28 Oct 2021

Twenty-one-year-old sister the key to her family’s heart

University student, Zara (21) and her partner Matthew (23) of Townsville are kinship carers to Zara’s three siblings and wouldn’t have life any other way.

Around two years ago, Zara’s siblings, Felicity* (16), Joey* (11) and Emily* (8) found themselves in a cycle of abuse that began at birth, one which Zara was very familiar with.
“My maternal siblings and I have always experienced a home environment featuring drug abuse, alcoholism, violence and minimal, if any, parental guidance,” Zara said.
“It was a real cycle of abuse.
“Our mum had moved almost 100km away to stay with her mum, who is in the late stages of dementia.  The children stayed with their dad for a while, but he broke parole and was reincarcerated. This is when my grandma Paula and I stepped in.
“We started with the kids staying with their grandparents (on Dad’s side), Paula and Graham during the week and my partner and I would care for them during the weekends.  But, ultimately, everyone agreed it would be better for my siblings if my partner Matt and I become the primary care givers, so we transitioned to that, with regular visits with their grandparents. 
Zara says the toughest time for her and Matt was when her siblings first started living with them full-time.
“We were dealing with traumatised kids that had been living with trauma their entire lives,” Zara said.
“We had to show them what a ‘normal’ life looked like.
“We implemented a daily routine of breakfast together, going to school, dinners together, and showers every night.
“It was such a big learning curve for us all. But with the support of their grandparents giving us respite when we needed it, my partner’s caring family, helpful teachers at their school and our amazing and always consistent case worker with Churches of Christ, Bridget we got through it.
“Having Bridget as our support worker from the beginning has been the greatest help, the kids love her and she doesn’t feel like an intrusion.
“If we ever need help, we contact Bridget and she gives me the answers or contacts the department for us.
“There was a situation where we weren’t notified about a physical visit with one of the parents and I couldn’t get in contact with the department. Bridget was able to help us and get onto the department straight away and sort it out for us.
“If we contact her, she always gets back to us on the same day; always there, always reliable. We feel so supported.”
The department referred Zara to their local program Evolve Therapeutic Services at Townsville Hospital that provides specialist, intensive, therapeutic mental health interventions for young people.
The program helped Zara to learn more about trauma, its impact on children and how it presents in their behaviours.
“Evolve was really helpful for me to inform my parenting and to help the children with their trauma. And, I guess, deal with my own trauma, too.
“My 11-year-old brother, Joey, was having learning difficulties, which were presenting as behavioural issues at school and at home.  He was getting regular detentions, but he’s turned all of that around.
“My 16-year-old sister, Felicity had started going down a dark path with drugs, hardly passing at school and spending time on the streets. And now she is sitting her ATAR and getting great feedback from her teachers; it’s been a complete attitude change with her.
“She’s in the process of finding a job and gaining her driver’s licence; it’s like she’s another person.
“They are like different kids, such a massive turnaround!
“We couldn’t have done all of this without the unconditional support of both my grandparents and my partner’s large family, we are so grateful for all the support.”
For more information about becoming a foster or kinship carer, please visit: www.ittakesacommunity.com.au