Care not Custody – Anna's story

Care not Custody – Anna's story

Anna lived in residential care from age 11 to 17. Once, police were called because she walked into an office without permission and she was charged with burglary.

Anna (not her real name) is an Aboriginal woman from regional Victoria. Anna went into kinship care at 11 weeks old and just after her 11th birthday she was taken away from her family and placed in residential care. Within the first four days Anna was moved three times. ‘I have no idea why they moved me so much. In the next four years, I was moved over 35 times from one town to another and all over the place. I never unpacked my bags in the end because I didn’t know when I would move again’, she said.

With all the moves, Anna lost contact with her family for some time. But living in residential care never felt like home, ‘It was the worst time in my life … It’s meant to be like a home and a sort of family for you, but there are locks everywhere; to eat you have to ask, in some places you never knew what staff would be on so you’d wake up to someone in the house that you’d never even met before. As an 11-year-old it felt like prison’.

She says normal things, like having a pet, were denied to her in residential care – ‘I bought a cat with another kid, and the staff kept trying to take it away from us because you’re not allowed to have pets, but it was the best thing, it was sort of therapeutic. When I had a cat, I didn’t want to get in trouble because I didn’t want to get separated from it’.

Anna got into trouble a few times when she got frustrated or upset. On one occasion police were called because she walked into an office without permission and she was charged with burglary.

‘Once the police arrived, they’d charge you for every little thing, not just one charge, and it was for stupid stuff. The staff would push for the police to take us (to the station) or charge us and they didn’t care about the repercussions this has afterwards’.

Anna’s experience of living in residential care improved in her final placement, when she had the support of permanent staff. ‘It felt like the staff actually wanted to be there and with their help I started to see the light at the end of the tunnel’.

Despite moving so many times and dealing with court processes that the criminal charges brought on, Anna was determined to stay in school. She now has one year before she completes her studies in early childhood education. Working a part-time job waitressing and playing for her local netball team, Anna should have a world of opportunity ahead of her, but she faces barriers others don’t.

‘When I was at school having a criminal record meant that I always had to go and talk to principal about what was happening in the unit or my behaviour. But now that I am an adult it’s way worse. I can’t pass a police check. It’s delayed my career because I need to do placements for my studies and need to pass those checks to get a job in childcare’.

Anna says having minor criminal charges from her past makes it harder to live a productive life.

‘As a kid in residential care it feels like all your life you’re judged off a bit of paper instead of who you are as a person, and you think once you’re out of resi care it’ll be different. But the jokes on you, because even once you leave then there’s another bit of paper you’re being judged off’.

Please note –  Anna was a client of our practice partner the Victorian Aboriginal Legal Service.

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More information

Read more information about Care not Custody: a new approach to keeping kids in residential care out of the criminal justice system.

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