Josie* was only 22 when she took on the care of her three young siblings. She didn’t hesitate to open her home to them because she knew that without her, they would have been separated into different foster homes. Josie was so young to take on this huge responsibility, but she didn’t want her brother and sisters to have the same childhood she’d had.
When Josie heard the car pull into the driveway, she took a big deep breath and opened the door. Annie* (7), Lucas* (5) and Rose* (3) were standing on the doorstep, looking up at her through wide, scared eyes. Each child was holding a plastic bag with a couple of pieces of clothing – this was all that they owned. They were now safe with their older sister, but they had a long road ahead to recovery.
The three children had been removed from their parents because home was not safe, and they’d experienced terrible neglect and abuse. Josie knew all about what they’d been through, and she wanted to give them the kind of childhood she’d never had. Josie was more resilient now than when she was a small child, but taking on the care of her three siblings was a huge challenge.
When the kids first arrived, Josie had hardly any furniture. She didn’t have a car or even a licence. The kids slept on mattresses on the floor because that’s all Josie could afford and there hadn’t been enough time to buy beds before they came to stay with her.
Grocery bills were also expensive, especially because Josie had to go from one person to a family of four in an instant. Josie didn’t just have to manage the additional expenses; she also needed to provide a lot of support to help her siblings recover from their trauma, abuse and neglect.
Even something like a trip through the McDonalds drive-through to treat her sisters and brother was not possible due to the cost, something that many other families often take for granted.
Lucas (5) would always cling to Josie, hiding behind her for comfort. Rose (3) wasn’t potty trained, didn’t eat much, and cried all the time.
Annie (7) was especially traumatised. In the first week at Josie’s home, she often stayed outside for hours, banging on the door, throwing tantrums because she had so many feelings that she didn’t know how to process them. She would also often run away from school, and the police had to be called to find her. Annie’s trauma was another stress that Josie had to deal with.
Without a car or licence, Josie had to take buses and taxis with the children to help them get to school, the doctor or even the shops. And not only that – Josie needed support too. After her early experiences of neglect and abuse, she was still hypervigilant and needed specialist therapy to help her process her own trauma.
Despite all these challenges, Josie was determined to provide a safe home for her siblings and keep all her family together because she wanted to give them a better start in life than the childhood she’d had. She wanted to give them all the opportunities that other children have every day. She didn’t know how exactly, but she knew she would do whatever it took.
The journey doesn’t end when children are removed from their unsafe homes and placed in kinship care with family members like Josie. The journey is only beginning. Both for the children and for their carers.
Josie attends all the children’s school meetings as their school doesn’t understand their trauma and the behaviour it creates. Josie makes sure their hair is done and packs their lunches with nutritious food every day. She knows keeping them engaged in education is important for their future.
Even though Josie is doing the best she can, she needs help in so many ways, support that Berry Street provides through its services and programs including:
- Access to 24/7 specialised support so that when things get tough, Josie has someone to turn to for help, resources, respite and financial aid.
- Access to therapy for Annie, Lucas and Rose, so the children can process their trauma, build positive relationships with each other and with Josie, and have a bright future.
- Providing the kids with basic items that make the house feel like a home, such as pyjamas, a toothbrush, nappies, medicines, toys, books, a soft toy to cuddle and bedding to make it feel like a home.
- Support and financial services that helped her to get her licence and a car.
- Support to get the furniture she and her siblings needed, such as a fridge, washing machine, TV, beds, tables and even a couple of bookshelves.
- Support at school to ensure the children are able to stay engaged in education.
Without wraparound support from Berry Street, this kinship care placement would have broken down. But Josie kept going, reaching out to Berry Street whenever she needed to. Donating to Berry Street means contributing to all these programs – and more – that support kinship carers like Josie to care for their family members and keep siblings together.
Right now, these three vulnerable children are together, and they’re loved and cared for; however, their trauma will mean it will take time for them to heal and recover. It’s easy to assume our foster and kinship carers are superhuman, but they’re just ordinary people doing extraordinary things. Helping kinship carers helps the children in their care, and helps kids like Annie, Lucas and Rose stay safe and stay together as a family without the added trauma of being separated.
If it weren’t for Josie, it’s likely that Annie, Lucas and Rose would have been split up – and there are many other sibling groups who need to find a safe home together. Your fundraising and support will help more vulnerable siblings to recover, to experience opportunities – and even thrive – together.
*Names and identifying factors have been changed to protect the privacy of our clients.
Josie’s story demonstrates many of the critical services Berry Street provides. Your donation will help fund vital services like these as well as other important areas of Berry Street’s work to ensure we can best help children, young people and families to be safe, thriving and hopeful.