Maureen Denise's story

‘Some people just shouldn’t have kids. If you can’t look after ‘em, don’t have ‘em.’

When Maureen obtained her welfare file, ‘it said … my natural mother was a lesbian. My natural father … was pestering her and pestering her to have sex, whatever. Because she was a lesbian, she wasn’t interested. I think she got so fed up with that, she just did it anyway, and here I am’.

Maureen’s mother gave her to another woman to look after, but in the late 1960s, when she was two, she was made a ward of the state, and remained under the care of Melbourne Family Care until she was 19.

‘The lady that my natural mother had given me to, I thought was my natural mother till I was 11 … The woman she gave me to … was a big alcoholic. I’ll never forget one time, she drove me home to the Melbourne Family Care, drunk and I just remember [thinking], “Please God, let me live, please let me live” …’

Maureen obtained her file because ‘I didn’t know much about me at all … 35, backwards, I didn’t want to talk about it. I didn’t want to know about it … But as I’ve got older, I find it easier to talk about … I read that … when I was two … the lady I was with [was badly injured]. Hence, I [went] into Family Care’.

Maureen said, ‘I ran away from the family group home … because … thinking back on it, I don’t believe that [the cottage parents] knew how to bring up other people’s children and the father used to belt me … I’ll never forget, he hit me that hard … I went to primary school with a big bruise on my thigh and I ran away after that … Then they put me in [a reception centre] and I ran away again’.

After running away from the reception centre when she was 14, Maureen spent five months living on the streets. During this time, she was kidnapped and held captive for two days. ‘[I] was raped. There was three of them.’

When she was eventually picked up by the police for living on the streets, she was sent to a youth training centre, under a care and protection order. ‘I reported [the rape] to the staff at [the youth training centre], who then reported it to the police. [They] got me to look through some mug shots … I pointed out two of them. They took me for a ride around … and I picked out the truck … and they did nothing. Not one thing … And that pisses me off.’

Maureen was sent from the youth training centre to a government-run hostel for girls. ‘That’s another thing that pissed me off because I used to enjoy school, but I was told that I had to leave school, get a job and get my own place.’

Maureen was in her mid-teens and, because ‘you’re only allowed to stay a certain amount of time at these hostels back then, they said I’d outstayed my welcome, so I had to leave school, which I didn’t want to …’ When she was 18 Maureen completed a tertiary course and eventually obtained her current job, where she’s been for over 25 years.

She finds it difficult to believe that she should feel proud of her accomplishments. ‘Everyone says that … but I don’t feel proud of myself … Maybe I don’t know how to feel proud of myself. Everyone says it, and I just … “Why?”’

Maureen said, ‘I could have gone down that path of being a druggo or a prostitute or whatever … but I didn’t … [But] now I can’t have relationships. I have commitment issues. I think, “I came into this world alone. I think I’ll go out alone”. I don’t need the complication’.

When Maureen attended one of the Royal Commission’s public hearings, ‘they said people in my situation didn’t know how to parent their first child because you’ve never been shown love or affection, etc, etc, and I which I believe is correct’. Maureen has two children, and believes that her upbringing did not prepare her for parenthood.

Maureen has got through life because she is ‘pretty much determined, I guess. There’s no point sitting in a corner crying about something that you can’t fix. I think the way my life’s been is what’s made me a lot tougher and a lot harder … I felt different because I didn’t have parents and family and I hate Christmas … My life’s been hell pretty much … I block out a lot … I don’t remember a lot, at all …’

During her years in care, when Maureen’s welfare workers had meetings about her, she was never invited. She’s disliked social workers ever since.

‘I think, doing four years of school, studying a few books, is not going to make you a social worker. I think having workers that have been in the position where these kids are … can perhaps communicate a bit better ... And the more social workers go, “No, no, no”, the more they’re going to rebel. I know I did.’

Maureen said, ‘The government doesn’t know how to look after their children very well, do they?’ Maureen’s support person from Care Leavers Australia Network (CLAN) accompanied her to her private session and remarked, ‘She was on the streets for five months. Who, from the government and Melbourne Family Care, was looking out for her?’

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