Around 2002/3 I was made ward of the state by the NSW government due to family issues. As someone with a disability, I found it very daunting. I was thrown around from home to home, until I ended up in the care of a disability group home for children and teens. Things just didn’t seem right to me, being surrounded by people I didn’t know.
Some of the staff were great, others not. When it was time for an access visit with my mother, she would often say to them that stuff went missing – like a Gameboy, or toys. Now I look back at the clients in that house knowing full well that they were not able to do this, it would have been one of the staff. I know my mother reported it to the team leader and doctors, but things never got done. I would hate to think how many other clients this happened to.
Once I moved out of that house, the same service provider supported me to move into a new home by myself with regular care, where things began to get a little better for me. However, the whole ordeal of being a ward of the state and away from family took a toll on my mental health. I would be admitted at Westmead Children’s Hospital for attempted suicide 2-3 times per year. At the time no real, long-term help was offered from doctors or the group home.
Later on, I moved to a different service. The home was based in Parramatta and the clients there all had intellectual disabilities and were a similar age to me. I hated being there; new environment, new everything. On top of that, I found it a lot worse in terms of how the place was run – it was very neglectful to clients. When the other clients or I would raise concerns about their health or treatment, they would be ignored. At that time I was going through puberty and my medical conditions were getting worse; both my pain and general mental health. I found it very troubling that this was ignored and palmed off as nothing to worry about – I was still ending up in hospital at least 2-3 times a year. I lasted around 1-1.5 years at that group home.
The organisation running the group home did not train their staff on how to deliver appropriate care, provide assistance to the people living in the home or respond to the cries for help from their many residents.
Thankfully this story does have a better outcome. The next placement was a youth group home in Blacktown – one for all kinds of youth, not a disability group home. Throughout this placement my mental health started to be addressed. I found that I was listened to as opposed to being dismissed. I met some wonderful staff, a lot I still know to this day. I ended up moving out of that place when I was 17 years old, as soon as a Department of Housing unit became available. I was desperate to gain independence and feel safe where I lived, although it was very daunting trying to build life skills at such a young age.
As I reflect back on everything, I realise I was one of the lucky few who didn’t get addicted to drugs or end up in jail. I still carry a lot of trauma from being in these homes. As someone who needs 10 hours of care a day, with no informal supports, I am so cautious of who I hire. My experiences in the group home and foster care live on in my memory; impacting my decision-making on how I access healthcare and disability support. What haunts me most is the thought that my experiences as a young person are still the experiences of young people in foster care and disability group homes now.
Kimberly Lander is a transwoman and wheelchair user with cerebral palsy and autism, and is tube-fed due to gastroparesis and intestinal failure. Kim is passionate about improving diagnosis pathways, strengthening the mental health system and NDIS self-advocacy. Kim is represented by Champion Health Agency, where she pursues making a change through using her lived experience.
Our Voice is a series of guest blogs by members of our community who have been affected by violence, abuse, neglect or exploitation. Like the Disability Royal Commission, we want to spotlight the voices of ordinary people with disability telling their own stories.
For more information on the Disability Royal Commission’s investigations into the issues discussed in this blog, among others, see our info pages on disability housing, which includes group homes, and First Nations issues, which includes a look at out-of-home-care for children removed from their families.