Watch and read the story of a young man Jalil, who has had the chance to reconnect to family and be a kid again thanks to the support of his caseworker Joel.
'When we strive to create safety for children, we must draw on the strengths of families and communities that have been there all along and join the dots.’
I’d been told lots of things about Jalil. The reports were full of words that judged him. But when we met, the boy sitting before me didn’t fit the labels. The descriptions never acknowledged the pain and trauma that made Jalil act out in ways that pushed people away. Instead I saw a boy who loves and protects his mum, sisters Tia-Ahni and Kiera and little brother AJ fiercely. I saw a boy who has gone through more than anyone should ever have to at 14.
The family were living with a lot of trauma that was impacting on the children’s safety in ways we were deeply worried about. Keira and AJ had found themselves a place to live away from the chaos of their home life – they were safe – but I needed to connect them to family and culture and get these brothers and their sister back together.
Picture of AJ, Kiera and Jalil jumping
Picture of a river.
When we strive to create safety for children, we must draw on the strengths of families and communities that have been there all along and join the dots. If you can help to create lifelong connections between kids and their families, it is our greatest chance of keeping them safe and strong forever.
I spent a lot of time visiting Jalil and his family to build a relationship of trust. It was only time and deep listening that would show Jalil I was a safe person to reach out to when he was hurting, worried or angry. But I am just one part of the puzzle. I was there to guide Jalil to the lighthouses of strength already shining in his life, waiting to be there for him.
'I saw a boy who needed to be a kid again.'
I used the Family Finding approach to find the children’s large Aboriginal family. From the moment I called, they were a powerhouse of love. We organised an amazing Family Group Conference and within a few weeks it was all systems go. Jalil was front and centre in the room that day. It was a big moment for a boy who was hurting so much, to see the familiar faces he had missed united around the table. To hear their words of love and know that he mattered. Having them there gave Jalil a sense of who he was. It brought culture into the planning that was so much better than words on a page.
I start from a place of believing that the answers lie within the family – they know what is best. Together they yarned and decided that Tia-Ahni, Jalil, AJ and Keira would flourish living with their aunty May. And they weren’t wrong.
Picture of Kiera and aunty May.
Picture of Joel and aunty May.
I can see and feel a huge shift in the three youngest children now that they have a sense of belonging. It is helping them slowly deal with some hard things in their lives. It’s how trauma is healed. For now Tia-Ahni has chosen to live somewhere else, but I am hanging in there to help her find a safe path forward.
Built a relationship with Jalil’s mum and dad and got in all the services and support I could to bolster them. I stay hopeful that one day they will be able to heal enough to play a bigger role in their children’s lives. Aunty May makes sure the kids see them as much as possible, but Jalil tells me he still worries about his mum. We’ve talked a lot about this. I want Jalil to understand he did everything possible to protect his mum and take care of his siblings, but he can take a breather now. To have another chance at his childhood.
Working with Jalil keeps me on my toes! I respect that he holds me accountable. It’s the way it should be. Jalil has had many ‘I try to remember that when teenagers push you away, this is the exact moment when they need you the most.’ - Joel Pictured Left: Jalil and Joel. Pictured Top Right: Kiera and aunty May. Pictured Bottom Left: Joel and aunty May. disappointments in his life and lots of unpredictability, so I make sure to keep my promises. If I say I will be there at a certain time I make sure I am five minutes early. One time I was running a bit late and Jalil was standing out the front looking at his watch. I only did that once.
Picture of AJ and Joel.
'It really is the best feeling in the world to see Jalil have moments of childlike joy now, just for himself.'
Picture of Jalil and Joel.
Months on, I am so excited to see Jalil completely smashing his goals. He has been going to school most days, which is a huge thing for someone who has missed so much. Jalil is on the student representative council and blitzing his exams.
It has been particularly special for me as an Aboriginal man to see Jalil express himself through his culture. He is learning Aboriginal painting and playing the didge with AJ.
To watch his beautiful connection with his aunty May grow and strengthen.
In child protection we have to make life-changing decisions. When we determine that a child needs to come into care, I tell myself that we have to make sure their life is genuinely better. It’s our duty to use our power well. I know we did the right thing by these four lovely kids, even though they cannot be with their parents right now. They never stop laughing in aunty May’s home.
When I reflect on working with young people, it can be easy to feel a bit hopeless, or worry that it is too late to make a difference. I try to remember that when teenagers push you away, this is the exact moment they need you the most. This is the time to lean in even more. You never know if you might be the one that will make a connection that sets them on another path. Jalil teaches me this every day.
Picture of a waterfall
‘I try to remember that when teenagers push you away, this is the exact moment when they need you the most.’
Jalil, 14 years old
'I got AJ and Keira dressed and ready for school and walked them there every day. I tried to be a good role model for them because I never really had one. I didn’t want them to get treated the way I was when I was growing up.'
Before Joel came along, I felt like I had to step up and be the man of the house. I made sure our home was clean and tidy. I got AJ and Keira dressed and ready for school and walked them there every day. I tried to be a good role model for them because I never really had one. I didn’t want them to get treated the way I was when I was growing up
I like Joel because he listens and does what he says he is going to do. He hears what I want and makes it happen. Like the Family Group Conference when he called everyone on both sides of my family to make sure they came. I was a bit nervous but Joel was there to support me. I felt like I had a voice and everyone got to hear my ideas.
Picture of AJ, Kiera, Jalil and aunty May.
Picture of Jalil.
Things are really good living with my aunty May. I hadn’t seen some of my family for a few years before Joel found them for me. He told them that we really need their help. Now I get to just be a kid again, because aunty May is the king. She makes an awesome cob loaf and paints beautiful pictures. She is teaching all of us about art and our culture. Mum and dad visit on the weekends when they can.
Right now I’m getting into kayaking. Being out on the water gives me a chance to think. My dream job is to be an Aboriginal actor. I want to be in the movies and on Home and Away and maybe one day go to Hollywood.