Georgie wants the whole system to change. She wants better support for teenage mums who are wards of the state. She would like a letter of apology from the welfare department – not just to her but to her son who was taken away from her. And she just wants DOCS (Department of Community Services) to ‘fuck off and leave me alone to live my life’.
She doesn’t know why, but Georgie was made a state ward in New South Wales in the late 1990s when she was about 11 years old. She and her siblings were split up, one of her siblings also becoming a ward of the state.
Georgie went through a number of short term placements that didn’t work out for a variety of reasons – one placement was very violent, another negligent. Georgie was then assigned a new caseworker who put Georgie in a placement with a carer named Lisa who lived out of the area. It was then a long distance phone call if Georgie needed to contact her caseworker. This was Georgie’s longest placement, about 12 months.
‘It was like I was dumped there and that was it … I went there under the impression that I was going into a single parent family because that’s what I came from. And once DOCS left, I was introduced to Jamie.’
Jamie’s was Lisa’s boyfriend, who lived in the home, and their relationship was ‘toxic’. He often went away for days at a time and came back drunk.
One day Jamie went into 13 year old Georgie’s bedroom and sat down on her bed. ‘He started touching me and told me that he cared about me and “It’s okay” … I think Lisa came into the room and she told him to get out.’
Georgie went to a local shop and asked the woman there to call the police but she didn’t, so she went to the police station herself and reported the abuse.
Her recollection is that the one officer on duty at the time didn’t really take her seriously. Georgie doesn’t think she made a statement. No one was charged or interviewed. DOCS was called and hours later Georgie was taken to a refuge.
While at the refuge Georgie was physically attacked in front of a staff member by a male state ward. There was no follow up from staff after the attack. She also came into contact with a man who was selling marijuana to all the kids there. Georgie was never into the drug but later, at the age of 15 when she was staying at her mother’s, she came into contact with this man again and ended up having sex with him.
Georgie then became pregnant while still a ward of the state. Even though DOCS knew who the man was, there was no follow up. She was never interviewed by police.
‘When I had my son I was in foster care. When I went into labour I was living at one address. When I came out of hospital a week later I was then living at another address. They moved me while I was in hospital. They never helped me at all when I came home from hospital. My foster carers had gone [away] for two weeks so I was left there by myself, and only with a carer … of an evening … 15 with a newborn baby.’
No one showed Georgie how to care for her baby. She enrolled herself into a program for teen mums but it was difficult to get to by public transport and her foster carers wouldn’t drop her there and she couldn’t continue attending. Eventually DOCS took her child away and put him into foster care.
Over the years, Georgie’s education suffered. She was often suspended from school. No one ever asked her if she was okay. Looking back, she believes counselling would have helped. She also would have benefited from an advocate, someone who really acted on her behalf.
After Georgie turned 18 and was no longer a ward of the state, DOCS put her in touch with Life Without Barriers. Through this organisation she was given rent assistance for 14 months. However, after that time she had to leave her flat as she couldn’t afford full rent. She now lives in a house purchased for her by extended family.
Georgie started a new family and married. Even now, years later, Georgie is still being monitored by DOCS. She points out she never committed a crime. ‘Why is this still haunting my life? Every time I have a child I have to explain to DOCS why they shouldn’t take the child from me.’ An argument with her now ex-husband came to their attention recently. She lives in fear that her child might be taken away by DOCS while at school one day, never to return home.
Contact with her first child has broken down because a ‘happy’ environment for all her children, in which to make these contact visits, could not be arrived at.
Georgie is taking steps to bring her own siblings into closer contact. She noted that, at the time she was a ward of the state, the logo for DOCS was ‘Bringing families together’. ‘What a joke.’