Care not Custody – Mia's story

Care not Custody – Mia's story

Mia (not her real name) grew up living with her mother after her parents separated. She loved her Mum, but her Mum had mental health issues and sometimes tried to harm herself in front of Mia. After those incidents, Mia went to live with her father who was also looking after four of Mia’s siblings. Mia found it hard to settle at her dad’s place. She was diagnosed with an intellectual disability and complex post-traumatic stress disorder. After a few months, her dad decided that he was not able to care for her anymore, so Mia was moved to residential care. Now 15, Mia says residential care doesn’t provide the support and care she craves. ‘It’s bad because you don’t get love there. People just come to work to get the money and go home. There’s not many carers that like you and stuff gets locked away, so you can’t even get metal forks or glass cups,’ she said.

When Mia first moved, a lot of her workers weren’t told about her background, disabilities and mental health issues and weren’t provided with training on how to manage and support these conditions. She said workers often called police for minor things. ‘I was going through a lot of stuff and I got in trouble for stupid things like breaking a plate. It’s like the workers thought they had to punish me. It’s not fair, it’s like they gang up on the kids.’

Mia said while some police treated her with kindness, others were not sympathetic. ‘All they think about is, when the police come, charge charge, charge. The police can be mean. They say “calm the **** down” and when kids are upset and crying they say “stop crying, you’re just being a sook”.’

Mia is now going to court over multiple charges of property damage. But she believes there are other ways to deal with misbehaviour. ‘In three years, I’ve had two good workers. One of them treats me like her own daughter, she understands and she listens. If you get upset or angry the good ones don’t get mad or threaten to call the police on you. They give you a hug, then you get better.’

‘The good workers actually really care and they think about you when they’re outside of work, like they call you and check in,’ said Mia.

When Mia was in care, a much-loved family member stopped contacting her out of the blue and she didn’t know why. A year later, she accidentally saw a document which detailed how that person had died from suicide. Mia hadn’t been told that the family member had died and how. On discovering the document, Mia got upset and ripped up the piece of paper. She then went into the office to try and find more information about what had happened to her family member. The police were called and Mia was charged with criminal damage for ripping up the paper and burglary for entering the office without permission. Mia’s lawyer is trying to have the charges relating to this dropped.

Mia often leaves residential care to see friends and because ‘I’ve had enough there and I feel more free and welcomed in the community,’ she said. She is often then placed in secure welfare, a higher security facility.

Mia is hoping to get a job and one day, to travel the world. ‘My dream is to go travel the country. I just want to see the whole world. I want to swim with the turtles.’

Mia says young people in out of home care need more understanding. ‘Kids in resi want love and to feel welcomed. Not like you’re in the gutter just because you’re in resi because your family has issues. It shouldn’t be like this. Kids are going through hard stuff and if they act badly, they’re doing it for a reason.’

More information 

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

Was this helpful?