Sarah and Laura-Lee's story
Laura-Lee: I'm a Wiradjuri woman. I'm from the Wemba-Wemba and Wiradjuri people. People have been taking and taking from the Aboriginal community for generations, and a part of what I like to do within my practice is to give a little back. Sharing is how we form and develop relationships within our community, and it's such an important part, when we're working with families, that there's respect and there is sharing, because our clients are sharing so much of their lives with us. When I first met Sarah, one of the questions that she asked me, very straight up, was, "so how many kids have you got?" I said to her, "I have one." She rolled her eyes and laughed, and said, "Well, what the hell are you going to do to help me?" I said to her, "Look, Sarah, I'm not gonna pretend that I know what it's like to raise eight children, I can't imagine how hard that is, but what I can tell you is that I have a lot of experience, I have a lot of skills, and I'm here because I want to help keep your family together."
Sarah: Being in FACS care was very overwhelming. I felt no real love until the moment I had my first son. I was 15, and that was the best time in my life. Being a child in foster care,
I fell through the gaps. I was put through home after home. It was a very unstable time in my life, and after having my two children removed, it was devastating. I really thought that there was no way out of it, until I hit 18 and got the strength to fight and get my children back out of care.
Laura-Lee: Sarah had every reason not to work with us. We had let her down so terribly in the past. She's such an incredibly strong woman and loves her children so much that she just put that anger and that grief aside and smashed out every goal that we had and kept working to keep her kids safe.
Sarah: It's taken up until being 31 to find a decent FACS worker that had respect for myself and seeing that I was trying to do the best thing I could do for my babies, who had an understanding for Aboriginal people. The first thing that made me connect with Laura Lee was that she treated me as though I was a person. The day that FACS walked up on my doorstep, I only had two children with me after leaving a violent relationship after 15 years. My children were still living with their father at that point, until FACS intervened and took them off their father. Obviously I knew what my family needed and I was the best advocate. I think it's about FACS workers taking the time to actually get to know the family to see what the family's real needs are and what their strengths are. From that moment on, my house turned from two children to seven children. A few of my children have disabilities, so we were working through a rough time. The things that they were subjected to in their father's care was very bad. I'm still picking up the pieces from that, and I will still continue picking up the pieces from their removal and what they've gone through in their life.
Laura-Lee: The children, they've displayed some really significant behaviours. They were very violent towards one another, and Sarah is outnumbered a lot of the time and found it really hard to kind of manage all the individual behaviours. My job was to kind of come in and try and help Mum to get some good routines and structures in place and to settle the children, and needed to do that in a way that was going to be sustained after I left and in my experience, the way that we can do that with families is to empower our parents to be able do that. The children see the parents as the ones who are actually making those changes instead of this outside person coming in, so that when I leave, they see Mum as that person who has that power in that home to be able to make those changes. So during my work with Sarah, I would observe the kids to show such beautiful behaviours. Really a lot of kindness, they'd have good listening skills. It was just really difficult to have all the children do that at the same time because it was such a busy house.
Sarah: Laura Lee and I wanted to put some family rules into the house. I had no idea what to do. She suggested that we paint a mural. Every one of my children put their hand prints on the painting, being Aboriginal, respecting our culture, and the kids would've respected that, because it is their painting that they helped contribute to.
Laura-Lee: Once we finished up with the family, I then spent maybe eight weeks working on that piece, really reflecting on my culture, reflecting on the family, reflecting on the piece of work that we were doing and wanting to produce something of meaning and something that was beautiful for the family. When we finished the painting, we took it over to the home, and when we walked into the room, all the kids came out to see the painting, and they were pointing and trying to find their hands on the painting, and then Sarah had the kids read out the family values, and they each took a turn reading each of the value statements. Sarah had tears in her eyes and was just really thankful and couldn't believe that someone would do such a beautiful piece of work for her. It sits proudly in the lounge room. It's something that connects the family to each other and to our culture. The family have come such a long way.
Sarah: Every child that I had was a blessing. It was my choice to bring them into this world, and it's my choice to raise them as good people in society so they have a better chance at life. From my experience with FACS and removal, and the damage that I have seen to a lot of Aboriginal children in and out of foster care, the best place for an Aboriginal child is to be with their parents.
Laura-Lee: Sometimes at FACS, we refer to "our children", and I know it's meant well, but they're not our children. They belong to a family and to a community, and it is our responsibility as workers to ensure that those children can stay with their family and community safely. So the best case workers I know understand that we don't retain power. We must give that power back to our families so that they can then make the changes that they need to.