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Taylah's story

‘You need people like me to say “This is where you’ve gone wrong”. You can’t change things if you don’t know what’s happened.’

Taylah’s mother grew up in foster care in regional New South Wales. Taylah was born in the late 1980s and was taught to treat her mother’s foster carers as grandparents. From a very young age, whenever her mother’s mental health deteriorated, Taylah was looked after by the foster carers.

‘For a long time I thought that they were my grandparents. I used to go for weekend visits and it started like that. I wasn’t even in DOCS [Department of Community Services] care.’

The foster carers looked after a large number of children, as many as 12 on occasion, and were often called upon to take in children in emergency situations. They also looked after children who had been through the juvenile justice system, particularly boys, as well as their own biological children and grandchildren.

Taylah was sexually abused by several of the residents.

‘The first time I remember I was about maybe three or four. I was on a respite weekend … there was a boy … who used to get me out the back into the shed and just always like “Let’s play mummies and daddies” and things like that. And this one day, I just remember he had me in the shed and there was no one … I was really, really scared and I ran inside to say that I had been touched and that I’d been raped by this boy.

‘And the foster mum told me “Do not lie. Don’t make up lies”. I was bleeding so bad from my bum, she put me in the bath and said “You don’t tell anyone about this” … I was still bleeding for weeks and weeks.’

Taylah was taken to a doctor for treatment and was coached before she went as to what story to tell the doctor.

‘They told me so many stories to tell, like, “Say that it’s your mum’s boyfriend. You sat on a rock. It didn’t happen here”, kind of thing. I have tried to find … who I saw, I don’t know because I was so little. I’ve tried to find those records of what was said … I don’t know what I said to the doctor.’

When Taylah was 12 years old her mother became mentally unwell and Taylah was removed to the foster carers’ custody for her own wellbeing. Taylah believes that this change in her circumstance wasn’t initiated by DOCS but was at the suggestion of the foster parents. She was placed in kinship care with the foster carers.

Taylah knows of regular sexual assaults perpetrated on the girls and younger boys by older boys in the home. The foster family lived in a large many-roomed house which provided opportunity for the older boys to abuse the younger, smaller children.

Taylah reported this to the foster carers at the time and some sleeping arrangements were changed but she and her sister, who was now also permanently residing with the foster carers, were still sleeping close to the main perpetrator of the abuse.

‘He used to come into our rooms every night. There was a pool table area … It was just such a big house that it wasn’t monitored. There was a spa room that he used to like, say “Come into the spa room”. There was a downstairs kitchen – it was just not monitored at all and they had too many kids … Two parents looking after 12 or more kids at a time.’

The foster carers knew that the abuse continued and did little to prevent it or report it themselves. They had a close relationship with local department workers and would always know about DOCS visits beforehand. They threatened the children so they would remain quiet about the ongoing abuse in the home.

‘They would say “You will have nowhere to live if you say that this is happening. Who will love you? We’ve done so much for you” … I was so fearful to speak out … It was always so rehearsed before we got to [the DOCS workers].’

Taylah was moved from the home when she was 15 and spent the next three years in a number of other difficult and challenging foster homes. One foster mother was mentally unwell. Another foster father smoked marijuana excessively and was violent. Her last foster mother was closely connected to her first foster parents, and made Taylah feel continually awkward and insecure.

‘To be back in another situation where you don’t feel like it’s your home … it was just wrong.’

She finished school, turned 18 years of age and moved interstate on her own. She found a good job and began to form her own adult life.

Recently, after a demanding work environment triggered flashbacks and anxiety, Taylah was diagnosed with post-traumatic stress disorder, bulimia, major depressive disorder and obsessive compulsive disorder.

‘I don’t know what to do. At the moment I just feel like every time I try, my past just catches up to me, so much so everything that I thought I’d ever do with my life is falling apart … All these goals and aspirations and then “Bam” … I don’t know any more what I’m doing.’

Taylah is hoping to claim for compensation from DOCS to ensure ongoing psychological support.

‘I don’t have any family and I don’t have anyone to turn to, so psychological support is one thing that I’ll need … I feel like I’ll need it for the rest of my life. Hopefully I won’t. But I want to ensure that that will be there.’

Taylah has had great difficulty in accessing her complete files through the department and believes that the way foster carers are vetted needs to change. She would like potential foster carers to undergo drug and alcohol checks as well as criminal checks, and that their children be vetted for offences and behaviour too.

She would also like to see low ratios between children and carers and for potential carers to be financially stable without requiring the money that is paid by the government to parents for fostering children.

‘A lot of these families … they foster for money. They’ve never had a job in their life and that to them is an income.’

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