A foster parent's battles
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I really wanted to share our story. I say our story as this is a story about a teenage girl and my fight to keep her safe.
I am a solo mother to three children. I work fulltime and to put it mildly, life is really busy.
Not long after the new school year started, my eldest daughter started to tell me about this girl she went to school with.
She never had any food for lunch, she was always in trouble for not having the right uniform and she wasn't allowed to socialise with other children after school, as she had to get home to care for her younger siblings.
In March I met this girl, and so our story begins.
Early this year, her father had an accident due to a drug overdose. The family was already know to CYF. There were five children in total; two lived with the mother and three with the father.
CYF promised a Family Group Conference(FGC) before the father was released - but it never happened.
I was starting to get to know the girl and she was starting to open up about her home life.
I had major concerns about the level of care of the children, the lack of clothing and food in the house, and the amount of verbal abuse occurring.
I made contact with the social worker to discuss my concerns. I was given a lot of lip service about what they were going to do, but nothing ever happened.
One day the girl called me at work. Her dad was having one of his 'moments' and all three children were terrified.
The Mental Health Service had no one available to send out, and CYF said it wasn't their problem.
Ever so brave, she called the police. They arrived and removed all three children from his care.
They allowed me to take the girl as she refused to go to her mother's.
Finally an FGC was held. The mother of the girl, who had dumped her on her father's doorstep years previous, showed up and wanted to play 'mum' again.
However, her home was just as unstable. She had a heavy drug habit and there was violence from her partner.
I went to the FGC as the girl's support person, as did her school counsellor and representatives from the schools of the other children.
It was agreed that day, that she could come to live with me. It was one of the best days of my life. To know that she would be in a safe and loving home; to be able to sleep at night again.
Despite all evidence presented, CYF decided to leave the other four children in the care of the mother.
At the FGC I was promised a lot of support with social workers, counselling, medical check ups, etc.
Two months down the track and nothing has happened. I don't even hear from the social worker, unless I contact her and even then it's hit and miss if I get a reply.
I was not given any information after the FGC. I was just told to take her home with me.
It is now coming out that I cannot register the girl with our family doctor without the consent of the mother.
I am also not allowed to take her for a one-week holiday in New Plymouth over Christmas without permission.
I provide all of her daily needs, and after all that this child has been through in her life, I want to take her to a zoo, stay on a farm and have a childhood.
But her mother refuses to give permission, and CYF tells me there is nothing they can do.
She is 13-years-old.
From the age of three, she was doing the night feeds of her younger siblings. At the age of six she was rushed to hospital after her father gave her some pot to try.
This was also about the time she was sexually abused. By the age of 10 she was skipping school and smoking cigarettes.
In the two months that she has been in my home, she has finished homework assignments for the first time ever. She has earned two merits, and never missed school.
She has given up smoking.
She saw her first ever fireworks display and tried her first Mr Whippy.
She now owns underwear. And she is counting down to her first Christmas with gifts and a family meal.
She now smiles.
So how do I now tell her, that her mother wants her back? That her mother, who says the most horrible things to her, has every right under New Zealand law to ask for her back and have that wish granted?
How do I explain to her, that the rights of the birth parents are of more value to the people who are meant to help, than the safety of the child?
Ask me, why is the child abuse rate so high in New Zealand?
CYF, Barnardos, and other community-based social workers, only listen to the parent. They only think of the 'ideal'.
The police become the ambulance at the bottom of the cliff and even they are limited with what they can do.
These children will become statistics. They will grow up into adults who will repeat the cycle because they believe that no one will do anything about it.
Or they will become another white coffin in the ground.
I can't save all five children, but I vow to do what I can to fight to save this girl. If I give up now, there will be no turning back for this child.
She is at a crossroads in her life and I want to see her choose the path that will lead her to positive opportunities.
She is a member of our family.
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