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Kayla's story

Kayla’s family migrated to Queensland when she was a young child in the early 1980s. Her stepfather was violent towards the children and controlling of their mother, who became entirely dependent on him after being isolated from her family and homeland. ‘My mum was very dependent … She didn’t have any friends, didn’t have any money.’

When her stepfather began directing his violence specifically towards her, Kayla started acting out. With the family experiencing conflict, Kayla was put into care by her mother while the other children remained in the family home. ‘There was a lot of physical abuse … Then she put me in care ‘cause I think I was a bit naughty.’

Kayla was 11 years old when she was initially placed with different foster families for approximately one month at a time, an experience she described as ‘okay’. At 12 years of age she officially became a ward of the state and was sent to an Anglican-run residential group home where priests would molest her under the guise of conducting ‘reflex tests’. At this home Kayla was also subjected to sexual abuse by other residents and by an older staff member who would restrain her by lying on top of her.

‘I think it was allowed back then. They were allowed to hit us and they were allowed to do other things. And they were allowed to restrain us and lay on us … I wasn’t really a bad kid, I really wasn’t. And then I’d tell him, “Get off me”, and he wouldn’t get off … It happened quite a lot.’

Kayla was aware that what was happening to her wasn’t right, and her mother, who visited weekly, observed a distinct change in her demeanour. ‘My mum did notice, she noticed a big change in me.’ Because of an earlier incident with her sister that Kayla was unfairly blamed for, Kayla didn’t feel she could disclose the abuse to her mother. ‘I didn’t feel safe.’

After six months Kayla was moved from the group home and returned to foster care. ‘When I finally got out of there I was already wrecked.’ Kayla was encouraged to participate in counselling but was reluctant to talk. ‘They did try and make me go to counselling but I just wouldn’t talk. I was one of them sort of kids that didn’t. I didn’t want to talk to people.’ She was placed in a school for children who didn’t fit into mainstream education, however the focus was mostly on behaviour and she did not complete her schooling beyond Year 9.

After leaving the group home, Kayla’s next foster care placement was with a woman who had recently been released from a psychiatric institution. ‘There was a lot of violence there. She used to beat me up.’ In addition to physical abuse, her foster mother would lock her in her room for long periods, which gave Kayla incentive to run away. ‘My counsellor had to come and save me. Like one day he’s just come in and said, “Do you wanna come with me?” and I said “Yeah”. ‘Cause I was running away a lot ‘cause I didn’t wanna be locked in the room.’

After being removed from her foster mother, Kayla recalled feeling quite safe, but she was provided with little support and before long ended up on the streets. ‘I was about 13 I think when I was on the streets … I went to youth shelters. And then sometimes I’d have to sleep outside.’ Her mother ‘tried to take me in a couple of times but it just didn’t work’.

Eventually Kayla was admitted into a Youth Service unit. ‘It was just a place for older junkies to just move from house to house and just use the kids until they’d get kicked out. And that’s what happened … I met some bad people’, she said.

She met an older lady who allowed her to stay in her house, where again she felt safe and was not abused. However the woman was a drug dealer who introduced Kayla to heroin. As a result, Kayla became reliant on heroin from the age of 14 and has struggled with addiction ever since.

As an adult Kayla has spent time in jail, and told the Commissioner, ‘I used to come into jail ‘cause I thought it was safe’. She developed a phobia of showering, engaged in self-harming behaviours and has been hospitalised following one of several attempts to take her own life.

At 19 she had her first child and has found her children have made her stronger and more resilient. ‘Tried to kill myself … but once I had my kid, my first kid, that was it … I wouldn’t do that anymore.’

Her children have spent time in foster care themselves but after telling Kayla they were being abused she tried to remove them, resulting in a charge of kidnapping. With support from her legal representative, Kayla fought hard to regain care of her children, two of whom now live with her mother.

As a child, Kayla believed that ‘everyone sort of really didn’t care’. As an adult she still experiences periods of depression and does not feel that counselling would help, although she has received some support from the organisation Sisters Inside. She believes that all foster parents should be subject to thorough checks, and adults should recognise the warning signs of children who have experienced abuse, particularly in out-of-home care.

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