A Carer’s Story: My wife Meg and I were Foster Carers for two boys aged 5 and 9 for a total of 18 months, up until mid January 2009, when they were removed from our care in the most heartless of ways by Families SA In the short time we had them the boys had made tremendous improvements even though their background was one of tremendous trauma. They had already been with a previous Families SA Foster Carer who had been appointed even though he had been jailed in NSW for carnal knowledge. (Sex with someone under the age of consent.) This Carer has been de-registered now (thank God) after some form of investigation, however for some years it is believed he abused the children in his official care. Remember these are damaged and traumatised children before they go into care. Meg was required to attend monthly meetings about the boys (I was working). But, meeting after meeting, the office in question never acted on the boys or our needs. The youngest boy was severely damaged psychologically, but Meg also found that he had a hip degeneration problem that had been overlooked for years and was causing him real pain. Meg consistently asked to have the second-hand wheelchair she had purchased replaced with a light aluminium model, to save her back, lifting the chair in and out of the car boot. The office never replaced the wheelchair or authorised Meg to purchase one. Meg also repeatedly requested substantial respite. (We went for 12 Months without respite.) All we got was 4hrs each Sunday from NanniesSA. They proved unreliable and often didn’t turn up, which unsettled the boys more. So Meg cancelled them. The younger boy was having severe behaviour problems at school, such that Meg would be regularly called by the Principal to come and take him home. Yet after repeated requests Families SA failed to arrange a Teachers Aid (SSO) at the school for this child whos’ trauma was in large part caused by their previous official Foster Carer. Meg dreaded these useless meetings and became extremely anxious during them, because her passion for the boys was being ignored and in fact they started to scapegoat her for problems, rather than offer concrete help and support. Meg has a history of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder and after 6 years of stability she began to have panic attacks during the meetings. (She never panicked with the boys and was a true “Mum” to them.) So rather than help, after six months of wasted meetings they decided we needed a psychological assessment. This for a couple who had looked after a difficult foster boy previously and had glowing reports from previous Social Workers and who were also getting glowing praise from school teachers for our love and care of these two boys. Well, Meg was insulted and felt “put down”. It seemed directed at her. Her fear was that this was Families SA’s way to control us and avoid responsibility. She refused to undertake the assessment and within a month they summarily dismissed us as Carers. This while I was trying to negotiate a resolution. (I was not aware of how serious the problem was, until a few weeks before our sacking.) We had no independent advocate acting for us at this time and were just “thrown to the wolves”. Also, to this day, we have had no written explanation of what we did wrong and why we were sacked. Also we were not informed that we had any rights (as it turns out we did have rights as per Families SA’s own document of rights updated in November 2008.) We also were not made aware of our right to complain or that the Department has a Complaints Officer. I literally cried during the sacking meeting and was offered nothing. (not even a tissue.) Meg wasn’t at the meeting and I thought it was going to be a negotiation or problem solving meeting. Later when we finally tracked down Gail Bartlett (Departmental Complaints) she said they had broken a whole lot of their own rules. Initially, after we were sacked, we went into severe shock and grief. The boys had finally gone on a two week respite holiday during this time, but they never came home. Meg, on the behest of Y’s psychologist, had given the little 6 year old a piece of her jewellery as a treasure she told him she needed back – this was to help him trust that he would return. (He had severe separation anxiety.) He never got to return that treasure to Meg. When we recovered our composure we made enquiries and found Donna Scott another Carer on a Carers Committee. Donna contacted the office of the Minister for Families & Communities and arranged a meeting with the Regional Director, Marj Ellis and District Centre Manager, Wendy Joyce. Ms Ellis seemed conciliatory and undertook to revisit and resolve the whole affair. We were hopeful. However as of now (28Jun09) the matter is still unresolved except to say that last Wednesday we were told that Child Y will not be coming back to us. No details were given. The fate of Child X is still in the balance. It is now almost 6 months since the removal and still they procrastinate. We estimate that the cost of maintaining the boys in a Families SA house is around $1500.00 per day. To date this would add up to $250,000.00 to $300,000.00. This is at least 10 to 15 times more than leaving the boys with us. Amazingly one of the reasons they did not support us with the boys’ needs in the first place, was the cost! (Go Figure!) Save a couple of thousand to spend half a million! Although Ms Ellis is ever so professional and charming, we have to judge the tree by its fruit. On that level she has not delivered and continues to waste our time. We believe we are being massaged and manipulated until they can claim due process and finalise a pre-planned solution, without us in it. Power and secrecy are used by the department to justify the most appalling things done in their name. Also much of what we have been told is inconsistent, with explanations apparently being made up on the run, with little regard to the facts. What is so dreadfully sad is the fate of these damaged little children. We still love them. But the Department and the Minister are their parent. (they are under the Guardianship of the Minister.) In this case the Minister does not look like a loving parent. They came to us damaged and traumatised and through hard work and love we saw improvement. What will become of them now? We don’t know, but our heart aches for them. This is not complete and believe it or not, there is more bad stuff to add, let alone the final outcome.
A Carer’s Story February 5, 2010