By ROSIE WATERLAND
My sister and I are playing in the park with some kids when one of the boys starts screaming that he’s found a dead body. We all run over to take a look. It’s my dad. He’s not dead – just passed out drunk in nothing but his underwear. My sister starts crying.
The principal knocks on my classroom door and calls the teacher over. My stomach drops; I know it’s about me. My mum hasn’t been home in two days. Mrs. Blythe comes over to my desk. “Mummy didn’t come home last night, Rosie. There are some people here to take care of you.”
My dad decides that he wants burgers for dinner. It’s a really long walk. He passes out in the middle of a busy road. My sister and I don’t know what to do. A lady stops her car to help us.
My mum got back from rehab today. I walk into the kitchen and see her sneaking wine into her glass. I go to my room and cry.
The after-school-care lady comes over to me with a concerned look on her face. “Rosie – is your Dad’s name Tony? He’s here to see you. Does he drink a lot sweetie?”
I don’t have the energy to talk my mum out of killing herself again. I leave. That night she takes off with a girlfriend and leaves my two little sisters home alone. Bella is 2 and wakes up screaming because of a fever. Tayla is only 5 and doesn’t know what to do. She drags Bella into the night to try and find an adult. The next-door neighbours call the police. I never get over the guilt.
My dad is dead. They say it’s a heart attack from drinking but there’s an empty pill bottle and vomit. A part of me is relieved that I don’t have to go and stay with him anymore.
My mum gets really drunk and calls the police to tell them she no longer wants us. I help my little sister pack her bag. We watch TV in my room while we wait for the police to come and take us away.
I have countless stories like these. My parents were just not equipped. They were both struggling with mental illness and addiction. I used to feel anger towards them but as I’ve gotten older that anger has just turned to sadness and pity.
My mother just couldn’t look after her kids. She’d had her own problems in life that meant she was still looking to be taken care of herself. She loves us, absolutely. But she just couldn’t do it.
My sisters and I were taken away and returned several times. We lived with family members, friends, foster parents – whoever would take us. Sometimes we were together but mostly we weren’t. We were infant nomads, never quite fitting in anywhere.
Just as we would start to get used to our new lives, our mother would ‘get herself together’ and we’d be sent back. We always wanted to go – when she wasn’t drinking she was a fabulous mum. The ‘cool mum’ that all the other kids liked. But it wouldn’t take long for her to lose it again, and we’d be taken away; forced to start over for the upteenth time.
We were removed from her care for good when I was 14. The only reason we didn’t go back that time was because she didn’t try to get us back. My older sister was 17. My younger sisters were seven and three. The four of us were split and sent to live in different places. We never lived together again.
My uncle took me in and sent me to a swanky boarding school. I should have been happy, but I wasn’t. I was finally in a stable home and at a school I wouldn’t have to leave after one bloody term, but after 14 years the damage had already been done. My attachment to a mother who didn’t want me meant I was doomed to never really fit in anywhere.
I’ve worked really hard to overcome the emotional injuries of my past, and for the most part, I have. But even now, 13 years after I was sent away for the last time, I still haven’t managed to find somewhere that feels like home to me.
Which is why I often wonder – would it have been better if my sisters and I had not continued to be returned to our mother?
What would my life had been like if I had just been taken away for the first time and not sent back? What if I had spent a childhood building roots with a family who actually wanted to take care of me, rather than with a mother who couldn’t? Would I have all these awful memories? Would I have developed PTSD? Would I have a family, and maybe even a home?
Why do we keep sending kids back?
I understand that this is a complex issue with endless problems. There aren’t enough homes. There aren’t enough resources. There are too many kids. We have to consider the rights of parents who are trying to turn their lives around.
But when a child’s life is at stake, is a parent ‘trying’ to turn their life around really good enough?
I don’t have any answers. But as a former child of ‘the system’ I do know this: if it were up to me, I wouldn’t keep sending children back to their parents.
Some adults are working through horrendous suffering of their own – I get that. We should support parents who want to work hard to change their lives for the better. But it gets to a point where they have to stop acting the victim and start putting their children first. Some manage to do that. Those who don’t should not be allowed to have their kids.
Especially when you consider what other children have been through. My story is nothing compared to some others. My mother had a horrendous life and couldn’t get over it. I ended up with PTSD and anxiety – big deal. Kiesha Weippeart’s mother had a horrendous life and she couldn’t get over it. Kiesha ended up dead.
I am one of the lucky ones.
This week is child protection week. This is a time when we should be thinking about the well-being of the child above all else. And I think we need to consider that sometimes that well-being means not giving parents endless chances.
It breaks my heart when I think about the amount of little kids out there who are about to start the cycle of being taken away and returned over and over again. Those kids are about to go through hell.
Some people just aren’t meant to be parents. It’s often not their fault, and that is heartbreaking. But giving them endless opportunities to get themselves together means their kids are the ones who get stuck in a traumatic limbo. And that just seems backwards to me.
Why is it the parents, and not the kids, who get all the chances?