The Holiday Season:
Ryan’s* Stor y
Children in Care
ACTUAL— A u s t r a l i a n C h i l d h o o d Tr a u m a G r o u p
Af ter Romulus
Ar tist Biography:
Issue 08 Januar y—March 2016 Contributors
‘The Gut’ Poem
Melaleuca Place –
Our Journey So Far The Artwork for this issue of ACTUAL was created by Junko Go.
This is an extract from After Romulus, a collection of essays that follow Gaita’s book, and the movie adaptation of Romulus, My Father. Gaita writes about his experiences as a European that migrated to Australia in the WWII/post-war era of the 1950s. In this excerpt, Gaita talks about his mother’s mental illness and how it has affected him long into adulthood. After Romulus was first published in 2011. (Hora’s children and grandchildren Yael and I) spent the next day at Frogmore and at the site of the camp. In mid-afternoon they returned to Melbourne. An hour or so after they left I felt edgy, tense and very disturbed. On a hair-trigger, I provoked a quarrel with Yael later that evening. That made me even more agitated because we hardly ever quarrel. I walked out of the house to my car, but with no conscious intention to do so. Again with no conscious thought I drove to Frogmore, my childhood home. I climbed through the wire fence surrounding the remains of the house. From there, with no sense of what I was doing or why, I walked half a kilometre across a paddock, my feet crunching on the wheat stubble, almost white by the light of the moon, and lay down next to a log in a swamp area. As is often the case, there was no water in it. More than fifty years earlier, a few days after she returned to Frogmore from the hospital in Maldon following a failed suicide attempt, my mother left the house without telling my father
or me and spent the night in that same swamp, lying beside a log. As we had done on the night she tried to kill herself, we sought help from Tom Lillie, a neighbouring farmer who had a phone and a car. His son-in-law, who lived in Bendigo and who had come to stay overnight with Tom, put together a search party of locals and the Maldon police. He was dressed in city clothes and an overcoat, which struck me as strange. He organised things in a voice that made me protective of my mother. Tom was disdainful of her, and I heard the same tone in the voice of his son-in-law. She came back to the house (I cannot say she came ‘home’) the next morning. My father and I were hysterical with grief because we thought she lay dead somewhere in the paddocks, but she refused to tell us what she did that night or why. She told us only that she had stumbled over a log and cut one of her shins. She said that she had been demoralised and had slept the night beside the log. I doubt that she slept. Not even someone as psychologIcally and spiritually weary as she must have been could have slept in such a place. Searchlights pierced the cold, black night. Rescuers shouted to one another. Over them she must have heard my father calling ‘Christel’ and me screaming ‘Muti’. Standing knee-deep in another swamp only a kilometre away from the waterless one in which my mother lay, watching ten or so men search for her body, is one of the most searing of my childhood memories. I do not know why my father thought that she would try to drown herself in water that came, at its deepest, only to the
knees of an adult. Perhaps it was because he was given to melodrama. Or perhaps he thought that having come back from hospital where sleeping tablets were pumped from her stomach, she had no more tablets with which to kill herself. What was I doing, lying there that night, almost sixty years old, forty-seven years after my mother had killed herself? At the time I thought that I wanted to feel as she had, but could I really have believed that? Did I believe that I could abstract how that night might have felt for her to be lying in the swampland of a desolate Central Victorian plain that she hated from the context of her life and take it into my own life? How could I separate out her mental illness, the particular quality of her displacement, the fact that only days before she had tried to kill herself? Psychological forces, strong and below the surface of consciousness, walked me to the spot where I lay, provoked into declaring themselves by the presence of Hora’s grandchildren, one of whom was the same age that I was when I came to the camp, just over the hill from our house. Those forces were not seeking what I thought I was seeking. Absurd though it was for me to think that by lying in the swamp that night I could better understand what my mother felt when she lay there, I am sure that I went there because in the thirteen years since I wrote Romulus, My Father my understanding of the desperation of her short life in Australia has been deepened by imagining her in that swamp. She spent the night there two years after we had arrived at Port Melbourne in 1950.
“...watching ten or so men search for [my mother’s] body is one of the most searing of my childhood memories.”
ARTICLE Continued—Page 4
I recently returned from a senior leadership conference with a difference. The conference was completely experiential - no seminars or workshops. We spent the time creating and studying an organisation in the ‘lived experience’. It is a conference I would highly recommend to the sector’s CEOs and senior managers. It is, however, not for the ‘faint-hearted’! An intense experience, it brought into sharp focus the ‘unconscious’ processes at play in organisations, and that what we pay attention to is more often than not ‘smoke and mirrors’- not where the real action is. It also reinforced that the very ‘colourless and odorless’ feeling of envy, which, when left unchecked, will cripple innovation and creativity in organisations and ultimately dampen staff’s personal authority to find solutions to the challenges we face in the sector. I also pondered what we teach children about envy. Perhaps it is not envy itself that is so destructive, but when it is left unspoken and goes underground, then it becomes more powerful than it needs to be. Children who live in care have much to be envious about. They are seen as different, not belonging, troublesome and challenging. Perhaps there is a place to help give them a voice to their envy so that it does not become destructive and therefore not continue to be vilified by society for the circumstances of their lives. Gregory Nicolau—CEO
The Holiday Season: Children in Care
Mary Utter is ACT Group’s resident art therapist who trains, consults and educates carers, workers, teachers and works directly with children, primarily in the out of home care sector. She shares some possible ways to make the holiday period a positive one for children, particularly in out of home care. In art therapy, you’re using the creative process as part of the therapeutic communication. It can be in forms such as play therapy, it can be more in the formal creative sense of drawing, creating, building, making things, and other interests the child may have. For example, with adolescents, we can use Pinterest to post photographs or whatever they like to express themselves and explore their identities, struggles and relationships. Children and young people who have experienced trauma, and children in out of home care, may have a difficult time during the holiday period. And during the normal stages of child development, these holidays can be periods when kids complain about boredom. It’s almost as if the things that once gave them pleasure and interest are no longer meeting the same developmental needs.
‘I don’t want to, I don’t have to, I don’t need to’. And I always think about, what are they feeling? Is it frustration, is it boredom, is it ‘I don’t know what to do’, is it ‘I can’t think of anything’? And if that’s what they’re feeling, what does that mean and what can we do about it? And so I treat it as an opportunity for the children and young people to still have experiences, but now these experiences can be shaped quite directly to the individual’s interest; their loves, and/or maybe the gaps that we see in their lives - their skills, or their experiences, or things they would like to have. If we think of adults as the teachers, then the children are the ones who need to learn. So what is it we need to teach them, and what is it they need to learn? The aim is for the children and young people to have some self-control, to have relationships, to have some awareness of self and other. Dr Bruce Perry talks about the core strengths of healthy child development: attachment, attunement, affiliations, belonging, self-control, self-regulation of emotions, tolerance of others, and respect. And that option in school holidays where you don’t have to be some place at 8.45 or 9 o’clock, the possibilities in everyday tasks such as making breakfast, eating food, can be shaped to that child and their needs, interests and/or feelings. So how does this holiday period affect children in care? There are higher levels of uncertainty, less ability to have influence and control over the decisions and experiences they have in their
lives. For these children and young people, it is important that we reduce feelings of anxiety. Because when we reduce anxiety, we’re reducing stress. We’re reducing the load on the body and the brain and the emotions to allow for growth in other areas. So the holidays can reinforce that child’s story about themselves, of being loved, of having people available for caring for them, of mastering a new skill and having new experiences, and exploring individual interests. So how do we support children and young people in their care during the holidays? I think it requires a degree of adults being brave in the emotions that we both feel for the children, and how we think they might be feeling. As adults in these situations, we can feel so worried about re-traumatising children, of overwhelming them by discussing emotions, or feelings, or holidays, or family, or what meaning they make of everything going on around them. We can be so worried that we give them nothing instead. We give them no language. We give them no space to talk, to explore and to share. And that sends the message that we can’t tolerate them, we’re not interested and we don’t want to acknowledge them. So even that silence has a meaning. But the message it teaches can be different, depending on how the child or young person interprets what the silence is.
Januar y—March, 2016
Boredom as a feeling still links like all feelings to an underlying need. That feeling state is one of positivity, or negativity - negativity in the sense of being uncomfortable about how we feel - and it still points to a need. When needs are being met, a person gets the feeling of, ‘I’m creative, I’m fun, I’m enjoyable, I can connect with others, I’m good enough, I’m clever’… or one that doesn’t meet the underlying need. That leaves that need still feeling exposed. So in school holidays, the structure that was once there for children and young people, providing them with stimulus, experiences, social dynamics and connections, changes. And that period of transition comes with new feelings, as does any change: it can be an experience of grief and/or loss. Change can mean a transformation of what was, to what is. So how does that child or young person make sense of it, and gain the self-control then to make choices on what they do, to continue to meet their underlying need? Just because it’s school holidays, it doesn’t mean they suddenly don’t need to learn anything more or experience anything. So the adults around them need to provide them with experiences and ways to do that. Of course, I’m all for periods of rest. If the children or young person wants to sleep more or have more down time, I think that’s good. But just like any other experience, for example in the high demands of being in a learning environment where we’re demanding a lot of energy and focus from our bodies and our brains, we still need those periods of rest. The same goes for the holiday period. A completely unstructured period of time can feel just as unsafe as the new experience of going into something that’s very structured. The difference and the meaning making behind the differences is the importance. So in school holidays, you can see the patterns of kids saying,
“Children and young people who have experienced trauma, and children in OOHC, may have a difficult time during the holiday period.”
ARTICLE Continued—Page 6
03 — 12
After Romulus (Continued)
I wrote the first draft of Romulus, My Father in three weeks. It must have been written in my heart long before, but writing it was not, of course, simply a matter of transcribing what was there onto paper. Many people have commented on the calm quality of the prose, but it was emotionally tumultuous in the writing—I felt exhilaration and depression in equal measure. Three weeks like that were not long enough to muse, to meditate imaginatively, over the dramatic story I told in the book. Perhaps for that reason, the image that presented itself to me, vividly, as representing her despair in the landscape is this one: The road from Baringhup to Moolort was five hundred metres from Frogmore, connected to the house by a rough track. The taxi that brought my mother from Maldon left her at the junction of the road and the track, probably at her request. I first saw her when she was two hundred metres or so from the house, alone, small, frail, walking
with an uncertain gait and distracted air. In that vast landscape with only crude wire fences and a rough track to mark a human impression on it she appeared forsaken. She looked to me as though she had returned from the dead, unsure about the value of the achievement. When I say that image presented itself to me imaginatively I do not mean that I made it or even part of it up. I wrote it faithfully as I remembered it, but I remembered it visually, almost cinematically. I suspect that the drama and pathos of it prevented me from seeing the less dramatic but more representative quality of her desperation, and perhaps from understanding its place in the rest of her life. Attempted suicide, the events that lead up to it and its aftermath, constitute an episode in a life, and the despair it represents may be limited to that episode. The kind of despair that I now see represented in the fact that she lay most of a night in a swamp pervaded my mother’s life in Australia through and through. Not every day, of course, but through and through nonetheless. My mother stayed another week with my father and me at Frogmore. Her mood was alternately lethargic and restless. Sometimes she went to Maldon, driven by my father on the motorbike or by t a xi. A ro und that t ime. Myra Laity, driving her husband’s taxi, came across her on the road between Baringhup and Maldon. She must have walked more than eight kilometres. Her dress was dirty and torn and her mood was as desolate as the summer landscape must have appeared to her. Myra took her to her home in Maldon, gave her something to eat and drink and also a clean dress. Myra told me this story almost ten years after I had written Romulus, My Father. I do not know why my mother was walking in the
summer heat on a journey of eighteen kilometres if Maldon was her destination. Perhaps she had quarrelled with my father and had refused a lift to Maldon, or to Castlemaine if she intended to catch a train to Melbourne, where she had been living with Mitru, her lover. Or perhaps my father refused to take her. Or perhaps she did not tell him that she was leaving, just as she told us nothing before (and almost nothing after) she walked out of Frogmore to the swamp. A few weeks later, she returned to Melbourne and to Mitru. I wrote to her often for the next year and a half, at first in almost incomprehensible German and then in English of sorts. ‘The heat up here is killing me,’ I complained. I told her that I listened to Superman and Tarzan serials on our batterypowered radio and about the antics of Jack, our cockatoo. I reminded her that I would be turning seven in five days’ time. In almost every letter I asked when she would come home. I don’t think she replied, though Mitru sometimes did. She kept my letters in a box she had brought from Germany and carried with her as she moved from one rented room to another, first with Mitru and, after he killed himself, on her own. In August 1958, my mother came to my school in Ballarat where I was a boarder. I had not seen her for two and a half years (not one and a half as I say in Romulus, My Father), nor had she written to me. She told me that she wanted to return to my father, asked me to tell him so and pleaded with me to persuade him to agree to it. She said that a doctor had told her that she would live no longer than a year if she were not cared for. She did not explain why he said this. I didn’t ask. I said almost nothing during the five or so hours we were together, offering minimal responses to her questions and volunteering nothing. I believed what the doctor had told her. She was evidently physically unwell,
“I wrote to her often for the next year and a half, at first in almost incomprehensible German and then in English of sorts.”
and rejected even by her son, she took an overdose of sleeping tablets on 10 October 1959. She would have turned thirty a little more than a month later. When I drive to Shalvah, passing through Castlemaine and then Maldon, on roads my father and I travelled often, or when I am on the Beach Road driving to Mentone where Hora lived, I miss them, sometimes intensely. I do not miss my mother in that way. When I miss my father and Hora I imagine us in conversation. I could miss my mother as I do them only if I could talk to her as an adult; if I could ask her why she did this or that; if I could comfort her for what she suffered as I now understand it; if I could offer forgiveness, were she to ask for it, for the wrong she did me, for which I sorrow, as she did, but for which I do not judge her. But I cannot seriously conceive of any of this. I knew her only as a boy. Even when I wonder anxiously what she would make of the book and the film, Romulus, My Father, and of this book, and of me, her son, who put her under the public gaze, I know that, though I can frame the questions that I would put to her, it is incoherent for me even to try to imagine a conversation between us. I sometimes also wonder what my father would think of the film or the book, or what Hora would think of the film, but I can speculate, knowing them, that they might think this or that, or that they would be unpredictable on this matter, as only human beings can be. My mother, of course, had a distinctive perspective on the world. Neil Mikkelsen, who as a young farmer, I suspect, was in love or at least infatuated with her, described her to me before I wrote Romulus, My Father as ‘a woman of substance’. Commenting on that in the book, I say that he meant not merely that she was no scatterbrain, but that she had the arresting presence of someone who experienced the world with a thoughtful intensity’. I never knew my mother like that, not because I knew her differently, but because as a child I could not
“I don’t miss [mother] as I do my father and Hora, but I long for her in a way that I do not for them.”
make such a judgment. She does not have for me the individuated presence of an adult, a distinctive perspective on the world. So I cannot imagine being with her as though she did. But that is how she would have to be if I could miss her in the way I miss my father and Hora. I wish I could miss her that way. I don’t miss her as I do my father and Hora, but I long for her in a way that I do not for them. My longing goes deep, so deep that I cannot think of myself without it. I do not think that my mother is more deeply part of me than my father, that my identity is more importantly shaped by her than by him, though her influence is probably more subterranean. But I am constituted by the way I long for her, by the psychological and ethical factors in which that longing is embedded and which make it what it is, factors that I do not understand but that I know walked me to the swamp. —Raimond Gaita
Januar y—March, 2016
the result, I assumed, of general neglect and of her asthma, which attacked her with unrelenting severity. She was gaunt, hollow-eyed and skinny. When she left I asked the headmaster to tell her, if she came again, that I did not want to see her for the time being. I did not know what to say to her because I knew my father was committed to bringing Katica to Australia. I also resented her putting me under such pressure though she had not even written to me for two and a half years. A week later the headmaster told me that she had come again and that he had done what I asked him to. Almost a month passed before I went home for the term holidays. Only then did I tell my father of my meeting with my mother and what she had said. She phoned him at the house of our neighbour, Tom Lillie. He told her that he could not take her back and that, even if he could, it would end as it had in the past. Moved by her pleas he agreed to meet her in Ballarat. She was dead before they could meet. For nearly all of the time since my mother’s death, it has mattered to me that when I asked the headmaster to tell my mother that I did not want to see her I qualified that by adding, ‘for the time being’. When the film was made I insisted that those words be given to Rai. Only recently did I realise that I do not know whether the headmaster conveyed that qualification to her. I do not know what he said, but I can imagine the disapproving, condescending tone in which he would have spoken to her. And if he told her, was she so shocked that I didn’t want to see her that she did not hear the qualification that followed? If she heard it, did she believe it? In Ballarat she lived on the east side of the city on a steep hill in an outer suburb. She had lived there with Mitru before they moved to Maryborough. There, in a tiny room in a small weatherboard house, physically very ill, in psychiatric care, abandoned—she must have thought— by the man who would never fail her
05 — 12
The Holiday Season: Children in Care (Continued)
I think it is important to talk about holidays, to talk about family, to talk about gifts. We can see what the influence of instant media, instant connection, instant gratification, has on young people; how it shapes the brain, expectations, and social norms, of ourselves and of others as we move through life and understand how the world works, how community works, how culture works. And I think if we focus too much on the external without the connection, we’re sending some pretty confusing messages. If we see a child gets easily overwhelmed and we know that they have difficulty with transitions but we want to plan different activities and experiences that we know they’re really going to love, how do we then prepare both their body and their brain through their relationships so they can have a successful experience in all of these things? There are lots of good activities that
children can engage in during the holiday period that will promote their wellbeing. Having enough physical exercise is important. Young people and children need outlets for their energy, and need to learn to have different levels of energy for different activities, and that there’s a natural rhythm to that. No one can sustain high levels of energy for long periods of time. So we have natural troughs, ups and downs throughout the day, and those are periods when we refuel and eat. Those periods are great opportunities in school holidays to also look at the language around food and why we eat, why we take care of ourselves and do all these things so that kids have some ownership over it. I’m not saying they should have all the responsibility in this circumstance, but it is a worthwhile exercise to link into their motivation. Most kids are motivated to do the right thing, motivated to learn skills and to develop. It’s giving them the opportunities and the support to do it, which is really important. Holidays are also a great time to reinforce where children and young people’s interests already are or could be. Making things can be great, whether it’s food or whether it’s science projects that have different sensory experiences. Due to the neurology of the brain, these sorts of activities will provide sensory feelings that will increase verbalisations. Fabrics, slime, food, sand, all these things are great to engage with, because these activities calm the body and open up the channels of expression. There’s something quite soothing and tactile when you work with something that’s three-dimensional. You’re quite engaged with it. When it comes to the holidays and children in care, the big question is, how do we want to support the integration of loss? Do we address it, or do we want to deny it? Do we want to acknowledge that there’s death and change, or do we want to say to these children and young people, ‘No no no, you always have to be happy’? If we accept life experiences are both positive and negative, and if we provide children and young people with the support to negotiate those feelings, and show them that they’re not things to be afraid of, to fear, avoid or deny, then they will have another story ready to help deal with the
next experience they have that elicits those same feelings. They have another way of expressing it. They have the means to see themselves as having that sort of empowerement in that interaction. So in a lead tenant, or in a residential situation, I think it’s not always just about waiting for the kids to say what they want to do. Sometimes it’s about leading as adults. But there can be ways to invite the young person or child to express interests or desires. And sometimes those messages of, ‘I don’t care, do what you want’ or ‘Whatever’ can actually mean, ‘I don’t know how to care about that, because what if I’m disappointed?’. So is it a coping mechanism? Is it a protective skill? And if that’s how the child or young person feels and is expressing themselves, we can still acknowledge that. It’s still okay. It is what it is. It’s adaptive. Whether that approach is going to work for them for the rest of their life or otherwise, it has a place for now. So you suss it out. Manage it on an individual basis. Find out if it’s okay to have something small – an object or a project - there, even if the child is saying, ‘No no no’. Or does the child or young person not want to celebrate the holiday at all? Find out if you should manage the situation by saying, ‘I respect that, you don’t have to, you don’t believe in it, that’s not your faith, that’s not your religion’. Or does the child actually want to make a statement against consumerism? Ask them what whey would like to do, how they want to mark the event while everyone else around them is marking it. Do they want to partake in it? What do they want to do? Because holidays can mean lots of different things to lots of different people. Is it a time to reconnect? Is it a time to give thanks? Is it a time to say what you hope for in the future, or to reflect on where you’ve been? Traditionally, that’s what holidays and rituals were for. Humans haven’t developed as little individuals running around, but as collective groups. And that can be a real challenge in the out of home care system. Reinforcing that sense of affiliation and belonging is crucial to one’s development of the sense of self, and to be able to be with others and in other groups. It’s important to develop tolerance and respect for others, form relationships, social skills, practice your emotions.
Januar y—March, 2016
—Sara, young person in care
To say, oh we don’t want to do that because the child or young person might start thinking about their family, and their family means ‘X’, isn’t helpful. As a carer, you have to ask yourself, what does it mean to me when I read that person’s story on paper? Is that what it also means to that person? And do I know? Have I asked? Or am I making assumptions? Is that my grief, is that my anger? Resources I think I use a lot of resources available to me, particularly on the Internet. For great DIY science projects I use the CSIRO website. I use Pinterest a lot, and I know there are a lot of other people in the sector using it in this kind of work. On Pinterest, you can see what other people are doing, ideas. For instance if you know a child or young person that likes drumming, you’ll find a million different ways to make drums in places like Pinterest.
Youtube is also great for different ideas. If you don’t know how to do an activity, you can just YouTube how to do it. There’s so much access to information and skills and we don’t always have to be the experts, all the time. Sometimes learning how to do things with children and young people shows them an example of how to be a lifelong learner. It teaches the child that even if they don’t know how to do something, they can figure out if they get help, even if they’ve never done it before, which is a very valuable strength to have. —Mary Utter Art Therapist and Lauren Bruce Communications Consultant, ACT Group
07 — 12
There is a pervasive problem plaguing our society in Australia. Labelled an epidemic by authorities and news organisations, methylamphetamine – more commonly referred to as “ice” – is ruining the lives of many people in our country, and the lives of their loved ones. Unfortunately, there are some common caricatures and stereotypes associated with those addicted to the substance, leading to societal judgment without compassion. Often these people are young people, and often they have a difficult background. In recovering from the drug abuse, they have inflicted lasting damage to their health, and they have a long road ahead to recovery, and to regaining their self- confidence and dignity, if that is possible at all. One such young man is Ryan*, an 18-yearold former ice addict now in Concern Australia’s Lead Tenant program. Coming to Australia with his mother, younger brother and former stepfather while his father served time in New Zealand, Ryan was very young when he first began using ice, and getting into hot water with the law.
Speaking to him and his Concern Australia caseworker Luke about Ryan’s experiences, it is clear he is on a positive path. He holds very little self-pity and is brutally honest as he tells his story – of a broken family, of crime, of bad “trips” and of subsequent mental illness. ACT: So Ryan, tell us about your experience. Ryan: I was in trouble with the police a lot and I was doing a lot of crime. I was in juvie and doing heaps of bad stuff. I was an ice addict; really bad on drugs. I was in and out of juvie. When I got out of juvie, I went to the psych ward because of drugs and went to resi care. Police said, ‘your brother’s not safe around you because you’re all about drugs. Because I was smoking ice in the house, I was doing all sorts of stuff and my mum didn’t know about it. I mean, I think she may have known a little. I was always kicking my younger brother out of my room. I’d say, ‘I’m too busy at the moment. Go chill with mum.’ He got taken to his dad’s house, and I’d get… well, locked up. Locked up again and again. I’d come home, cops would raid me. Every two weeks, the cops came and I’d get locked up. It wasn’t very friendly. But I didn’t mind juvie. That’s why I kept going back in and out. I got along with everyone. I didn’t get along with a few people… I got involved in punch-ons a few times. But that’s just usual, you know. Got smashed once by three big guys, but that’s just normal in there. I didn’t mind juvie because every time I left, I wanted to go get ice. I’d just get out of juvie and bang, get ice, go out the entire night, cops would be at my door in the morning. Then I’d be back in. I was really bad. I was going through cars, stealing stuff, getting laptops… anything and everything. It was all for the ice, you know. I got maybe $50 grand, $100 grand worth of ice. Just in the period of one year.
But I don’t do that anymore. When I was in juvie, the first time I was in there one month, three weeks, then I was in there one month again, another three months, six months. I spent the rest of the sentence at Stepping Stones [an adolescent inpatient psychiatric unit]. I regret doing drugs. I have to go through so much hell every night. I wouldn’t want anyone else to go through what I go through. It’s really bad. You get really depressed, you get to the point where it’s like… you can’t really… it’s really bad. I see spirits and I see ghosts. I hear voices. My bed shakes at night. I just feel like there’s ghosts around me and they won’t leave me alone… which sounds crazy. I’ve been off ice for 12 months. In the Lead Tenant program, I spray paint and do all sorts of stuff now. We got our own spray paint wall at the house, which is really good. Luke: The stream Ryan’s in, the Lead Tenant Program, has one or two lead tenants in a house, and then one or two young people. Ryan’s got along very well with the other young person in his house. Unlike some other programs with other organisations, the caseworkers have a lot more to do with the young people. And with the Lead Tenant program, the young people are in a more normal situation – they’re helping to manage the house and can relate to the lead tenant a bit more. ACT: Ryan, why did you get into Ice in the first place? Ryan I got into ice because my mate, one of my mates started taking it, shooting it up and stuff. I said, “Can I have some?” You know, I wanted to try it. I really did. And yeah it just went from there. I was living with my mum at the time. My dad was in New Zealand. I talk to him now. I never used to talk to him. It was hard not having him in my life, but… Luke: You met him again through Facebook, didn’t you? Ryan: Yeah. He sent me this watch, this gold
bang [it started again]. Luke was with me. What did I do? What did I do? Luke: You couldn’t stop moving around, trying to get the spiders off you. Ryan: And there were things coming out of the ground. It was the worst experience I’ve ever gone through. Spider legs coming out of the ground… it was weird. Everything was spiders. I couldn’t… I had bare feet, trying to run away from this. I could feel them on me. Luke: It was a bit of a wake up call, I think. Ryan: Yeah. I knew that if I did this again, I could kill myself. You know what I mean? Because this is serious, that stuff. It is real serious. And they call that a psychotic episode. A drug psychosis. Now I’ve… got schizophrenia. Which is hell. I see things every night. Which is crazy. But it’s all in my mind. Which I know. I know that it’s all in my mind. I’m pretty stable compared to what I used to be. I take my medication at a certain time. I take my medication at about nine in the morning, then I have to have it at about five at night, then about nine pm again, otherwise I start going into a psychotic episode. It’s really bad because I won’t be stable for the rest of my life. But for some reason I am stable when I have my medication and can talk to people normally and make conversation. I don’t know. Some people might not think I’m stable, but I think I’m stable. Luke: He has his ups and downs, you know, but he’s certainly a lot more stable than he was when he’d just come out of Stepping Stones. ACT: So what would you say to children and young people going through similar experiences as you? Ryan: Not to do drugs. I’d say don’t do it. When you’re young and taking ice, you’re going to be f**ked. Sorry for the language, but you’re going to
end up either dead, have bad mental health issues, or you’re going to be on it for the rest of your life. Which is not good, you know. The ice will take over your life. You’ll go to jail. You’ll become a dealer. You could end up killing someone from giving it to them. You know what I mean? You’re hurting other people. And you shouldn’t be hurting other people. The Lead Tenant program has been really good. There’s a good group of workers. They’ve got a good group of people working at Concern Australia. It’s a lot better than resi care, because you get to be independent. And it’s good to be independent, because you learn new skills and you learn what to do in life. You learn to look after yourself. You gotta cook for yourself. You’re in a normal house, know what I mean? Luke: Ryan has been one of the most successful people who have gone through the Lead Tenant program. Ryan: I’m the best person in the organisation in care! Every worker loves me. Luke: He’s certainly very engaging, very honest. And proactive as well, that he’s sought out the help with his mental health. So that’s really important. ACT: Ryan, what do you want to do next? Ryan: I want to get a job. I want to go work at a TAB. I want to go back to school and do year nine and year 10. I want to get a house, get a job, have a bit of fun with my painting, see my mum, see my brother. You know, I saw my brother for the first time in a year and a half, two days ago. And then yeah, get my learners so then I can get my Ps and then get a job, hopefully. *Name has been changed. —Lauren Bruce Communications Consultant, ACT Group
Januar y—March, 2016
“Some people might not think I’m stable, but I think I’m stable.”
ring, gold chains… at least he’s got money, you know what I mean? He went to jail for three years… well, that’s what I found out. I used to speak to him when I was a really little kid, but I don’t remember it too well. He’s not allowed to come to Australia for another three years because he’s been to jail. ACT: So what was the turning point for you that made you go in a better direction? Ryan: Well first off, Concern Australia helped me a lot. They took me to a church called Krosswerds; it’s like a church rap thing because I like rapping. And we just started rapping together and we all just started talking about our experiences because they all used to be on drugs and they’ve come off everything; they’re good people. I lost my best mate to drugs. He committed suicide and yeah, that made me think a lot more. I had ice one time [12 months ago – that was the last time]. I saw spiders everywhere. I couldn’t get out of this trip. You know, I just saw all these spiders coming at me, attacking me. I saw a spider, you wouldn’t expect it to be so big, on [my friend]’s face. Luke: He hadn’t had ice for seven months before that. Ryan: Someone gave me a bad batch. I started smoking it, but no one else [in the room] started smoking it. No one except me. They tried to f**k me. Two hours later my mates left me and I haven’t spoken to them since. They just wanted money off me. They didn’t give a shit. I was hallucinating; it was really weird, that day. I got home and took ten Valium, which I shouldn’t have, because then I had to go to hospital. But the trip stopped for an hour or two and I was thinking, oh my god, that Valium saved my life. Got home and
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Artist Biography: Junko Go
Junko Go was born near Kyoto in Japan. She left Japan for New York in her mid-twenties, where she studied art for three years. Go then came to Australia in 1992 to continue her studies at the University of Tasmania. She is now based in Launceston. In a quest to find universal values, Goâ€™s art is not tied to a particular art movement and as such, her works have a unique aesthetic that encompasses elements of painting, drawing and storytelling. Her strong interest in dualism results in paintings that are simultaneously abstract and figurative, simple and complex. It is these paradoxes that give them their strength. We are drawn to what they are, but also what they are not. Goâ€™s paintings provide the opportunity to meander, to search, to rest, to analyse. What at first glance appears a simple motif becomes a multifaceted story, woven over time by layers of paint and laid upon with complex and intertwining imagery. Paintings by Junko Go can be found at Gallerysmith in Melbourne: gallerysmith.com.au.
Melaleuca Place is an ACT Government initiative, funded to provide intensive therapeutic services to children and young people in the statutory services, who are 0-12 years of age and have experienced trauma as a result of abuse and neglect. It came into being following a growing recognition that an integrated whole-of-government response is required to protect children and young people. As a community, we must endeavour to prevent maltreatment before it occurs. However, where maltreatment has already occurred, there is growing evidence that intensive intervention, as early as possible in the life of the child (and their family), and supporting all those involved in their care can help lessen the detrimental effects of abuse and neglect. Some readers might be intrigued about the name of the service, Melaleuca Place. The Melaleuca is a tree from the myrtle/eucalyptus family. Melaleucas are able to adapt to harsh and
“As a community, we must endeavour to prevent maltreatment before it occurs”.
The establishment of the therapeutic outdoor environment was a collaborative project between the University of Canberra and the ACT Government over six weeks. The project involved Landscape Architect students in the Faculty of Art and Design and students in the Faculty of Health’s Master of Occupational Therapy Program, putting together various design concepts to establish an outdoor space where children could spend time as part of their therapeutic program at Melaleuca Place. The key design elements aim to create a space where children are able to engage in calming and relaxing activities, which enable self-regulation and overall emotional wellbeing. Melaleuca Place became a fully operational service in July 2014. The team of professionals comprises psychologists, social workers, an occupational therapist, a speech pathologist and a psychiatrist. Since its inception, Melaleuca Place has been providing outreach multidisciplinary assessments and interventions to children and young people. These are aimed at facilitating healing, recovery and positive life outcomes using evidence informed frameworks and models such as the Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics, Dyadic Developmental Psychotherapy and Attachment Focused Interventions (e.g., Circle of Security). There are 27 children receiving intervention from the team. Melaleuca Place has been able to engage with all of the referred families leading to a 100% engagement rate over an 18-month time frame. There has been ongoing positive feedback from external stakeholders, as well as feedback captured from the parents/carers through a survey. I have been working at Melaleuca Place since it became operational about 18 months ago, and feel privileged to be part of a dedicated team who are passionate about this area of work. It would be miraculous if this journey was without any setbacks, tribulations and frustrations but the ongoing desire to do the best is what keeps us going. — Tej Kaur, Clinical Psychologist/Team Leader, Melaleuca Place, ACT Canberra
Januar y—March, 2016
Melaleuca Place: Our Journey So Far
difficult conditions, and their leaves are known for their natural healing and soothing properties. The use of word “Place” instead of “House” or “Cottage” was decided after consultation with young people from CREATE, the peak body representing children in out of home care. Feedback indicated that “Cottage” reminded them of an asylum or mental health service. It was felt that “House” might have residential care connotations. Work on the model of service for Melaleuca Place began in 2013. Some of the key aspects of the project included community engagement, and building existing sector capacity to respond to the needs of the children who have experienced developmental trauma. The overall aim for Melaleuca Place is to provide children and young people with the therapeutic support to heal from their traumatic experiences and achieve optimal development. To achieve this, it was considered essential to build a traumainformed system or “village” around the child to further facilitate recovery. A monthly newsletter was distributed to the sector regarding the progress of the project, along with professional development opportunities. As part of the project, an extensive training program involving seminars, workshops and forums was made available to the ACT community sector. Over 400 staff across the ACT Government and non-government sector attended these training opportunities between November 2013 and June 2014. As p ar t of establishing this service, great care has been taken to ensure the environment used by the children is safe and welcoming. This included both indoor and outdoor spaces. As a site, a small caretaker’s cottage on the grounds of a Canberra college was chosen as it represented a “house”. This was refurbished with a view to have open office spaces so that children visiting the service had access to all areas, aiming to enhance their sense of safety and trust.
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‘Every Child has the Right to Feel Safe & to Thrive.’
This Publication is Produced by Australian Childhood Trauma Group
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