Human rights

Government brutalises Digger foster parents

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Since we published our exclusive 'Diggers versus the Gillard Government' story on June 25, we have heard a litany of horror stories of great injury and insult meted out to our Defence Veterans and their families.

The pious and hypocritical platitudes that Prime Minister Julia Gillard and Defence Minister Stephen Smith mouth every time a Digger gets killed or wounded in action, belies a vindictive, malicious and proactive campaign against granting these ageing pensioners a paltry few dollars extra a week in their begging bowls. There is ample evidence of this, in the more than 1,200 comments to our article.

But wait, there's more. Not content with merely putting the knife in, our Government makes sure we twist it as well. I am privileged to be in daily private and public contact with some of these wonderful human beings, and almost to the man, the legacy of war, and the Vietnam War in particular, still infects their bodies and psyches, and their breaking hearts.

So many of them, and their families, live from week to week. And yet, many of them are active in community affairs and are volunteers in all spheres of community life, reaching out to others who are marginalised, including their own Brethren.

Today, I introduce you to one such Vietnam Veteran. For decades, he and his beloved wife have been foster parents. Yet, the Department of Community Services has treated them with utter contempt and cruelty. The Federal and State Governments are responsible for the obvious dysfunction within these Departments. And I know some case workers are under intolerable strain and themselves are close to breaking down.

We are not publishing this Digger's name in order to protect him from reprisal. The Department has proved it is capable of being vindictive and carrying out their threats. Ironically, my Diggers story is often accompanied by a Google ad encouraging people to foster teenagers. We desperately need foster parents for them. But why would you do it, if DoCS treats you in the despicable way described in this story, emotionally blackmailing foster parents?

When this Digger sent me this email (that he has now redacted to protect his family) it brought tears to my eyes because of its honesty and rawness and courage. Read his harrowing story and you will see why. And I thank the Digger and his family for writing to me — and for entrusting us with his family's compelling story so that we can share it with you.

Dear Tess,

We could not have children of our own and we decided to foster less fortunate children. During the application process, I stated that I was ex-Army and that my 21 & 1/2 years service included two tours in Vietnam.

In time, we were interviewed by a lady who opened up the conversation by saying that she could not stand men, especially men with beards, and that she detested ex-service people. She went on to say that she was a qualified nursing sister, a lawyer and was a Minister in some strange church I had never heard of.

By this time, I had run out of patience and reminded her that whilst she was obviously proud of her achievements, I too was proud of mine. She told me, rather abruptly, that she would try to be kind to me in future. My warning bells, which are usually pretty good, let me down on this occasion.

I should have realised then that DoCS treated foster parents with indifference, but I did not.

In time, she delivered a beautiful child, who now is a beautiful young man of 23. He completed his Bachelor of Business at the end of last year and has just returned home following completion of his first year at another university, where he is doing a Bachelor of Music/Education.

His birth mother was a very astute lady who, unfortunately, was paranoid schizophrenic. In time, his adoption was formalised and shortly after, his birth Mum committed suicide.

When we were told what had happened, I spoke to DoCS and asked for a Counsellor to assist in coping with his loss. I was told,

"…the adoption was finalised, you are his father, you counsel him".

Again, my warning bells did not alert me as to the way DoCS treat their foster parents. Years later, with other children to care for, I received two death threats. When I advised our case worker of this, the only comment was "how extraordinary".

No other support of any kind was offered then or later. As a result of these death threats, we had no option but to leave our dream home and start again. We sold our home at a substantial loss and relocated to our present area, all at our own expense.

On another occasion, I received a call from DoCS asking if we would accept responsibility for a baby girl. I was told that she had experienced a rough time, but nothing more.

I explained that my wife was in town and that, when she returned home, we would discuss the matter and I would let them know the following morning. I was told that this was not good enough — they wanted to know within the hour.

My warning bells again failed me and we agreed to take up the challenge.

With our acceptance, they said we were wonderful people and now all they had to do was place her five month-old brother. My immediate thought was "come in spinner". We were told very little about the boy other than that he was in hospital.

Only after we accepted responsibility for both children did we find out the extent of the girl's injuries. When we arrived at the hospital to see her brother, we were told that he had experienced a broken arm, fractured ribs, fractured pelvis and had been shaken unconscious, haemorrhaging behind both eyes.

The baby had to be resuscitated twice in the Ambulance on the way to Hospital.

Three years later, we were advised of a third sibling, who at the time was two years old. He too had been badly bashed and DoCS asked us to accept yet another as they wanted to keep the siblings together. We agreed.

With the arrival of yet another child we had to extend our home, which we did at a cost of $26,000.

Only after the extensions were completed did DoCS say that we should have asked for assistance and they would have helped financially. I said we would accept a retrospective payment, but nothing more was ever said about the matter.

Later still, we were asked to accept responsibility for another baby. We were not told of any abnormalities other than that he had a large head and was deaf. As it turned out, the baby suffered from multiple disabilities.

Had we opted for a career in golf, or football, or cricket, we would have been rich by now with a VC and bar each and three MBEs. Instead, we have never had so much as a "thank you" from DoCS, despite taking the hits for so many years.

To add insult to injury, I heard on the news the other night that the State Government is planning to cut foster care allowances to $200 PFN. Should that happen, hundreds of foster parents would have no option but to return State wards to DoCS; God knows, DoCS cannot cope now without that additional load.

As you would expect, the three siblings suffer from a range of problems. Although they are adults now, they are not capable of controlling their own lives and two of them are now parents as well.

On attaining the age of 18 years, it is our understanding that State wards are entitled to financial and other support to assist them in the transition to independent living. Whilst two of them have received some support, one of them, now a mother, has received nothing. As all three are in receipt of a disability support pension, their respective futures do not look at all bright.

DoCS are clearly not interested in their situations.

As an example, in recent times we have tried to chase up their entitlements for the children with DoCS. The age-old excuse, of course, is:

"Sorry there is nothing we can do because their files are not in this office."

I would have thought that, in this day and age, everything is electronic, and therefore, no matter where the files are physically located, the information could be made available at the push of a button? All too much for DoCS I am afraid, especially if you have my surname!

The pressures in raising five children, four of whom are disabled, have been enormous.

Our marriage has suffered, as has our health, but adequate support has never been forthcoming from DoCS.

In June 2009, a report written by a Psychiatrist stated, in part:

"…overall the burden of care these parents carry is enormous and very nearly overwhelming and dealing with [the child]'s difficulties has been enormously time consuming and emotionally demanding, particularly in the context of [the mother] developing serious medical problems".

At, or about this time, another report was written, that stated in part:

"… [mother] and [father] have worked incredibly hard to adequately parent [the five children]. They feel this has been undertaken with little help or support from the Department and have struggled with feelings of anger and helplessness as a result".

The report went on to say:

"I have no doubt of the [parent's] strong and genuine love for [the child] and believe that this young man should remain with the family that have cared for him for so long and with such devotion".

Despite these words, the adoption of a child who had been with us for eleven years was not recommended. The report was so damaging that we felt completely gutted. A thirteen page response was sent refuting the inaccuracies, misleading statements and mistaken assumptions in this report, but we never received the courtesy of a reply.

Yet another report was written about this time by the same author regarding the adoption of one of our other children.

On the very first page, the author used an incorrect surname for us on two occasions — and that about sums up the quality of the report.

Like the previous report, it had a number of inaccuracies and, on numerous instances, identical phrases were used to those used in the previous report.

As before, the adoption was not recommended.

We were not given the opportunity to comment on this report.

Although written in July 2009, we were not aware of its existence until November 2011.

And what do DoCS think about our situation? Absolutely nothing.

Early in our fostering career, it became obvious to us that the attitude of DoCS was to place the child and forget it.

In order to get what the children needed and what we were entitled to, I had no option but to write to the Minister, which I have done on more than one occasion.

The bottom line from then on?  If I call, no one is available to take my call. They never respond to correspondence and we were told recently that even though they would not acknowledge our letters, they would be read. How can they run their business like that — when they are supposed to support us and the children?

Shortly after beginning our fostering career, all we have ever wanted to do was to adopt all of the children. By doing that, we could give the children the stability and security they needed and sever all ties with DoCS, which is what we want.

We adopted our eldest son and the three siblings have changed their names to ours by Deed Poll. We were advised by DoCS that the "adoption boat" had left for these three, no doubt brought about by constant delays on their part.

Our youngest and most disabled son has been with us for almost 14 years, knows no other parents, uses our surname and is known by our surname around the town.

The report said:

"…it is the primary recommendation of this report that the adoption of [the child] by his foster carers, should not be pursued at this time".

There was no recommendation as to any future assessment date and the report was not signed nor dated by the author.

This not only tells me a good deal about the author, but confirms in our minds that the report was written under clear guidance and supervision of DoCS staff.

In 2009, we were having lots of behaviour problems with one of the siblings in our care. Naturally, we had to involve DoCS in order to get the help to which we and the young man were entitled.

At one point, the issue of our youngest charge being at risk from the older boy's behaviour was brought up by DoCS, and we were told that if we did not move the older boy (then 17 with an intellectual disability himself), they would remove the younger boy from our care.

This same threat was repeated in 2010, referring this time to the middle boy of the three siblings.

In effect, on both occasions we were being told to make a choice between our disabled children — an impossible choice to make, but we were forced to abandon our two older boys, who remain in need of our help and love today, so that we could safeguard our youngest child's place with us.

How can such animals, by virtue of their employment, make such threats against a family unit that has been trying for over 20 years to give disadvantaged children a better run in life with no support?

Their continued threats are nothing short of emotional blackmail. So much for their motto of "keeping families together".

How could we be expected to walk down the street with our head held high when we are subjected to such lies, deceit, treachery and indifference by people who hold responsible positions within the community and Government, who purport to care for the less fortunate, in this case disabled children and veterans, who hold incredible power over the lives of vulnerable people — the children and us.

It makes me physically sick.

For anyone out there thinking of becoming foster parents, think long and hard and ask DoCS for a letter advising you of the support that is available and exactly what you can expect to receive.

Do not hold your breath for a reply.  
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