Young Indigenous adults reveal their experiences of removal and out-of-home care

Indigenous children celebrate their culture. Source: Getty Images

Meet the kids behind the statistics: what are their lives like now, after growing up away from their Indigenous parents?

Stories can get lost in statistics

This week, Insight is looking behind the facts and figures and letting young Indigenous people take the stage to share their experiences of being removed from their families. 

Before the show, get a glimpse at the diversity of their stories. 

 

Ruby 

Ruby's memories of living with her parents are blurry, but occasionally they come back to her in little moments, captured by her four year-old brain. 

Like the time she found herself in the crossfire of one of her parents' arguments. She says her father picked up a TV and threw it towards her mum. It fell on her instead. 

From the ages of 4 to 18, she was raised by non-Indigenous carers in Victoria - a far cry from her Cape York homeland.  Her mother had access rights, so she saw her occasionally when the meet-up wasn't cancelled.

"I did see her quite often," Ruby tells Insight's Jenny Brockie, "but not as [much] as I would have liked to." 

During primary school, she found it difficult understanding who she was. 

"I actually went through an identity crisis growing up because I was Aboriginal and I was living with a non-Aboriginal woman ... I kept asking myself, am I black, am I white?" 

A couple of years ago, Ruby's mother passed away and she's no longer in contact with her father. She regrets not seeing her more, but is glad she grew up mostly away from her, believing her mother didn't put in the effort to keep her and her siblings around. 

“If you want your children to come and live with you, you need to step up your game and you need to start taking responsibility,” she says in an impassioned speech on the show. 

Despite the identity crisis, she has a strong sense of her Aboriginality and is in contact with her Cape York community. 

“People like to play the culture card ... kids aren’t, you know, with their family, they’re not going to recognise the culture. Well hey, I’m going to tell you right now I know my culture. I grew up in foster care, I’m still fine.” 

 

Chloe 

Chloe was just seven days old when she was removed from the care of her biological mother. 

Her mother was young, and had trouble looking after her older half-brother before her.

She was placed in the care of her aunt, her mother's sister, and her partner. She now calls them mum and dad, and has lived with them ever since. 

Chloe is part of the 67 per cent of Indigenous children who are placed in kinship care around the country, where the extended family or Indigenous community continue to look after at-risk kids instead of fostering them out to non-Indigenous families. 

Encouraged to participate in traditional dance and language classes growing up, she has a strong sense of culture that she attributes to her childhood with relatives: her dad taught her, as did her grandfather.  

"It's the best thing to ever happened to me," she says. "I've always been involved in our culture ... I've always known where I came from and I've never had to worry about any of that." 

"I've pretty much stayed in the family and I've known all my family my whole life, my whole culture. I love all of it."

She says she can't imagine what it would be like to grow up separated from culture; an integral part of Indigenous life.

  

Sean and Cameron 

On the good days, Sean and Cameron would go to the beach, playing in world-famous sand and ocean. 

But back at the mission, life was less idyllic. They say their parents both drank heavily, and used drugs. As the boys grew older, they were diagnosed with varying degrees of Foetal Alcohol Spectrum Disorder (FASD). Their brother Christopher, also had FASD and cerebral palsy.

At some point, a relative on the mission raised concerns about their welfare.  

At school one day, aged 4 and 2, a social worker arrived to take them, and their siblings, away to live in out-of-home care. 

"All four of us were taken, yeah ... not all at the same time but we were all rounded up and then we were taken away before any of our family or parents could do anything," says Sean. 

Sean and Cameron were taken to Canberra and fostered by a non-Indigenous couple, who raised them through childhood and teenage years. 

They were not easy years, with both boys having difficulty with behaviour and learning.

They didn't identify with their Aboriginal culture, telling anyone who asked that they were adopted but from other ethnicities: Italian, Spanish, Greek, Pakistani.

In part they were compelled by bullying at school, but they were also conflicted: their white parents cared for them, had raised them well, told them they shouldn't follow the paths of their parents into alcohol and drug abuse. 

Later in life, visiting their families, they found themselves shown and reconnected with culture. 

"If only I knew or had more of that in my life, I think ... I would have just gone like, hang on a second, you know, I'm not Italian, I'm not Greek or anything. I'm Aboriginal and I should be proud of it," say Sean.   

Despite the cultural disconnect, they're both grateful to have been removed from their parents' environment. 

"I think I've realised now, me and Cameron are really, really grateful," says Sean. 

 

Serena 

Serena remembers rubbish; lots of it. 

She says she and her siblings didn't have much of a childhood, cleaning up after their parents who she says drank and never having the space to make their breakfast or lunches for school. 

After a brief stint with her aunt, she was placed in the care of her Nan. Things went downhill. 

Her Nan wouldn't let her mother come and visit. She says there was alcohol in that house too, and people would come through at all hours. There was sexual abuse during her time there, though it was not perpetrated by her carers. 

Serena believes any other care would have been better than the one she experienced. 

"Maybe if my mum didn't live among all family and maybe if she would have moved out, just made a better future for her kids, it would have been alright."

"She did end up doing that in the end when we moved back with her when I was about twelve." 

Her mother had won custody again, and she happily returned to her care. She now has her own place close to where she's studying nursing. 

Despite being cared for by kin, she believes she'd be more connected to culture if she'd stayed with her mother. 

 

Find out more about their stories on Insight's episode, Looking After the Kids | Catch up online now:

 

Source Insight