getting removed, it is a lifetime of events, bad choices and often generational disadvantage that leaves a biological parent without the capacity to take care of their children.
In my community worker role I had the opportunity to work with and get to know mums that I may not have met in my day to day life. I have asked one of these mums to share her story of when her children were removed from her and her partner and what happened after that.
*There have been edits to the spelling and sentence structure to help the reader but the story has not been impacted.
Can you tell me a little about the circumstances, whatever you are comfortable with, that led you to your children going into foster care?
Before they went in to foster care I did ask for help because i was struggling at the time but I was smoking marijuana so that mad it hard on the people who tried to help because I could not accept the help. We also had a lot of people come and going at all hours and the other half was not very helpful at the time because he just had an accident that year before so the company had to report us to dcp.
Who told you that you they would be going into foster care? Did you get information about who they were with or how often you would see them?
DCP just rocked up one morning with the police and said that they are removing the children from our care we could not see them for a week after that it was the most hardest time of our life.
Did you understand what you needed to do to have your children returned to you? Was there support from the department or other agencies to help you navigate the system?
So they explained why they went into care and what we had to do to get the children back. They said the children where malnourished and the house was unsafe for children. I had to quit smoking marijuana and to get rid off all the people coming and going and to make the house a child safe environment. Then I found out I was pregnant. They said if we did not change that they would take the new baby into care too. So we did all of what they asked but nothing we did was good enough for them but because I did stop smoking marijuana and went to drug counselling and proved that I was clean they had to let us keep the new baby girl. We only could see the children in a supervisor room for a hour ever second week then after months before we where alone to go to a park with supervisor then nearly a year until they would allow a home visit with supervisor. But in all that time we had to go to ngala and had to see a social worker and had to jump through so many hoops but they never wanted to give the children back because they had a disability.
I know that you had to fight very hard to have your children returned home, even winning an appeal after they were given 18 year orders, which is often seen to be permanent. What changes did you make in your life that made it possible for them to come home?
After 4 years the oldest child started to act up for the foster carer and they where unable to look after him anymore so they just brought him back to us with out any help. Then they said if we could prove that we could look after him for 18 months with out everything going wrong that the other two would come home. But that did not happen they lied to us then we had to go to court and they took the others to 18 years. We where devastated that is like a life sentence but we did not give up, we continued to fight to get our children back. After 7 year we got a new case worker and she looked at our case and she could not understand why the other 2 weren’t home so she started to get us ready for reunification and it went well and now all the children are home all together.
If you could give one piece of advice to a mum who has had their children taken into foster care, what would it be?
We were very lucky to meet the foster carer, that made things easier. Most people do not ever meet the foster carer which I think is silly. I think that more foster carer’s would get the parent yes if they met. It us hard to meet the people who look after your children but it makes you relieved to see that nice people are looking after them until you are able to do it yourself. And to parent’s who have DCP in there life for them to listen to them before your children go into care because one they are there, it is nearly impossible to get them home and not to give up even if it seems impossible to get your children home.
If you could say something to foster parents, what would you say?
To the foster carer I am grateful for what they do. It must be hard on them to because you deal with children that can be very argue and difficult and some with lost of issues.
Just one side of the story. Don’t forget there would be a foster carers account, at least a few social workers, a magistrate…and of course the children.
At the end of the day, everyone wanted the same thing and that is to ensure the safety of the children. Now, all 4 kids are being raised together by their mum and dad, as intended and they are loved, fed, given opportunities to pursue their interests and supported through their challenges. Their story is heartbreaking. Their parents acknowledge their mistakes along the way, but they also worked hard to make changes and the support is difficult to gain when you have fallen so far.
There is so much to take away from this story. I can not fathom the pain that two sets of parents went through in losing these children, the biological parents to begin with but the foster parents who dedicated years of their life to loving and caring for the children.
This isn’t a place to declare blame on someone. We don’t have the full side of the story but I am thankful that there are 4 less children a part of a very broken system.
Thank you for walking in a biological parent’s shoes for a moment.