The arrest of Tiahleigh’s foster father for the murder of the 12-year-old has left a nation in horror.
As someone who has worked in child protection and fostered over 30 children I am, unfortunately, not remotely shocked by this. What surprises me is that it doesn’t happen more often!
For years I have counselled children in my care through the abhorrent abuse they have received in previous, so called, care situations.
As a worker for the department I saw, time and time again, situations where children should have been removed from abusive carers and were not. More often than not this is because these carers are the best of a bad lot. I am well aware that there are some amazing carers out there, but there are also many that should never be allowed to care for children.
The most vulnerable people in this country are children in care. When they enter your home this vulnerability is so visible it is enough to bring you to tears. For me, the hardest thing to manage is that these children always long for their birth mothers, no matter what.
When they have been abused in a care situation this, not only, amplifies that longing but creates an enormous confusion for the child around who is going to keep them safe.
These children need our help
Trying to gain the trust of a child who has been abused in a previous foster home is incredibly difficult and takes a lot of time and patience.
I had one child who came to me at the age of 11. By the time she reached me she had been in 11 different foster homes and had been abused in five of them. Her birth mother, who was aware of this abuse was unable to keep her child safe. I cannot imagine the pain and helplessness felt by these mothers; or Tiahleigh’s right now.
These children have no voice and not closely monitored enough. The fact that Tiahleigh was not reported missing for six days after her disappearance raises enough flags, let alone the fact that she was known to have been being sexually abused by the son of her murderer.
Keeping all this in mind, why did it take nearly 12 months for these perpetrators to be charged?
In all my years in this field I am yet to see a carer charged for the abuse of a minor in their care. Furthermore, I have seen many abusive carers maintain the right to have children in their care.
Why are these carers allowed to continue caring? The simple answer is, there are simply not enough carers. This is a problem in society, not just a departmental problem.
Unless people open their doors to these incredibly vulnerable children, this problem has no chance of rectifying itself.
No policy changes or government overhauls will keep these kids safe. Only we, as a society, by stepping up and providing safe refuge, can hope to overcome this dire and horrendous situation.