“We had nothing, literally nothing. We had — I can’t even say the clothes on our back … they were ripped, tattered, ankle freezers, too small … shoes that were holey. Oh God.”
Monique is speaking about growing up in the most run-down section of one of Melbourne’s poorest suburbs, Broadmeadows.
And now, on a cold grey day, she’s come to revisit the scene of her nightmarish childhood — the block of public housing known as the “Broadie Bronx”.
“It’s like the house of f***ing horrors,” Monique mutters as she stands in front of the bleak 70s-style double-storey unit she lived in with her drug-addled step-mother and terrifyingly violent father.
Monique lived here until she was rescued by a cousin, Peter, and his partner, Mel, themselves just young parents with an eight-month old baby.
Peter and Mel took her into their family in an act of love that almost certainly saved Monique’s life.
That was a decade ago.
Since then Peter and Mel have cared not just for Monique but for five other young relatives who couldn’t live with their families, mostly due to drug addiction.
The couple are among at least 10,000 Australians aged 30 and under who are caring for younger relatives.
It’s called kinship care and it’s the fastest growing type of care for children who can’t live at home.
Monique’s story illustrates how with courage, determination and generosity young lives can be saved — but as you’ll see, it isn’t easy.
“There was drugs, alcoholism, abuse, child abuse. Domestic violence with their step mum. Neglect. You name it, Monique’s gone through it,” Mel said.
Monique was born addicted to methadone. She spent the first three months of her life in hospital, suffering withdrawals.
But her drug addict mother was allowed to take the tiny infant home.
Luckily, Monique’s cousin Peter, aged just 17 at the time, was around to look after her.
“I used to sleep on the fold out couch in the loungeroom and Monique used to sleep next to me. I used to feed her and change her and everything like that,” Peter remembers.
“It was hard. There were times when she wouldn’t stop crying for hours and hours. Her mum was there but she did nothing,”
But when Monique’s father got out of jail, he made it clear it was time for Peter to go.
“It was heartbreaking to give her back. I didn’t want to. I felt like I’d done all this and you’re going to walk back in and take over?” Peter said.
Monique was left to survive as best she could.
“I think that’s the saddest part. When I look back at my childhood I can’t remember even one good thing,” Monique said.
“All of it is overclouded by me laying in bed crying, listening to my mum get bashed, screaming for her life.