A former foster carer from Faulconbridge is calling for change within a system that’s supposed to protect children, but she says is failing to do so.
Maria Milardi was a foster carer between 2011 and 2017, before it all became too much.
In 2011 she had “Girl X” and her two brothers in her care for three months. Three years later, Girl X, who can’t be identified, died of a drug overdose aged 15, a year after she was allegedly raped at a foster care facility, and two weeks before the rape charge was set down for trial.
It still haunts Mrs Milardi to this day, “She [Girl X] was a delightful, vibrant young girl, she should have had a childhood. She didn’t need to die.”
Due to the challenging behaviour of one of the siblings, Mrs Milardi said that FACS (Department of Family and Community Services) had moved them into specialised care as they felt the needs of the children were too high.
“They [FACS] put him [one of the brothers] in a group home and said all the other siblings would have to go too. Looking back I feel so foolish that I trusted them,” she said.
This was Mrs Milardi’s first time fostering, after completing the three weekends of training required to be a foster carer.
“This training could never have prepared me for the challenging behaviours we were to face when we took on the carer role for this family,” she said.
Mrs Milardi recalls a time when one of the brothers lunged at his sister with a paring knife and “there was no response from FACS to us”.
“I didn’t know how to handle this. And there were many emotional outbursts where the children would self-harm by hitting their heads into the wall, cutting themselves and purposely injuring themselves. There were so many displays like this, and there was no support, no advice; none for the kids or for us,” Mrs Milardi said.
“The pattern of support [from FACS] in the first three months was what I experienced over the next five years,” she said.
Later in 2011, five brothers came into Mrs Milardi’s care.
“They had very high needs, and it wasn't until 2015, did we get reliable and consistent support,” she said.
“For the first two years of caring for five high needs siblings 24/7, they refused to give us much needed respite that we were asking for. The children needed so much support, we needed support, we needed more training, and definitely respite. But it barely came.”
She is urging people to sign a petition called Braxton’s Law, put forward by the Alliance for Family Preservation and Restoration, to protect vulnerable children in care. The petition calls for a national, independent body to handle complaints, and mandatory registration for all child protection workers.
The alliance has the goal of securing 10,000 signatures before the end of the month so it can be heard in parliament. It references Braxton Slager, the toddler who drowned in a foster carer’s pool near Kellyville in 2014.
Mrs Milardi hopes Girl X’s death will be a catalyst for change. She will be out and about in the Springwood square during the school holidays urging people to sign the petition.
A FACS spokeswoman said they couldn’t comment on specific matters but were committed to continuous improvement.
She said FACS supported families with evidence-based programs to help them change so that their children are safe. “Through providing family group conferencing to engage extended family in developing plans to support children be safe and working hard to preserve families where possible,” she said.
In the recent state budget, there was funding for 100 new child protection workers. The spokeswoman also said carers, including foster carers, will be given more training and support through the My Forever Family program from July 1 which aims to halve the time it takes to find vulnerable children a loving permanent home.
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