With a strong work history in counselling, social work and mental health nursing, Susette was excited to get work in the early 2010s as a clinician in a New South Wales office of a well-respected non-government organisation (NGO) that supported young people and families.
‘This organisation looks great on paper. They’ve got fabulous policies and procedures, I loved it. When I walked in that door, I thought, “This is good!”’
One of Susette’s first assignments was to work with Jenna, a teenage girl who was displaying high-risk behaviours, including suicidal tendencies, self-harming and absconding from her foster family. Following the NGO’s procedures, Susette attempted to establish immediate and close contact with Jenna. However, Jenna’s foster mother, Mrs Odell, refused to let Susette near her.
‘I engaged with the carer. The carer put up a smoke screen … The carer would not let me have anything to do with the child.’
Susette visited the Odell home, where three other children were also fostered, and found the house in a state of chaos where the children were allowed to run riot.
‘What I was concerned about was that this young person had no discipline. She was allowed to go out at any time, she was allowed to use drugs and alcohol, the carer was even buying the drugs and alcohol or making them available to the young person. So they were my concerns.’
Susette met with her manager and expressed her concerns. Meanwhile, Mrs Odell complained to the NGO about Susette, claiming that she had acted inappropriately, which Susette maintains was not the case at all. In fact, Susette became concerned that something more serious was occurring at the home and Mrs Odell was trying to deflect attention away from it.
‘I knew something was not right. There’s meaning in all behaviour. This girl’s behaviour was not just because she was a bad kid, because she was a great kid.’
Instead of taking Susette’s professional concerns into consideration, the NGO management removed Jenna from Susette’s case load and did not investigate the matter further. ‘The carer’s point of view was taken, not mine.’
In the meantime, Jenna disclosed to her NGO caseworker that her foster father, Mr Odell, was sexually abusing her, and when she told Mrs Odell she was called a liar. Despite this revelation, Jenna’s caseworker took no action. It wasn’t until another girl under the Odells’ care went directly to the police that the matter was investigated, Jenna was interviewed and Mr Odell was charged.
‘The difficulty that I’ve had all along is that these things were going on', Susette said. 'I talked to my own management, my supervisor. Nobody wanted to know … I love my work and I do a good job. Not perfect but I do the best I can. If I had been able to do my job, I would have known what was going on.’
In spite of Susette being right about the Odells all along, within two years of starting as a clinician at the NGO she was fired.
‘It’s a very tight-knit group of people who do things a certain way, and if you don’t fit in, then you’re out … I didn’t fit in with how they did things. And I can’t, I can’t fit in with somebody wanting to sweep things under the carpet.’
During the time she worked for the NGO, Susette found them to be ‘unprofessional, just unsure of how to do things right. That lack of confidentiality, the lack of professionalism working with these young people just astounded me … When you speak up then you’re told less, you’re involved less’.
Susette has maintained a good relationship with Jenna, and worked with her and her mother to create a safe and happy home environment. However, since leaving the NGO she has been unable to find suitable employment: ‘My reputation is mud.’ She engaged a lawyer to fight an unfair dismissal claim, but after paying more than $50,000 in legal fees, she agreed to a settlement of 10 weeks salary ‘which was not what I was hoping to achieve, but I just could not continue the battle’.
‘They’re not doing what they’re saying they’re doing ... All they want to do is say, “Look, you’re causing too much trouble, go away and we don’t like you by the way”.
'What I’d like to say is that, is there any way that an outcome can be achieved where people, workers, can just be able to say to management, “This isn’t going well” and not to be threatened? Not to be losing their jobs, not to be feeling the consequences and repercussions of speaking up … But there was no avenue to do that.’