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I am somebody

Be moved by the experience of Jayda, a young girl who has found love, connection and belonging with her grandparents. A story of Aboriginal culture, the power of family love and the importance of listening to the voices of children.

Jayda, 12 years old

‘I had to be an adult for my whole childhood and now I can finally be a kid again.’

What I love about this beautiful island is family. My family, my family’s family, and all the generations before them have lived here. There has been life and death and happy and sad times. I am learning their stories and one day I will be able to tell my children. Being here helps to keep my family and my culture alive. They say home is where you are, and I am here on my island. My feet are solid on the ground and my hair is in the wind.

My grandparents are incredible people and have worked hard their entire lives. They have been through hell and heaven. They gave my mum her life, and she gave me mine and I’m respectful of them for that. My grandparents and I have a deep connection. There are no words to describe it. They’re people I just love. That’s the only word in my vocabulary right now.

Jayda and Mort.

Picture Jayda and Mort.

Picture of Jayda and Caseworker Emma

Picture of Jayda and Caseworker Emma.

Before I moved here I had to fend for myself. I had to be an adult for my whole childhood and now I can finally be a kid again. I miss my brother Seth though. He needs lots of special care from doctors that we don’t have here, so for now he needs to live on the mainland. It is your average brother and sister relationship. We fight, we hug, we kiss, and we punch! But we have a close bond because of the kind of life we grew up in. I’ve had to be there for Seth when no one else could and stand up for him. People just see him as a kid with a disability, but he is still a person. He is Seth. It is good seeing him happy living in a place that takes care of him.

I am glad that my caseworker Emma helped me come home to my island. She never puts her voice in front of mine. Emma always lets me speak first. She gets that this is my life she is dealing with and my family’s. She has a respect for my family that many people don’t and so I give her that respect back. Emma would always ask, ‘Are you alright? Are you okay with this? Do you feel this way or that way?’ I’m grateful that I have a caseworker like Emma. I could tell she was there for the right reasons and not just because her boss told her she had to be. There has been a good vibe between us since we met.

Picture of Jayda in front of a house

Picture of Jayda in front of a house.

Now I go exploring every day of my life. I build cubbies, I go swimming. I go deep in the bush up to the rocks. I love rock climbing. I have a special thinking rock where I like to sit. Pop’s always telling me not to do it as I’ll slip in my big boots but I love it! There is so much clutter in the city and no one really listened to me. Being here is like being wrapped up in a big hug.

Being home on the island with family and friends has really helped me remember that I’m not nobody. I am not just another kid in the welfare system who’s had a crappy life. I am somebody.

‘I am not just another kid in the welfare system who’s had a crappy life. I am somebody.’

Emma, caseworker

‘Kids need a sense of identity and belonging that can only come from the people that love them most.’

I didn’t know it at the time, but making the call to Jayda’s grandfather Mort was one of the best decisions I’ve ever made in this job. I took a chance that day and it paid off.

I’d been so worried about Jayda and her little brother Seth. Things were not great at home. Their parents love them dearly, but were not in a place to keep them safe. I had worked hard to keep the family together but things were getting worse. Their mum and dad had told me there was no family that could help. Foster care was looking likely.

I was at the Family Finding boot camp when I made that call to Mort. I’d been struck by the passionate argument that reaching out to family is the most urgent thing we can do. Kids need a sense of identity and belonging that can only come from the people that love them most, and this is usually their family. It was a powerful message. I found a quiet spot and used the White Pages to start looking for Jayda and Seth’s family.

Picture of Jayda and Mort outside a shed

Picture of Jayda and Mort outside a shed.

Picture of a close up of Jayda and Mort

Picture of a close up of Jayda and Mort.

I knew their mum had grown up on a remote Tasmanian island and I found someone there with the same surname. It was Mort. He answered straight away. He hadn’t known how to reach his grandkids and he had been worried. I was gently painting him a picture of what life was like for Jayda and Seth when Mort said, ‘Are you telling me the little ones are in trouble?’ I could hear the anguish in his voice.

We got talking and I learned that Jayda had spent some time on the island before. Finding their grandparents was important, but I wanted to find more family for Jayda and Seth. I found other relatives, the most important being their aunt. Mort and his wife Sue needed support too and the more family that can be a part of a child’s life the better.

Tracking down family may seem obvious, but we haven’t always worked this way. When you bring children into care it often happens so quickly – we get focused on who can look after them there and then. Family Finding is not about finding a place for a child to stay. It is about making sure kids stay connected for life to those that love them most. Taking the pressure off looking for a placement means we can find a much richer network of people who are willing to play a role, whatever that may be. For Mort and Sue this meant they wanted Jayda home with them.

It was wonderful to be able to have family ready to surround Jayda and Seth with love and safety at such a hard time. I think about how much more grief Jayda would have felt if I hadn’t made those calls before I brought them into care. Instead, the very moment Jayda came into care, she literally ran into the arms of her grandparents and said, ‘Are you taking me back to my island?’

Picture of Jayda and caseworker Emma Taking a selfie

Picture of Jayda and caseworker Emma Taking a selfie.

Picture of Jayda and Mort smiling

Picture of Jayda and Mort smiling.

Jayda’s younger brother Seth has medical needs which mean he can’t live on the island. He is in a group home with support workers who can be there around the clock and keep on top of his many specialist appointments. An important part of Seth’s care plan is to make sure he sees his family — including Jayda, Mort and Sue, and his parents. Jayda is a beautiful, protective sister to Seth and took care of him a lot when they were little. Their special connection is key to their happiness and everyone in their life is committed to keeping this strong. When the family flies up from the island the two kids pick up just where they left off.

We supported Jayda to settle into the island. Jayda is healing thanks to love from her family and some counselling for her trauma. Visiting the island has been an adventure. But I didn’t want the distance to be a barrier to staying connected to Jayda and showing her I truly cared about her.

Jayda is back on country and culture is just an everyday part of her life now. The family has welcomed me so warmly. Even though my time with them is coming to an end, I will always remember the lessons they’ve taught me. That you need to trust in family because they are the best way to create safety and happiness for children. That love and belonging helps guide the way.

‘You need to trust in family because they are the best way to create safety and happiness for children. That love and belonging helps guide the way.'

Mort, grandfather

‘You see all these little grains of sand on the beach, right down to the tiny ones? That’s how much I love you.’

My father fought for this land for 25 years. When he passed away I took on the fight for another 25. In 2005 we got this land back. To have Jayda here with us now is so special. I tell Jayda that when I look at the island I am seeing it through my father’s eyes, and my grandfather’s eyes. I see what they see. And now she does too.

When I got the call from Emma I wasn’t surprised. I would have walked the earth to keep my grand-kids safe. To have Jayda here at home and on her country is an honour. I am part of the Stolen Generations so I would never have allowed Jayda to be raised by somebody else.

Picture of Jayda and Mort smiling

Picture of Jayda and Mort smiling.

Picture of Jayda sitting near rocks

Picture of Jayda sitting near rocks.

Working with Emma has made this journey so easy for all of us. She works hard, she asks, she communicates. We have been lucky to work with Emma, and have Emma work with us. We’ve accepted her, she’s a part of the team. Our family has not always had good experiences with the welfare, but I’ve said to Jayda that sometimes you need to trust them. Jayda can see that now. Workers like Emma need to help the little ones who can’t be with their parents.

Jayda and I are always laughing about something. I call her matey and she calls me mate. We always have something planned. In the afternoon when I go down and pick her up from school I might say, ‘Alright, the tide has dropped, let’s go and catch a squid and sit over on one of those big surf rocks.’ Or we go for a walk and I tell her stories. I tell her how the island got its name, what fish are out, how we sailed in by boat. It is always a journey just walking along the beach, you can tell so much.

Jayda and I were walking along the beach one day and she said to me, ‘Pop, how much do you love me?’

I turned around and I said, ‘You see all these little grains of sand on the beach, right down to the tiny ones? That’s how much I love you’. I then asked Jayda, ‘How much do you love me?’

She said, ‘See all these beaches around the island here and the little white grains of sand on them? That’s how much I love you.’

So I said, ‘I love you to infinity.’

Jayda said, ‘I love you to infinity back.’

I told her, ‘You’ve won. We’re not doing this all day!’

Picture of ocean.

Picture of ocean.

We’re working on getting Seth support so he can travel to the island and spend time here. I think island life will be good for him. We’ll be ready for him when it’s right. I dream about seeing Jayda and Seth playing down here on the beach together.

Sue thinks Jayda has all the makings of an Aboriginal activist. She is curious and has deep empathy for people. Jayda wants to make the world a better place. Jayda is proud of her culture and interested in the history of our people. I want Jayda to have a good education and Sue and I will be pushing for that. The sky is the limit for my little matey.

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Last updated: 19 Nov 2019