FACE OF WE DON’T CARE

Teenager’s wa­ter­shed in­ter­view ex­pos­ing a BRO­KEN SYS­TEM that saw her live in 76 ‘homes’ in 12 years — in­clud­ing once with a CHILD PREDA­TOR which led to a SUI­CIDE AT­TEMPT

The West Australian - - FRONT PAGE - EX­CLU­SIVE ANNABEL HEN­NESSY

A teenager who tried to take her own life af­ter en­dur­ing 76 dif­fer­ent out-of-home care place­ments in 12 years while un­der the pro­tec­tion of the WA gov­ern­ment has de­tailed her shock­ing tale of ne­glect. Six­teen-year-old TahShae to­day re­veals how she was home­less and lived in the same apart­ment as a now con­victed preda­tor while in State care.

The West Aus­tralian re­ceived spe­cial per­mis­sion to iden­tify Tah-Shae in what is be­lieved to be one of the first times a ward of the State has been al­lowed to be named and pic­tured in a news story. Tah-Shae is speak­ing out to ex­pose a sys­tem she says is fail­ing the kids it is meant to pro­tect.

Tah-Shae was the child who wanted to die.

And ly­ing still on the parched sum­mer grass of an oval in Perth’s north­ern sub­urbs the girl who had just turned 14 al­most did.

It was pri­mary school stu­dents who saw her mo­tion­less body and ran for help.

Kids al­most the same age as Tah-Shae had saved a stranger, stum­bling on a scene they were too young to un­der­stand.

She was also too young, but de­spite her frag­ile age she had al­ready seen too much.

The mem­o­ries come back in flashes. Walk­ing alone on a Perth city street at mid­night be­cause she was scared to go to the home that wasn’t re­ally home.

Mov­ing house again and again. Be­ing shunted 76 times. From the flat in Bun­bury to the group homes in Kal­go­or­lie.

The unit in Kal­go­or­lie she can’t for­get. The place with the man who taught her that mon­sters are real.

And then, at 14 when her world should have been filled with school play­grounds and first crushes, be­ing con­sumed by the feel­ing she no longer wanted to be here.

76 ‘HOMES’ IN 12 YEARS

Tah-Shae who was taken into care by the WA Depart­ment for Child Pro­tec­tion as a baby, has bravely de­cided to share her story in a bid to shine a light on what she sees as the con­tin­u­ing fail­ures of the sys­tem.

In a rare cir­cum­stance, The West Aus­tralian has been granted per­mis­sion by the depart­ment to iden­tify Tah-Shae as a child in care and show her face. Tah-Shae hopes by go­ing pub­lic she can drive change for the thou­sands of other chil­dren in care whose sto­ries re­main shrouded in se­crecy.

The 16-year-old, who two years af­ter her sui­cide at­tempt is happy and sta­ble, also wants to give strength to oth­ers with men­tal health is­sues.

The facts Tah-Shae speaks so calmly about are stark.

From 18 months old when she was re­moved from her mother in Kal­go­or­lie, to age 14, Tah-Shae had 76 dif­fer­ent care place­ments. On av­er­age she moved once ev­ery two months.

This in­cluded group homes, fos­ter car­ers and kin­ship place­ments in Kal­go­or­lie, Cool­gar­die, Perth, Esper­ance, Northam, Man­durah and Bun­bury. She was shifted so of­ten she can­not re­mem­ber many of the place­ments.

She also ex­pe­ri­enced home­less­ness while un­der depart­ment care.

“I didn’t sleep on the streets, I was too scared to sleep on the streets, I stayed out all night and would meet some­one new to hang around with,” she said.

“They don’t check up enough, they wouldn’t even know that I was home­less.”

THE MON­STER’S BALL

In De­cem­ber 2017, two months af­ter her 14th birth­day, TahShae tried to take her own life.

Af­ter be­com­ing un­con­scious she was found by pass­ing school stu­dents and rushed to hospi­tal.

“I just ended up snap­ping . . . I got so de­pressed. I didn’t re­ally have any friends ei­ther so I felt more de­pressed that I had no one to talk to. I just sat in my room all day, ev­ery day, I just de­cided, I said I’m done,” she said.

It wasn’t her first at­tempt. From the age of eight, TahShae started to feel en­gulfed by lone­li­ness. “It got to the point where I kind of knew I wasn’t where I was meant to be and I started ques­tion­ing where was my real mum and all them sort of things,” she said.

“I had clothes and food, but I didn’t have sta­bil­ity . . . that was the hard­est thing. I’d be a dif­fer­ent per­son, if I grew up with sta­bil­ity.”

When Tah-Shae talks about her ex­pe­ri­ences in care she em­pha­sises that she was, and legally still is, the depart­ment’s child. They had a re­spon­si­bil­ity for her wel­fare.

But Tah-Shae says when she was about 12 she found her own ac­com­mo­da­tion and ended up liv­ing with a man in his 40s in Kal­go­or­lie.

“They got to the point where they said they didn’t have any more place­ments for me. So I went and stayed with a friend, well so-called friend, of a fam­ily mem­ber,” Tah-Shae said.

“The depart­ment knew where I was stay­ing, they came and checked up on me and I gave them all the de­tails of this per­son I was stay­ing with. I told them his name and that I was go­ing to school.

“They should have done a crim­i­nal check on that per­son and checked if that per­son was suit­able for me to stay with. They didn’t do that and that’s how they failed me.”

Tah-Shae says he sex­u­ally as­saulted her.

Tah-Shae made a com­plaint about the abuse to po­lice in 2016, but de­cided not to pur­sue it af­ter re­ceiv­ing threats from peo­ple who knew him.

The man, who is now 45, was con­victed this year on sep­a­rate charges for sex­u­ally as­sault­ing a 12-year-old, un­law­ful de­tain­ment af­ter he locked a 31-year-old woman in a car against her will for 12 hours and reck­less driv­ing.

Court tran­scripts state he is an al­co­holic who had a pre­vi­ous con­vic­tion for breach­ing a vi­o­lence re­strain­ing or­der in 2010. Tah-Shae asked for de­tails of the as­sault to be in­cluded in this story be­cause she sees it as the depart­ment’s big­gest fail­ure.

“I do want that out there,” she said. “The whole way they failed me was not do­ing a crim­i­nal check and by that I got sex­u­ally as­saulted . . . that af­fected my men­tal health and noth­ing is go­ing to fix that.”

MIN­IS­TER’S CON­CERN

A Com­mu­ni­ties spokesper­son said Tah-Shae had moved “a sig­nif­i­cant num­ber of times over sev­eral years”.

“The rea­sons for these move­ments are com­plex and we made ev­ery ef­fort to pro­vide a safe and sta­ble en­vi­ron­ment for Tah-Shae,” they said.

They said Tah-Shae had cho­sen “to spend time in the care of un­en­dorsed car­ers for a very small por­tion of the time she was in Com­mu­ni­ties care”.

“These cir­cum­stances were not ar­ranged by the case worker or team sup­port­ing Tah-Shae but in some cir­cum­stances, later in the piece, the depart­ment was able to as­sess and turn these tem­po­rary ar­range­ments into place­ments for Tah-Shae,” they said.

“The depart­ment did not ap­prove the place­ment that led to Tah-Shae’s al­le­ga­tions of as­sault.”

“We are com­mit­ted to en­sur­ing that no child or young per­son in care is ever left to make their own ac­com­mo­da­tion ar­range­ments.

“We have a range of care op­tions, in­clud­ing emer­gency car­ers and also con­tracts with com­mu­nity sec­tor or­gan­i­sa­tions to pro­vide place­ments.”

The spokesper­son said the depart­ment had sup­ported Tah-Shae in telling her story be­cause it was “com­mit­ted to lis­ten­ing to chil­dren in care and hear­ing their voice.”

Tah-Shae said she should

have never been al­lowed to choose her own place­ments at such a young age.

“I don’t think the depart­ment should be let­ting a child un­der the age of 16 years old make the de­ci­sion them­selves. They are re­spon­si­ble for that child,” she said.

Min­is­ter for Child Pro­tec­tion Si­mone McGurk said she was con­cerned about the many place­ments. “Seventy-six is a large num­ber of place­ments, and it does con­cern me,” she said. “This case is a very com­plex one and, for­tu­nately, that num­ber of place­ments is not the norm.”

She said there would al­ways be a place­ment for a child in State care. “How­ever, the depart­ment ad­vises me there could be cir­cum­stances where the child does not ac­cept that place­ment,” she said.

“There are some in­stances where young peo­ple in care vote with their feet and will leave the place­ment the depart­ment has ar­ranged for them. Some­times where they choose to live may be deemed un­suit­able and not ap­proved by the depart­ment.

“The depart­ment works to en­sure that these young peo­ple are in a safe en­vi­ron­ment. In the case of Tah-Shae these ef­forts were ev­i­dently not suc­cess­ful.”

FI­NALLY, A SAFE PLACE

In 2017, on the day of her sui­cide at­tempt, Tah-Shae met men­tal health ac­tivist Gerry Ge­or­gatos. This, she says, was the start of her new life.

Mr Ge­or­gatos, who runs the Na­tional Sui­cide Pre­ven­tion and Trauma Re­cov­ery Project, helped Tah-Shae re­unite with her bi­o­log­i­cal mother who was liv­ing in Brisbane with her two youngest chil­dren.

With sup­port from Mr Ge­or­gatos, Tah-Shae moved to Queens­land to live with her mother. From when she had been taken into care at 18 months old, Tah-Shae had only seen her a hand­ful of times.

“As I grew up, I al­ways wished for that. All my friends, they had their mum and their dad and that’s what I’d al­ways wished for,” she said. “Fi­nally I had my mum there and it just felt good. It felt like I was back to­gether again.”

In Brisbane, Tah-Shae has found hap­pi­ness. She is go­ing to TAFE, has sup­port­ive friends, a boyfriend and a beloved pet staffy. The teenager is also a ded­i­cated older sis­ter to her two younger sib­lings, aged three and eight.

“I’ve never had this. I fi­nally feel like I’ve got peo­ple that care. I’m sta­ble. It’s all I’ve ever wanted,” she said.

Tah-Shae’s mum, who asked not to be named, said while their re­union “had healed a lot of holes in her heart” she could not stop think­ing about what her daugh­ter had been through.

Tah-Shae says she un­der­stands why the depart­ment re­moved her from her fam­ily, af­ter con­cerns for her wel­fare, but feels more should have been done to re­unite them.

“Look­ing at the re­ports at why I’m in care, they did a good thing (in the ini­tial re­moval) . . . but they should have done more (to re­unite us)” she said.

“Mum has a lit­tle boy who is eight years old and has been in her care since he was born. I just didn’t un­der­stand why he was al­lowed to be in her care and I wasn’t.”

Tah-Shae, who is Abo­rig­i­nal, also feels dis­con­nected from her cul­ture as a re­sult of her time in care. “I don’t re­ally know much of my cul­ture. I only know the name of my cul­ture,” she said.

“Wongi on my mum’s side and then Noon­gar Ya­maji on my dad’s side.”

HOW TO SAVE A LIFE

Tah-Shae cred­its Mr Ge­or­gatos with sav­ing her life.

In Brisbane he has con­nected her with a lo­cal so­cial worker who works with her on a volunteer ba­sis sep­a­rate to the depart­ment.

“It's been hard, I tried to com­mit sui­cide, felt alone, de­pressed, felt like no one cared, but then Gerry and (the so­cial worker) came into my lives and changed re­ally ev­ery­thing,” she said. “I got bet­ter. The more I talked about it and got out of like the whole of that sit­u­a­tion with Perth and Kal­go­or­lie the eas­ier it be­came.

“And I feel like a bet­ter per­son

They should have checked if that per­son was suit­able for me to stay with. They failed me. 16-year-old Tah-Shae

now and I haven’t at­tempted it since.”

Tah-Shae has grad­u­ated year 10 of school in Brisbane and is six months away from com­plet­ing Cer­tifi­cate II at TAFE in hair­dress­ing. Now she wants to find a course that will put her on the path to be­com­ing a lawyer.

“I’d like to change some of the ways the sys­tem works,” she said. “Kids need sta­bil­ity. Ev­ery child needs sta­bil­ity, dis­ci­pline, you know, peo­ple that stay around all the time, not fresh faces.”

Mr Ge­or­gatos, pic­tured, says the sup­port he has given her should have been pro­vided by the depart­ment years ago.

The key to it was sim­ply con­sis­tency and show­ing her she was loved and be­lieved in

“Tah-Shae has made in­cred­i­ble trans­for­ma­tion. She puts it down to my­self and oth­ers, but it’s ac­tu­ally down to her. She al­ways had the will, she’s an in­tel­li­gent, ar­tic­u­late, young in­di­vid­ual who just needed the op­por­tu­nity to be sup­ported,” Mr Ge­or­gatos said.

He has flown to Brisbane eight times to visit Tah-Shae since 2017. Last year, for her 15th birth­day he or­gan­ised a hol­i­day for her in Cairns. He wanted to show her life could be beau­ti­ful.

“I loved the beach walks, it was amaz­ing,” Tah-Shae said.

Mr Ge­or­gatos said he hoped Tah-Shae’s story would spark change.

“I was be­yond shocked when DCP in­formed me this young child had 76 place­ments in 12 years. On av­er­age, six place­ments each year. That alone should launch a pub­lic in­quiry,” he said.

THEY NEVER CALL

De­spite now liv­ing in Brisbane, Tah-Shae is still un­der le­gal care of the WA State.

While she gets money for weekly gro­ceries, there are few check ins. When she ap­proached the depart­ment for per­mis­sion to be named in this story, she was told she no longer had a case­worker.

“They never re­ally checked up on me. Even with this whole big change, me be­ing over here in Queens­land, they only came and had a visit once,” she said.

“They don’t call me. I’ve ac­tu­ally got to call them.”

A depart­ment spokesper­son said in­ter­state place­ments were com­plex. “Whilst in­ter­state pro­to­cols ex­ist to en­able gov­ern­ment de­part­ments in other States and Ter­ri­to­ries to pro­vide sup­port lo­cally, this is of­ten dif­fi­cult to ar­range and mon­i­tor from a dis­tance,” they said.

“The full range of the depart­ment’s sup­port is avail­able to any child in care . . . re­gard­less of whether they have an al­lo­cated case­worker.”

Around Tah-Shae’s neck hangs a sil­ver “16” pen­dant that was a gift from her boyfriend’s mother.

It’s the birth­day she didn’t think she’d reach, but also a re­minder that she has love in her life. She also wears a cru­ci­fix.

De­spite ev­ery­thing, she still be­lieves in God. For other chil­dren in care feel­ing lost, her mes­sage is sim­ple: keep fight­ing.

“I haven’t re­ally heard any story from a child in care ac­tu­ally talk about their ex­pe­ri­ence in care,” she said.

“That was an­other rea­son I wanted to do it (the in­ter­view). To put it out there that it’s OK to talk about your prob­lems be­ing in the depart­ment.”

“For peo­ple that are go­ing through some of the same things know that if you stay strong, you’ll get through.”

If you need to talk to some­one, call Life­line on 13 11 44

Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800

If you are in­ter­ested in be­com­ing a fos­ter carer, call 1800 182 178

Tah-Shae, above when younger and with her younger brother and sis­ter.

Newspapers in English

Newspapers from Australia

© PressReader. All rights reserved.