A Letter from Jamie-Lee
Candid thoughts on growing up within the Care System
Do forget sympathy. I am seeking something much lovelier for us. A path stripped away from stigma and labels. Instead of feeling marginalised, I would love for us to feel resilient and inspired. To be conscious of all of the unique qualities that we possess and may use to better the world around us.
Dear fellow earthlings,
Most likely you have come across this letter due to crossing paths with ‘The Care System’. Either you have withstood life experiences in Care, or are mutually
connected with young people(s) of whom are exiting or currently within The System. The following sentiments are intended towards individuals whom have collectively experienced The Care System. Especially youth who are exiting care, and heading into the daunting complexities of Independent living.
I am well-aware from my own experience, and observing others, that young people in Care are very much side-lined within our society. Throughout this letter I will touch on some of the gaps in The Care System. As well as how these flaws potentially have detrimental effects on young people. In order to give a bit of context as to who I am, I will be slightly nostalgic and touch on my childhood. A childhood spent in a dysfunctional Foster home for 12 years, overflowing with abuse, and negligence. My story transpired to be quite wonderful though. Life is not necessarily all gloom and doom. Likewise, I have a little bit of guidance you may find handy dandy.
The idea that young people between the ages of 16-18 are expected to live independently dumbfounds me. Remarkably, when considering the shared experience of those placed in out-of-home Care. Regardless, of one’s biological parent’s background, I believe that all children adore their parents at a young age. Being removed from your family and all that you know is possibly one of the most traumatic events a child or young person could endure. It’s an identity crisis. Your world becomes topsy turvy, and upside down. However, it is not as cute and wild as an Enid Blyton tale.
Instead you are met with fear, and strange faces telling you to call them your family now. For me, being removed at 3, my home sickness turned into physical sickness. I was vomiting up any food I received, and crying myself to sleep ritually. I lost my spark. I quickly become mousey, unco-ordinated, and withdrawn. Visitation confused me. I would think that I was finally going home with my dad. Meanwhile, my mum was ill, and was re-admitted into psych wards. My dad continually fought for me in court rooms until I was 7, struggling to have me back home. A home where I would have been safe. Safe and loved. Sentimental days like Christmas and Birthdays lost their meaning. I liked to pretend that they still happened. I lived in my head a lot. It was one of my primary coping mechanisms.
As I grew a little older I went through a phase of disobedience. I thought that if I tried really hard, I might cross a boundary. They may send me home. I had imaginary fairy friends. They did it. Years pass. The abuse escalated. My imagination become more and more of a safe haven. My mum was a Hollywood-esque actress, with flowing blonde hair. She was healthy. My dad helped me with my homework, and would buy me all of the books I could ever want. Snapped back into reality, and I was beginning to forget their faces. I was scrawny and messy haired. The kids at school teased. They would give me the pet name “chicken legs”, and questioned if I had anorexia. I remember fighting with a boy in my class and he retorted, “well at least I’m not a foster kid”. At least the boys were always honest.
I found it rather difficult relating with other children. I developed a sense of social anxiety. I was not allowed to go on play dates or to birthday parties. I had an alarm on my bedroom door with cupboards and mattresses stacked behind the windows. All I had in the room was my bed, a humble tallboy, and a box of old dolls and library books. No natural light. My life mostly consisted of school, Sabbath school, and sitting alone in a room. Often I would nap to pass the time. I was intentionally isolated.
High school was very much a gift in disguise for me. It was during those first couple of years that I started to go to friend’s homes. I was not allowed to of course, but at that point I had stopped caring. I had quickly realised the stark contrast between my life, and those who lived with their biological families. I stopped denying how immoral things were, and I opened up to a psychologist and my social worker. They had told me that they were concerned for my well-being on prior occasions, but I had shrugged it off. When you are in abusive relationships with people all of the energy is sucked out of you. Including the energy to think logically. I had been brought up on stories about the world being a malicious place. So, in many ways I assumed that I didn’t have another option. I was trapped. Or so I thought. I was removed from the Foster home
at 15 and lived with my then best friend and her family. It was a genuine culture shock. I had never felt so appreciated. Yet, not having to ask for a glass of water or to use the bathroom confused me. I felt intrusive and uncomfortable.
After the temporary placement with my friend. I stayed indefinitely in a residential care facility. It was there that everything in my life up until that moment could have all been worthwhile. I received a hand written letter from a lovely couple, accompanied by a photo of them in Tokyo, a family tree, and a floor plan of their home. They invited me to their home for afternoon tea, and within an hour I was to pack all of my belongings and move in with them. I never saw them as “Foster parents”. They are everything I look for in people. Compassionate, genuine, consistent, and open-minded. Within the first 6 months they had me take a passport photo, and I travelled with them to Japan and South Korea. Honestly that was just the foliage at the bottom of the mountain.
I am so pleased to have Naomi and Ray in my life, and I have since built lifelong relationships with their friends and extended family; both here, and internationally. Through them I have become quite liberated. I have discovered that actually I am worthy, based on my quirks and individuality. They have taught me neat ways of living sustainably. To budget my money and buy only what I need. Plus, how handy it is to thrift shop, and re-purpose other people’s belongings. This has led me on my own path of trying to be as authentic of a person as I can be, and to continue to always align my morals with my actions.
Unfortunately, experiences similar or worse than the beginning of my life within The Care System are all too common. Whereas, the last 3 years of my Care experience appear to be a rarity. It frustrates me. Many young people have no jurisdiction over their lives or even simple autonomy over their bodies. It appears to merely be up to luck.
Nevertheless, I hope young people can realise that they are so much more than their Care experience. A child is not to blame for a situation that they had no say in
being a part of. Neither should one feel the shame from a perpetrator of abuse. It is not your shame to carry. It is not your identity. I do realise this all nicer said on paper, and very difficult in reality. Expressly when young people have been hard wired to believe negative things about themselves. When you hear the same things repetitively. Your brain begins repeating it too. You may genuinely believe you are undeserving. However, with new habits the brain can change eventually. I am not saying to echo a mantra and all will peachy. The feelings most likely will come back plus the bizarre body responses to trauma will persist. Yet, there will always be opportunity to improve, and flourish.
“I never paint dreams or nightmares. I paint my own reality”.
There are significant social problems interconnected with young people leaving The Care System. Young people leaving care are at great risk of experiencing negative life outcomes. More than half of young people moving into Independent living will face struggles with crime, and homelessness. Lack of financial stability, lack of affordable housing, poor mental and/or physical health along with lack of a strong support structure have proven to be disadvantageous and standard. I personally believe the age should be raised to 21. However, we need to somehow make do with what life throws at us all.
On another note: It may be really beneficial for you to access your Freedom of Information Files. This may help give you closure on your Care experience.
Personally, that was how I found out about why I was removed. Additionally, I have since been able to re-connect with my dad and other biological family. Which has been brilliant for me.
A bit of life advice to take with a pinch of Himalayan sea salt
I have some advice to offer from the mistakes and lessons of my younger and present self. Oh, the delight that hindsight brings.
Getting set up for your new home
- Go to auction rooms and garage sales if possible. Or look at ads on gumtree and social media when looking for furniture and homey
- If you have the time to do so, put together a box or two of things that you will need when you move out. I was collecting homewares like tea towels and crockery well before I moved out and saved so much time, and money in doing
- When moving into a place, make sure you get a viewing beforehand!!
- Take note of any damage that may have already occurred to your new home, and inform your land lord straight away. You do not need to pay for most general
- Be sure to ask your case worker about any funding that may be available to you. Also look into Grants that may be applicable to
You may contact Elm Place services if you need help accessing TILA and other allocated funding.
- If you are fortunate enough to already have a job or if you have a reasonable amount of time before moving out start saving money asap. As you never know when you’re going to need money more than say a new pair of
- Try to spend more minimally by being mindful of all
- Do you need it or do you just want it?
- Ask your case worker about seeing a financial counsellor if need
- Look into getting rent deducted from your savings account or youth allowance, rather than having to pay in person or on the
- Likewise, having a portion of youth allowance deducted towards your water and energy bills makes life so much easier when you get a bill in the
- A week-to-week budget is VERY
A meal plan is helpful too. Get creative with some recipes, and prep food from home. Buying minimal/no animal products will also substantially reduce your grocery expenditure.
- Volunteer your time and build up your resume. Volunteers are always needed, and you will only benefit from helping
- Ask a friend or case worker to look over your resume or cover
- Literally apply to 1,001 places online. Gumtree and Seek are easy
- Try not to be disheartened, even 1 job interview is better than
- Ask friends and friends-of-friends if they know of anything
- Be persistent, and always send follow-up emails and calls when applying. Particularly for in-store applications.
- Literally apply to 1,001 places online. Gumtree and Seek are easy
- Please don’t do a course or degree for the sake of looking like you have your life sorted!! Take your time to find what it is that you genuinely want to do in your life, and aspire for that. As university and other courses are pricey, and time consuming.
- If you can afford to, DO travel. Even if it’s just a road trip around Australia. Explore, and make memories while you are young and have the freedom to do so.
- If further education is your cup of tea make sure you are acquainted with all of the help and resources available to students.
- It is okay to ask for help. Counselling offices are there for a reason, and you are not less intelligent for doing so (A lesson I learnt the hard way).
- Know your limits and plan your time.
- Have a diary and/or calendar.
- If you are anything like me procrastination is difficult to snap out of. Therefore, you need to disciple yourself (with kindness), rather than rely on motivation.
Mental health & physical health
- Support is crucial!! It is so easy to unintentionally isolate yourself. Also, Relationships Australia have a bunch of helpful services!
Many more can be found on this website too!
- When you feel lonely go for a walk or listen to some good tunes.
- Give yourself routines and make yourself follow healthy habits.
- Practice self-care rituals such as cleaning your face and teeth and be mindful of your body and what it needs.
- Nourish your body with good food and settle petal with the liquor.
- Drink more water, and stay hydrated.
- Exercise in a way that you enjoy. Not everyone likes the gym or can afford to go. Instead you can go for walks, ride your bicycle, go swimming at the beach, go for hikes or so some yoga in the comfort of your living room.
- With the whole routine thing. Stay afloat with cleaning. A messy home may cause you unnecessary stress and/or anxiety.
- Go to your GP at least once a year for a general check-up – plenty are bulk billed as well.
- Keep in touch with a psychologist/psychiatrist/counsellor, whomever it is you need support from. Don’t overlook your mental health it is just as important as your physical body.
Well, that is all for now. I hope through me sharing a piece of my Care experience with you, you will feel much more normalised. Growing up I always felt so ashamed of being a Government kid.
Do feel excited about living independently! You will have the world at your fingertips. It will take time to adjust, but if you have been through the system I am going to assume you are capable of adaption and will do incredible things. So many people support you, even if you haven’t met some of them yet. Best of luck, and lots of happiness your way!