Years ago when I was considering a career change, I had the great fortune of working for a while in the community sector. I was studying counselling and I worked as a case manager in a not-for-profit service providing accommodation for homeless men and their children.
Homeless men always evoke images of ancient, wrinkled men in soiled clothing, sitting on street corners. But of course, homelessness is far more complex than the stereotypes. These were men who had fallen on difficult times and when they became homeless, so did the children in their care.
Some of the dads were full-time carers. Others only had part-time care. And that’s part of the reason the service was born. To make sure these dads didn’t lose their children because they had fallen on hard times.
I say I was fortunate because not everyone is lucky enough to deal closely with people who are going through some of the most difficult times in their life. Homelessness is one of these. Losing your children – or being on the brink of it – is another.
I worked with women too. Some had drug problems or had lost their children because they failed to leave abusive partners. I remember one woman almost daring me to judge her for smoking cigarettes while heavily pregnant. She had quit heroin for the sake of her baby. She told me she was doing the best she could.
Some parents had issues with drugs, many struggled with a lack of education, some had been abused when they were young, some were perpetrators or victims of domestic violence, most were poor, almost all had made bad choices.
But what they all shared was a desire to maintain custody of their children. To be good parents. Some struggled more than others. Some would not make it and their children would be removed for good.
But others were determined to change their lives and to right the mistakes of their past, to learn life skills and lessons so they could be the parents their children wanted them to be.
Watching the reporting this week around 12-year-old Tiahleigh Palmer, whose foster father has been charged with her murder, I can understand how easy it is for people to judge.
And I can understand the need to do so. A young girl is dead. Who is to blame?
While we know that, ultimately, only the person who took her life is to blame, we still have a natural desire to share that blame, to find scapegoats, to pin this on people who could have, or should have, helped.
One of those people has been her mother Cindy Palmer. In online articles and Facebook posts this week and last October when Tia went missing, the commentators have asked: "Where were you?"
The implication is that had Ms Palmer been a better mother, her daughter would not have been in care. Had she been more fit, her daughter would not have been dead.
But of course, this is not true. Tiahleigh's mother had every reason to think that her daughter would be safe in a home the state said was safer than her own.