"I'd been through so many placements and so if anyone came to the door, I would go hide in my room." – Brendan, 15.
Airdate: 
Tuesday, March 4, 2014 - 20:30
Channel: 
SBS One

Brothers Brendan, 15, and Shannon, 13, were born to a drug-addicted mother. They never felt safe living with foster carers and would hide whenever a stranger came to the door, worried they would be taken away again. Brendan says his fear subsided when he was adopted and had a permanent home.

At age 12, Khaled pushed for his own adoption, even though he still has a good relationship with his biological mum.

Over the past few decades, local adoptions have substantially declined.

But the NSW Minister for Family and Community Services Pru Goward is pushing for more kids in care to be adopted – a move that could transform the adoption landscape across the country.

She tells Insight that parents whose kids have been removed should be given a limited timeframe 'to turn their life around", and that adoption should be prioritised above foster care.

Some parents like 'Katelin" think this process is unrealistic and unfair to biological parents. Katelin was drug-addicted when her child was removed. It took her three years to get clean and win her child back.

This week, Insight hears directly from children who have been in care, biological mothers, and adoptive parents about the challenges they have faced.

We ask: should it be easier to adopt Australian children in care? And how will it affect the child in the long term?

Presenter: Jenny Brockie 
Producer: Elise Potaka 
Associate Producer: Kyle Taylor 
Associate Producer: Alix Piatek 

Join the discussion by using the #insightsbs hashtag on Twitter, posting on our Facebook page, or commenting on our Your Say page.

Transcript

JENNY BROCKIE: Welcome everybody, good to have you all here. Brendan, you were put into foster care when you were about twenty months old, is that right?

BRENDAN HALL: Ah yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah. Tell us what you understand about why you went into care?

BRENDAN HALL: Oh well, I went into care because I wasn't being treated right and my parents were taking drugs and people were being violent to each other and just taking drugs all the time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah. Julie, what were you told about the Brendan's background when he came to you at two and a half?

JULIE HALL: We got told that he was abused and he was neglected severely. He was, there was a lot of domestic violence, he was a very scared little boy. It took us about nine months before we could get him to come near us or cuddle him so he was just, he didn't know anything and he couldn't communicate because he had a problem with his mouth and no one picked it up, he had a sub mucous cleft and he was tongue tied so he couldn't communicate and he went through a lot of homes because of that. So, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So how many homes did he go through before he came to you?

JULIE HALL: Oh, quite a few, we got told probably about eight. So, but he come from DOCS over to Barnardo's so, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So Shannon, you came along as well with your brother?

SHANNON HALL: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: You weren't separated from your brother. Did you get both of them at the same time?

JULIE HALL: They didn't know each other in the beginning. Barnardo's brought them together to meet each over.

JENNY BROCKIE: So they'd been separated?

JULIE HALL: Yes they had.

JENNY BROCKIE: You've been adopted since, you're adopted now, but how did both feel when you were in foster care as foster kids?

BRENDAN HALL: Before I were adopted I was like scared of who would come to the door. Like if anyone was to come to the door I'd think it was someone trying to take us away because I'd been through so many placements and so if anyone came to the door, I would go hide in my room or hide somewhere where someone couldn't find me, and I just didn't really feel safe.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how old were we you when you were doing that?

BRENDAN HALL: Pretty much till I got adopted which was eight years old.

JENNY BROCKIE: What about you Shannon?

SHANNON HALL: Always that feeling that he had too. That somebody could take us away and, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Nick, you were twenty, you're twenty now, you were first taken into care when you were fourteen months old. Tell me how many foster placements you had?

NICK DAVIES: I had roughly 26 placements. I was classified as a high needs child so I had severe behavioural problems. I would throw chairs at teachers, throw tables at teachers, kick windows, kick other people, swear. I was what I call a very naughty little boy. Now I'm just a naughty big boy.

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you know very much about why you were taken into care, about what the circumstances were when you were fourteen months old?

NICK DAVIES: Yeah, the reason I was first put into care was because my mother had, from what I've been told, had an issue with alcohol abuse. I was then placed back into my mother's care probably about six months after I was taken into care first and then about six months later I was put back in foster care until I was 18.

JENNY BROCKIE: What was the longest period you spent in any one family?

NICK DAVIES: The longest period I spent with one family would have been with my cousin who I stayed with from the age of ten up until my 18th birthday.

JENNY BROCKIE: And do you think the reason that you were moved around so much was because of your behavioural problems?

NICK DAVIES: Yeah. I've been told that the reason I was moved around so much was because the carers couldn't handle my behaviours. Either physically able to handle me or emotionally be able to handle me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Was adoption ever an option for you?

NICK DAVIES: Um, I don't know if adoption was ever spoken about with my circumstance. In Queensland adoption isn't a very big thing with child, children in care, it's only just being thought of now. So we're trying, those that have been through the care system are helping create foundations to try and help the government organise and make rules about when adoption can be put into place with children in care.

JENNY BROCKIE: What was it like for you being moved around that much?

NICK DAVIES: Um, it's difficult. There was periods of times where I just wouldn't, I just wouldn't unpack my bags because it was the thought I'll just be moved in another couple of days I may as well just keep my stuff packed. Um, I used to stash food under my bed because I was afraid I wouldn't get fed and stuff like that. I was afraid that I wouldn't get things so I'd hide things and steal things as a young kid.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you ever wish you'd been adopted?

NICK DAVIES: Um, I never really thought about adoption. Obviously now as an adult I think about I wonder what it would have been like if I had been adopted. I wonder what my circumstances would be like, whether I would have had a better education, my social skills would have been better, whether I'd be in society a better person. But up until basically adulthood I never really thought about adoption.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tori, you went into care shortly after you were born. Tell us what you know about the circumstances of that?

TORI PEDEN: Well, my mum had like problems with drugs and was addicted to them and she couldn't take care of me. So she gave me up for adoption.

JENNY BROCKIE: How was it established that you needed to go into care?

TORI PEDEN: Um, I'm not actually entirely sure, I just know that the circumstances weren't great and so my sister and I both got put up for adoption.

JENNY BROCKIE: Were you put up for care together or were you separated?

TORI PEDEN: Well, she came to live with me but she was only in foster care with me whilst I was in foster care as well. But I got officially adopted and she got taken back to her birth dad.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and how old were you when you were officially adopted?

TORI PEDEN: Sixteen months yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you don't really remember very much at all of those early years?

TORI PEDEN: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how long has it taken you to kind of work out and understand your story, do you think?

TORI PEDEN: Well, for as long as I can remember I've kind of known about it and I think my parents told me as soon as I could comprehend it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ross, what did you know about Tori's background when you got her?

ROSS PEDEN: We knew the full situation of her background, there were some medical issues with her mother, she went straight from hospital to a temporary foster care situation. She had issues with her mother's addiction when she was born but that was cleared up after a couple of days and it was obviously a concern for us but the doctors, the paediatrician said it was not a major issue and it hasn't been.

JENNY BROCKIE: How long was it before you were able to formally adopt her?

ROSS PEDEN: About eighteen months. It would have been faster but they were trying to find out about whether her natural father was around or not.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pru, you want to make it easier and quicker to adopt kids from care in New South Wales. Why?

PRU GOWARD, NSW MINISTER FOR FAMILY AND COMMUNITY SERVICES: Well, yes, but we really want to give disadvantaged children a permanent and stable childhood so the reforms actually start with what can we do to ensure that we give birth parents every opportunity to change the way they parent to ensure that child is safe at home. And when we've invested enough and we feel that there is no prospect of the child being safe or happy, then we recognise that what that child really needs is another place where they can be permanent so they don't have twenty placements and don't trust, don't grow up knowing how to trust.

JENNY BROCKIE: We're talking about children who've been permanently removed by the Children’s Court?

PRU GOWARD: Oh, yes, they're already, that decision has already been made that it is not safe for them to live at home. But we do want to emphasise that where you can do better with birth parents to help them change, drug and alcohol addiction, so common, violence so common, and we need to invest more in working with families to change those problems. I mean the reports I read every day are not about unpleasant things that happen, they are about terrible things that happen.

You know, children, toddlers, crawling across floors with doing faeces and needles in the way, no food, hiding food, stealing food and hoarding it in their bedrooms. Violence, no semblance of care, that's what we're talking about here, let's name it.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that right Frank Ainsworth? I mean we are talking here - the Minister is talking about children who've been removed for very serious reasons?

FRANK AINSWORTH, FAMILY INCLUSION NETWORK NSW: What Pru has said is undoubtedly true, that there are some children who find themselves in the kind of horrendous situations, however, there are some cases which are not as extreme as that and that some children are removed unnecessarily because the level of skilled work that needs to be done with those parents in order to help them change their parenting practices is not available.

JENNY BROCKIE: Minister, is that right?

PRU GOWARD: I couldn't disagree with Frank and that's why we are investing so much more in change within the way we work with families, and guardianship and adoption have to be preferred to foster care. Foster care, foster carers are amazing people but they don't, they don't have to have the child whether it behaves or misbehaves. Sometimes the department will take a child away from a foster carer and foster carers don't like it. But just"¦.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you want to shift, the want to shift the emphasis?

PRU GOWARD: More permanency.

JENNY BROCKIE: You want more emphasis on adoption and less emphasis on foster care?

PRU GOWARD: So that we don't have ten, twenty placements for a child. How can a child, I mean I think you're extraordinary that you have had that many placements. What must it be like wondering how am I going to relate to the next family? Where is my next lot of friends? But look, let's face it, last year there were 78 adoptions in New South Wales, 21 of those were children over the age of twelve who sought to be adopted themselves.

JENNY BROCKIE: How many would you like to see, adoptions in New South Wales?

PRU GOWARD: Well I mean the dream would be hundreds. I would like to think of the children that we do remove, and we've removed them until their 18 remember but there is no going back, that at that point we say is it guardianship or kinship care, or is it adoption? That's where this child really will flourish.

JENNY BROCKIE: Esther Lawson, you're a barrister, you often represent Family and Community Services in adoption cases in New South Wales. What do you think of the Minister's proposal?

ESTHER LAWSON, BARRISTER: Look, it's fair to say that there are very successful outcomes for children who are adopted, but one of the key elements to that, in my mind, is a passage of time. So that a child gets to know the intended adoptive family and vice versa. If we rush too prematurely to adoption we might find that those outcomes aren't as successful.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, I'll ask the Minister about this. You're putting a time limit on the amount of time that parents have to turn their lives around - birth parents have to turn their lives around?

PRU GOWARD: Because we have found families where the children yo yo in and out of care. They go back to mum for six months. Mum hasn't been able to manage her heroin addiction or there is another violent partner, a new partner, or there is another man who sexually assaults the little girl again. I've met little girls who've been sexually assaulted four or five times by four or five men by the time they're five because we kept letting mum trust her instincts, do better next time. Children can't wait. They've only got one childhood.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what time limit are you putting on?

PRU GOWARD: Under three it's six months.

JENNY BROCKIE: So six months for the parent to"¦.

PRU GOWARD: Yes, but you remember by then there have been several reports to the department. It's no, it's very rare that you'd have one report, six months intensive care and then it goes. So you know, there is a process here and for children under five it's a year.

JENNY BROCKIE: Katelin, you're looking very upset. Tell us why?

KATELIN: I can't talk.

JENNY BROCKIE: Well you reacted very strongly to what the Minister was saying. Why did you react so strongly?

KATELIN: Well, um, six months seems very strong about their six months is all, you know, it can take to get your life back together and um while your child's in care and you know, it's not really that simple.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now one of your children was removed from your care?

KATELIN: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: When she was nine months old?

KATELIN: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

KATELIN: I was a drug addict and I was having, I was in domestic violence and it was really bad.

JENNY BROCKIE: And the other two children were living with their fathers, is that right?

KATELIN: Yes, that's right, yeah, and so, yeah, it wasn't ideal but there were also no supports there to help. So it took a lot longer and I actually had to find the supports myself.

FRANK AINSWORTH: But that's why the six months timeline isn't practical. Because if you're a drug addicted parent and you need to go into rehabilitation, you have to wait a period of time before you can get into a program. I'm already working with a client where the child has been in care for six months; the six month timeline has been met and the lady in question, who is only 18, hasn't been able to get into the relevant program because there are no spaces. So the timeline of six months and twelve months really have to be cross-examined.

JENNY BROCKIE: How do you deal with that?

PRU GOWARD: Absolutely clear about that, I understand that and that's why part of these reforms is millions of dollars more in drug and a alcohol programs because it is setting somebody up for failure to say you've got six months and then not being able to provide them with any supports, so there'll be more.

JENNY BROCKIE: Katelin, can you just talk a little bit more about your story? I mean tell me what happened, your child was taken away at nine months?

KATELIN: Right.

JENNY BROCKIE: So what happened?

KATELIN: Well first you get a lot worse before you get any better. Especially when you don't have something tangible to keep you, to keep you going as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: When did you get her back?

KATELIN: Four years ago.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, so how long was that that she was in care?

KATELIN: She was away for a bit more, about three years, roughly on three years.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what did you have to prove to get her back?

KATELIN: Oh, there was, I think months and months, I think maybe twelve months of urine analysis. I did on my own, I went to many psychology therapist sessions which the department wouldn't, didn't want to pay for either but I just went off my own volition. I do kind of see it as a blessing that it helped me to heal more wholly, to get my child back.

JENNY BROCKIE: And your other children? Are they living with you now?

KATELIN: Yes, yes. Oh one lives with her father because she wants to. But, um, she's very happy and doing very well there, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pru Goward, doesn't this illustrate the difficulty of putting a timeframe on this? That you know, theoretically, Katelin could have had her child adopted in this circumstance?

PRU GOWARD: That's right, and the whole point about this is the heavy investment in working with Kate. So that, I mean with your amazing determination, Kate, I suspect with services you would have started to respond in those six months and the department would then have dealt that they didn't need to remove.

ESTHER LAWSON: In fairness though I should jump in, if I could, the legislation actually does provide.

PRU GOWARD: Requires it.

ESTHER LAWSON: For - there is a six months timeframe but then there is a rider which allows in appropriate cases, for that to be extended. So it may well have, in fairness, captured Kate's circumstances if she was showing that progress, then the Court could actually look at that and say you're doing really well, we're going to extend the timeframe.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, and twelve months for older children?

PRU GOWARD: Under fives.

NICK DAVIES: My question is, is adoption for children and young people going to be a last resort for those that can't be reunified, or there's no signs of possibility of reunification, is it then going to be looked at?

PRU GOWARD: The last resort is foster care.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think of the idea of foster carers as a last resort?

NICK DAVIES: I went through foster care basically my whole life. I know a lot of foster carers, really good foster carers. I know a lot of kids that have gone through foster care that are better for it. If you place kids in care with the right foster carers, you will have the same effect as adoption, end of story, you will have the same.

PRU GOWARD: But the process of choosing the adoptive parents is going to be same as for choosing foster parents. And I think we have to admit that foster care, despite the amazing efforts that foster carers make, can often produce, because of the instability, I mean a third of girls who leave foster care are pregnant by the time they're 18. The result, the numbers of children who leave foster care and go into juvenile detention are very worrying. The number of children who leave foster care without being able to properly read or write or reach year 12, their results are way, way behind the rest of the community. That's what we're trying to fix.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight we're talking about whether more kids in care should be adopted. Kera and Wayne, you're preparing to adopt at the moment, but you're not keen on fostering. Why?

WAYNE BRUTON: Just some of the stories we've heard already tonight, the possibility of the knock on the door to say we've found somewhere else for this child to live, the possible instability. Sort of pretty tough to become attached to someone and then have them possibly be removed for whatever reason or, yeah, it's not"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: So what sort of process are you going through at the moment?

KERA BRUTON: Well we're going to go through the Barnardo's Foster to Adopt Program. At the moment we have a son, he's 20 months old so he needs to be two before we can continue on further. So come May we will be in full swing.

JENNY BROCKIE: This is your own biological child?

KERA BRUTON: Yeah. Yeah, so once he turns two in May we'll be full swing and moving forward with all the application and the approval process.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now you called it Foster to Adopt and you said you didn't want to foster. I just want you to clarify that for people who might be a bit confused.

KERA BRUTON: Yeah, so the program through Barnardo's to adopt, there is a period in the beginning where you do foster the child because obviously, you know, all the right checks and everything need to go in phase.

WAYNE BRUTON: The actual adoption process takes, you know, up to six months or thereabouts. So it's, I guess, a way of bringing some stability in straight away and then over, while that, those processes take place then the child's already there and starting to become acquainted.

JENNY BROCKIE: And why do you want to adopt?

KERA BRUTON: Um, well we want, we want another member of our family. It's exciting to know that you can have, you can offer a child that loving stable home instead of them being in, you know, twelve, twenty, however many foster homes until they're 18 and they're no longer a ward of the state. It's really exciting to have, to be able to give that, that loving, nurturing environment to a child and have that child be part of our family.

JENNY BROCKIE: Just wait a sec. Yeah?

ELYSE HAINES: We started looking at it and we weren't going through Barnardo's, we were just going through the New South Wales government process, and it just seemed like it was going to take so long for us and it was sold so very negatively to us in that we went to the two day sessions and learnt all about it and we actually just thought it would be so emotionally draining. We were told that all this open adoption and co-parenting and we don't have children of our own and it was so overwhelming the way that it was sold to us. Are you sure you can do it? We know we can do it, we know, we're professionals, we are mature, we've got nieces and nephews and we've been around - his family fostered children all through his life so they scared us into thinking it's not worth it.

PRU GOWARD: But look, I agree. It has to change, but having said that, they're also being honest.

ELYSE HAINES: Very realistic, absolutely.

PRU GOWARD: They have to be honest but I do think there's historically there's been a tendency to make adoption unattractive.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, I'd like Julie's view on this?

JULIE HALL: Don't be scared because it's most rewarding, and it's - open adoption, when you actually go for a visitation, um, you're there, it's for two hours, you bring the children home and I love my guys to death. And we have another adopted little boy and he's just turned five and all together in our family there's sixteen of us. So, and it's, it's so very rewarding.

ELYSE HAINES: I just want a more positive spin on it. Like tell us the realistic side of it"¦ tell us the good stuff, you know.

JULIE HALL: It's hard work, it's really hard.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ross, you went to the department as, you adopted through Barnardo's but you went to the department and rejected the department?

ROSS PEDEN: Same story. It was like, you know, you'll be geriatric before you get a child and the child's going to be so traumatised whatever, whereas"¦.

ELYSE HAINES: They'll know your address, they'll come to your house.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you're story's not 18 years old?

ELYSE HAINES: No, two.

JENNY BROCKIE: Two years old, so what are you doing?

ELYSE HAINES: Well actually we're not, we've put that on hold. We're actually looking more, I'm an American citizen, we're looking at American adoption as well.

JENNY BROCKIE: Because it's too hard here?

ELYSE HAINES: It's too hard.

ROSS PEDEN: Don't be afraid, I think open adoption is fantastic, it's a lot less traumatic. I've got a friend that was adopted, he found out when he was 28, horrendous trauma.

DIANNE STARKEY, CLINICAL PSYCHOLOGIST: But it's not compulsory under open adoption for the natural parents to have your address. I mean some natural parents are dangerous and they won't be allowed to have your address. So it's more, as Ross said, that you if start to build up a relationship with the natural parents, sometimes you might have phone contact, like an extended family and like an aunt that they see once a month or once every couple of months. It's not like they're intruding on your life every day.

JENNY BROCKIE: I'd like to talk to a biological parent who's had children taken away now. Fiona, you've had ten children who've all been removed from your care?

FIONA: Yes I have.

JENNY BROCKIE: Ten of them?

FIONA: Ten of them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Two of them have been adopted?

FIONA: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: What do you think about the idea of making it easier for foster carers to adopt or just to adopt in general?

FIONA: I think that it shouldn't be made easier, it should be made harder or foster carers should not be allowed to adopt children.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why?

FIONA: The foster care destroys the family relationships and when it eventuates to adoption it also destroys any chance that the biological parents have to better themselves, to be ready or prepared to take care of their own children again.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why do you think all ten of your children were removed from your care?

FIONA: I was incorrectly diagnosed with a mental health that was later discovered only three and a half years ago, I was incorrectly diagnosed with a borderline personality disorder.

JENNY BROCKIE: But people, but no one has ten children taken away because of a false diagnosis. I mean there are reasons why children are taken away from biological parents and there are certainly reasons why ten children would be taken away. What sort of environment do you think you provided for those children?

FIONA: I was also in a very emotionally abusive relationship with my ex-husband and I also, he didn't want some of the children.

JENNY BROCKIE: But what sort of environment do you think that was like for your kids?

FIONA: It would have been horrific for them, yes, I do agree to that. Especially seeing their father abuse their mother and then their father also abuse them while in our care too.

JENNY BROCKIE: But you were convicted of assaulting your child as well?

FIONA: Yes, that's correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: Your five months old child, yeah?

FIONA: Yes, she was actually dropped on the bathroom floor.

JENNY BROCKIE: And had a fractured skull?

FIONA: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: So given all of that, I mean I've seen the Court records in this case, and you were described as a dangerous mother in the Court. What I'm interested in is, given all of that, why you're so opposed to the idea of the children being adopted? I think all of those children, I think, have spent something like between fifteen and eighteen years of their first eighteen years away from you so I'm just wondering why you don't want to agree to the idea of adoption of children in those circumstances?

FIONA: In some way I would hope that I could still either get more contact visits or more access to my children, they were supposed to give me visitation rights and it was supposed to be an open adoption and during that time the foster carers, then adoptive patients, took away all visitation rights whatsoever. So even if they do, as they say, and make it so that it's open adoption, the adopters can cancel out our visits and the openness of the adoption plan at any given time if they don't like the way the child comes back.

JENNY BROCKIE: You describe though the circumstances that some of those children were in as horrific?

FIONA: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you want to have those children full time, all ten of them?

FIONA: Yes I did.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, Nick, you were listening closely to that story. Do you have a reaction?

NICK DAVIES: Um, it worries me that the department would be able to stop contact with the parents and the biological children just because the carers don't like the way the kids come home. I personally myself stopped my access visits with my mum because I didn't want to put myself through it any more. I can understand where the foster carers would come into it and say we don't like the way that the child's coming but personally I don't believe it should be up to the foster carers, it should be up to the young people.

JENNY BROCKIE: What if the child though is wanting to return to a clearly abusive environment?

ESTHER LAWSON: It happens frequently, it happens frequently and that's a huge problem with adolescents who vote with their feet. It's a vexed issue and I doubt anyone has a simple answer to that. And it's something that obviously that child, usually an adolescent, needs a lot of support, a lot of understanding, very good casework from the department. But there's no simple solution to that and I have to say it's a frequent occurrence.

JENNY BROCKIE: Kera, how you would feel about adopting a child where the parent hasn't consented, where the parent hasn't been willing, the biological parent hasn't been willing to give up the child?

KERA BRUTON: To be completely honest I don't think that I'd be willing to take that on. Especially if there is the chance there of, you know, a mother rehabilitating and being able to provide the loving nurturing home that the child deserves.

JENNY BROCKIE: Pru, did you want to say something?

PRU GOWARD: It's just that I think, when a child is adopted and the adoption arrangements include contact with the parents - the birth parents - we expect that that will be honoured. And if a relinquishing parent feels that that hasn't happened, they should always feel that they can come to the department and complain. But I have to say, if the adoptive parent reports that the contact visits are always distressing - the birth parents are drunk or abusive or distress the child - then we've got to put the child first, in the interests of the child and if the child is frightened and distressed by contact visits, then that's got to be managed.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: What are those visits like for you, as a kid, with your biological parents? What were they like for you to start with, Tori?

 

TORI PEDEN: It was like, "Oh, you're another person I can talk to. Cool." Then I didn't talk to her for, like, ages because she kind of went back on drugs and we didn't communicate, and that didn't really bother me. But it's a bit hard when she says stuff like, "Oh, I'm so glad that you've grown up all happy. That's all I've ever wanted for you. I love you." Stuff like that - that's a bit hard to hear because you're like, "Oh. Uh, I don't know what to say back, but thank you?" So, yeah.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Brendan, what about you? Shannon, I just want to hear from the kids first, what's it like, what's that been like for you?

SHANNON HALL: For visitation we stopped at twelve because we wanted to but it was always, there was always an awkward bit of it where we needed somebody else there just in case.

JULIE HALL: It's a security thing. Every contact visit they've had I've always attended and in the beginning, the parents, the mum was very different. She was not approachable and, but she turned her life around and she was more pleasant. We started to have a better relationship and that was due to the support we got from Barnardo's, from the Case Manager.

JENNY BROCKIE: What was it like for you emotionally though having those visits when you had them, how would you feel afterwards?

BRENDAN HALL: Like before when on like the car trip to the place where we'd go, I would feel nervous. Like I'd tap or I'd like never stop talking.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that what you do when you're nervous?

BRENDAN HALL: Yeah, I just, I can get really annoying and like after it I'd sort of like calm down, like feel well it's over now. I don't have to stress as much. And then"¦

JENNY BROCKIE: But it was a bit I've an ordeal for you, it wasn't something you enjoyed doing?

BRENDAN HALL: Occasionally because I would have the dreams I'd remember and then it would make it that little bit more tougher to go see my biological parents and be like you're fine with me now, after realising that they've done to me.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's really understandable. So you went to your mum and said enough, I don't want to do this anymore?

BRENDAN HALL: The day, like on my birthday I was told I was allowed to stop and I went for, I think it was a couple more visits after that and just stopped completely.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Shannon, you've made the same decision?

SHANNON HALL: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: You're a tight little unit you two I gather?

SHANNON HALL: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah?

BRENDAN HALL: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Dorothy, I know you think that foster care isn't the only option, and you have a different situation in Victoria. Can you explain what that is?

 

 

 

DOROTHY YOUNG: In Victoria, sometimes children are put into permanent care, particularly if parents aren't willing to sign adoption orders. Our daughter had one parent who wanted adoption, and another parent who didn't. But he was very happy to sign a permanent care order. So the child is placed with us permanently. We had a court order saying that she was under our guardianship until 18, and a note on that saying "She would be known as... " and our name at the end. She was always known by our surname. But her birth certificate isn't changed.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Belinda, what's that like for you?

 

 

 

BELINDA YOUNG: There really wasn't much difference between that and adoption. Like, I grew up - I'm so lucky. I grew up with, you know, a fantastic family. Um... And I was taught - sorry...

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: That's OK! That's OK. It's very emotional territory.

 

 

 

BELINDA YOUNG: I was taught a different way of life. That I could better myself, and that I wasn't in that cycle.

 

 

 

DOROTHY YOUNG: Belinda has contact with a half-sister who actually grew up with her mother. So she's been able to compare, I guess, in the last few months, the way she has grown up and the way her sister has grown up in the same circumstances that perhaps her mother had grown up in. So she's been able to see a big difference between the way she thinks and the way her half-sister thinks.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: How long have you been with your mum here?

 

 

 

BELINDA YOUNG: Since I was 14 months. I was born heavily drug-addicted, so I had a lot of problems.

 

 

 

JENNY BROCKIE: There's a pattern in all these stories, isn't there? There's a pattern of drug-addicted mothers and absent fathers, with so many of these stories tonight. Would you like to be adopted? Or doesn't it matter to you?

 

 

 

BELINDA YOUNG: To me, permanent care was the same as adoption. It was permanent. I grew up with security. I grew up with, you know, love. And they stuck by me. There was no worry of me ever being taken away, no matter how bad I got.

 

 

 

DOROTHY YOUNG: Even when she was being very difficult.

 

 

 

BELINDA YOUNG: No matter how far off the tracks I went. But yeah, that was never a real fear.

 

JENNY BROCKIE: Khaled, you've been sitting here very patiently listening to everybody's story. You're 17, you were removed from your biological parents when you were three months old.

KHALED DAKMAK: Yeah, when I was three months old.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why, what do you understand of why?

KHALED DAKMAK: My mother was a heroin addict and she couldn't take care of me. My father wasn't in the picture at the time so I got removed from her care by the state and got put into another foster family and I think I was there for maybe two weeks or so and then I got put into the family that I was with now and I've been there since I was three, about four months old or what not, and I've had contact with my biological mother all the way through. My father, it's been off and on, he's out of the picture now.

JENNY BROCKIE: Now he contacted you when you were twelve?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tell me what happened?

KHALED DAKMAK: That's what kind of started me. The adoption went through also year, I asked for it after that incident. He contacted me and that freaked me out, had security issues and what not, and I actually, I think DoCS rang me asking if I wanted to see him again because he went through them and I said no, I didn't want to see him and that's when I asked to be adopted over the phone to them. And from then onwards it went on till last year.

JENNY BROCKIE: So that really prompted you to push to be adopted?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes, it was a big security issue for me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, you were scared that he could get you back?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes, I was scared that he could come back.

JENNY BROCKIE: And was that the only reason you wanted to be adopted?

KHALED DAKMAK: It was, I always wanted it because the legal side. Like I wouldn't be taken away from the family I was with through foster care or anything by anything and just I always wanted it.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what about your mum, contact with your mum?

KHALED DAKMAK: My biological mum, always had contact with her. We had weekly phone calls, fortnightly. If she'd been incarcerated it's been talking over the phone and other than that we've gone on visits, me, mum and mum.

JENNY BROCKIE: Mum, you call them both mum?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes, it gets confusing for them. Me and my mum, we wouldn't have a DoCS supervisor, we did at the start but then it just was us three or my dad would come, the one I live with, and we just go movies, park or we just go out to lunch, anything.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is she in gaol at the moment?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes, she's been incarcerated since November. She says she gets out June or what not.

JENNY BROCKIE: So she goes in and out of gaol on drug offences?

KHALED DAKMAK: No, a lot of them are speeding offences.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, alright, so how much of the time that you have been in contact with her would she have been in gaol?

KHALED DAKMAK: A few years, there's been times she's been in there for a year and a half and then there's other times she's been there for a month or two. It differs from range to range.

JENNY BROCKIE: So those visits aren't unsettling to you in a way that Shannon's describing how his visits were?

KHALED DAKMAK: No, not for me.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, interesting. And Rosemary, you're Khaled's adoptive mum?

ROSEMARY SIMMONS: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: How did you react to all of that, especially the arrival of the father on the scene and trying to contact and Khaled's reaction?

ROSEMARY SIMMONS: Well, I tried to get him to interact with both his patients if I can. Because he doesn't feel confident with his dad we said, you know, maybe a phone call or if he wrote a letter or something you could, you know, correspond with him that way. But, um, at the moment he just doesn't want anything to do with him at all. But we've got in his adoption papers that, you know, further down the track that could change but at the moment he's no contact.

JENNY BROCKIE: Were you worried when that happened?

ROSEMARY SIMMONS: I was, as for the fact that.

JENNY BROCKIE: As the adoptive mother?

ROSEMARY SIMMONS: I was for the fact when he was about three they were going to, they did try to, his father did try to get him back and they did try it for a little while but it didn't work out and, yeah, very hard and very heart, you know, yeah, he was there for three years and then all of a sudden he maybe gone, so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And what was it like for you when he said he wanted to be adopted?

ROSEMARY SIMMONS: I, I asked when he was about five years old and back then it was like in the too hard basket to do. And yeah, when he said that's what he wanted, I've always wanted that. You know, so it was no problem, yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Khaled, I'm interested that you've kept your birth name?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yeah, well for me I would have liked to change it but thought it would be too difficult. Like everyone always knew me by Khaled Dakmak and Khaled Simmons would just be a sudden change and it just didn't go right, just didn't sound the same.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay. So the open adoption thing is a mixed bag?

KHALED DAKMAK: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: For the kids particularly. What about for the foster parents and the adoptive parents, is it a mixed bag for you too, or do you consider it's just part and parcel of what you do?

ROSS PEDEN: I think it's positive and the way to go because it makes it easier for the children. And at the end of the day it makes it easier for the birth parents. At the end of the day they are losing their children and it is hard for them so I think it's good for both sides.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tonight, should it be easier to adopt kids in care in Australia? Marian, you adopted three children from care in the UK, was it what you expected?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Not at all.

JENNY BROCKIE: In what way?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Um, we were a professional couple, we were both very successful in our jobs. We desperately wanted children, couldn't have any of our own, so we applied to adopt. Lots of contact with nieces and nephews, I was a child health professional and we adopted three children and we just used to think we've got so much love to give these children and this is what these children need. You know, we can just love them so much that we won't get any of these problems, it's not going to happen to us. So we adopted three children, all at the same time, they were seven, five and two, four siblings, and it was the hardest, hardest thing we have ever done. It was, I can't remember most of it, it was a nightmare. The children were lovely, the children are lovely, it was just such a huge change to our lives, which we knew it was going to be.

JENNY BROCKIE: What were the things that you didn't expect? I mean you're taking on three children?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: I think we were expecting - one of my brother's has a family of four children, we spent a lot of time with them and it was always so much fun with them and we were expecting life to be fun with our children and it wasn't because it was just so hard. I think one of the hardest things was the children were so needy and each of them wanted me and they all wanted me at the same time and I just, I just couldn't do it. I couldn't, I just couldn't - couldn't cope.

JENNY BROCKIE: Why are you smiling here?

DOROTHY YOUNG: It's true, it's true, they all want you at the one time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Yeah, but I mean were not expecting, were the children traumatised?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Had they been abused?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: So you were dealing with layers and layers of difficulties with the kids?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Had you not anticipated that that would likely be the situation, given they'd been in the care?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Yes we did, but love was going to make it all better. We were going to love them enough to make it all better and equally, I expected that the children would continue on with counselling that had been started pre adoption. Well that didn't happen. We had social workers, so there was a social worker for the children and a social worker for my husband and I, and they came to see us regularly but we were so afraid they were going to take the children away if they knew how much we were struggling that we didn't, we didn't really say how difficult it was.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's interesting, how badly were you struggling?

MARIAN SHAKESPEARE: Oh, I was suicidal for a long, long time before someone said to me you're depressed. One of the social workers you're depressed, go to your doctor, so I always do as I'm told so I went to the doctor and told him I was depressed and it was never, ever mentioned again. We had no extra help.

DIANNE STARKEY: Currently, foster carers are offered a fair amount of support. Adoptive parents aren't offered nearly as much. If you're going to change the process, will you be putting in place a whole lot of support services?

 

 

 

PRU GOWARD: We recognise that we have to provide the appropriate care.

 

 

 

DIANNE STARKEY: Otherwise you're setting them up to fail, really.

 

 

 

PRU GOWARD: Like everything else, yes.

JENNY BROCKIE: Nick, I wonder if there was recognition for you in listening to yourself having described yourself earlier tonight?

NICK DAVIES: Yeah, a little bit. It's, I know it's not easy for those that look after those that have high needs, especially when you have issues of your own. I, I was never the easiest, I'm still not the easiest person to get along with or look after. I still regularly go to, um, my cousin to get help, whether it be money or food or stuff like that, so I guess whether it's foster care or adoption, you need someone to fall back on and like don't get me wrong, I'm not against adoption. I am for adoption, but there needs to be processes put in place that don't blanket the whole system. It needs to be individualised.

JENNY BROCKIE: Brendan and Shannon, I know that you've had on-going contact with a caseworker of yours. Yeah, how long have you been in touch with him for?

SHANNON HALL: As long as I can remember.

JENNY BROCKIE: Your whole lives? Now he's taken on that himself though, he's not doing that necessarily in a formal capacity, is he? He's decided he wants to stay in touch with you anyway?

BRENDAN HALL: He's sort of there, like.

JENNY BROCKIE: How important is that to you?

BRENDAN HALL: I find that really important because if there's not mum, then there's my caseworker and that really helps.

JENNY BROCKIE: And that's been the same person for how long?

JULIE HALL: We're really a unique family and we're blended a lot. So we're fortunate that we've had the Case Manager for so long, ten years.

JENNY BROCKIE: But is he formally their caseworker now or just doing this off his own bat now?

JULIE HALL: Previous.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is this a service that's provided?

JULIE HALL: No it's not.

JENNY BROCKIE: It's not?

JULIE: No.

JENNY BROCKIE: So this is a personal relationship that's built up over time?

JULIE HALL: That's correct.

JENNY BROCKIE: That's an interesting message for politicians, Pru Goward.

ROSS PEDEN: Except that with both our children, Barnardo's and I know for a fact that Barnardo's have a policy, each one they've adopted, if they have a problem at any stage of their life they can go back to Barnardo's and there will be a caseworker that will assist them.

JENNY BROCKIE: Is that the case with the department?

PRU GOWARD: No, no it’s not.

JENNY BROCKIE: Should it be?

PRU GOWARD: Well I think that's one of the reasons why we did the transfer of foster care to the non-government sector, because they provide that vocational commitment to children that we can't provide. And similarly, I'm hoping to see some more non-government organisations manage adoptions for the same reason, that there's a greater chance that you'll have that commitment to children for a long time.

JENNY BROCKIE: Tori, I know that you're doing this project on adoption at the moment at school. What has investigating adoption left you thinking about your own life and your biological mother's life, what's it made you think about?

TORI PEDEN: Well at first I kind of didn't know what to expect when I started researching about it but then I found out about the thing called the adoption triad and it's like the perspective of the birth mother and the adoptive parents and the adoptee. And I never really thought about how the birth mother felt. If I think, if I ever have a child, which I hope I do, and they got taken away from me, I would so distraught, no matter what my circumstance was I think, and so, yeah, that was a big eye opener for me.

JENNY BROCKIE: And Brendan, I know that when the two of you, when you and your brother were adopted, you were given the opportunity, I think, to stamp the papers, is that right?

BRENDAN HALL: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Can you describe that for me?

BRENDAN HALL: For me that, when I stamped the papers it gave me a feeling of relief knowing that from this day forward I won't be, I won't be taken away from my family. I'll be with my family for the rest of my life no matter what and I know my family love me and that they'll be by my side for the rest of my life.

JENNY BROCKIE: Was it important to put that stamp on yourself?

BRENDAN HALL: Yeah, for me it was.

JENNY BROCKIE: Did you do it too Shannon?

SHANNON HALL: Yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: And how did you feel about it?

SHANNON HALL: I felt the same way as he did, we've both pretty much gone through the same thing so yeah.

JENNY BROCKIE: Okay, thanks so much for joining us tonight, really good. Thank you everybody for sharing such deeply personal stories, really terrific to have you all here. And that is all we have time for here but let's keep talking on Twitter and Facebook, I'm interested in your thoughts about what you've heard here tonight. Thank you everybody, it's great, terrific.