Teenager reflects on a life lived in foster care

Perspective: Emma Claire, not her real name, reflects on her young life in foster care. Photo: Peri Strathearn.
Perspective: Emma Claire, not her real name, reflects on her young life in foster care. Photo: Peri Strathearn.

Emma Claire knows better than most how urgent is the need for more people to become foster carers.

She has lived in the foster care system since she was five, shifting from one household to another, in and out of the Murraylands.

Her journey began on a school day.

"Some DCP (Department for Child Protection) people came to the front office," she said.

"I felt quite confused.

"I didn't know what was happening ... I just wanted my mum and dad and wanted them to embrace me and tell me everything was going to be OK, though I realised later it was not."

Her earlier memories were of violence, police visits and absences from school.

"I remember looking after my siblings and needing to be their mum," she said.

"I still carry that - I want to look after other kids even if they're not my siblings.

"I didn't live like a child."

After the department's intervention, Emma, not her real name, was placed with a family about two hours away from her old life.

It was a great environment until her birth sister, who was more troubled by her past experiences and needed more attention, came to live with them.

Emma began to feel invisible again, and her behaviour went downhill.

In the end she moved in with a new carer.

But after several years, that carer became ineligible to keep her and she had to move on again, to a whirlpool of short stays around South Australia, including at residential houses Emma described as abusive - "not the best place to be".

"Moving to some of those houses made it 10 times worse," she said.

"The bullying made it 10 times worse, from kids at school - they knew my story, or they worked it out pretty quickly."

At one stage she required 24-hour monitoring for her own safety.

But a social worker, youth mental health organisation Headspace and "tons of counselling" had begun to help her break through the darkness, she said.

She was soon to start at a new school, hoped to study hairdressing, and planned to publish a book about her experiences.

Hindsight had taught her that every foster child just needed a family, she said: people who could offer the love and compassion children had missed out on, and a safe environment in which to grow up even if they felt like their childhoods had already passed by.

"All kids are the same," she said.

"There are different cards we've been dealt; we've just all got to use them to the best of our ability."

  • Become a foster carer: 1300 2 FOSTER (1300 2367 837) or follow this link.
  • Get help: Call Kids Helpline on 1800 551 800 or visit headspace.org.au.

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