Jenny was left traumatised by Victoria’s foster care sector. Experts are calling for reform

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When Jenny was 15, her mother took her to the police and said she no longer wanted to take care of her.

WARNING: This story mentions self-harm and suicide

“She just abandoned me,” Jenny said.

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The police dropped Jenny off at a mental hospital, before she was placed in the care of a foster home in Melbourne.

She said her foster mother didn’t provide much care for any of the kids and even encouraged her to self-harm.

“She told me that if I was going to self-harm, I should do it properly and go the full way, and I should just kill myself to save everyone the trouble,” she said.

Now 28, Jenny’s still struggling with the emotional scars from her dysfunctional early years and time in care.

Her story is one of hundreds shared with the ABC as part of an investigation into child protection across Australia, which uncovered massive failings in the sector.

Experts say the system needs more funding and support, while the federal government should do more to improve early intervention and wraparound services.

Jenny has been left traumatised by the child protection system.(ABC News: Simon Winter)

Jenny was able to get out of the foster system and go into a private shelter, which she said was better but “not great either”.

When that shelter closed down, she arranged to live with her grandmother .

“It was actually not suitable accommodation for me, but it was better than all the other choices,” she said.

Experts call for holistic reform

Child protection is a responsibility of the states. Victoria has put $2.8 billion towards child protection services in recent years, which Premier Daniel Andrews says has led to improvements.

But Liana Buchanan, Victoria’s principal commissioner for children and young people, said the current level of investment was not enough.

“Stories of harm to children, of children not getting the support they need in the care system are very familiar and they absolutely continue to this day.”

A woman stands in front of a sign saying "Commission for Children and Young People"
Liana Buchanan says not enough is being done to support kids in foster care.(ABC News: Nicole Asher)

She said the federal government should also step in to provide services for families where the child might not need to be removed from the home.

“The reality is we do see these issues in every jurisdiction — there’s absolutely a need for the federal government to look at what broader support is needed for families and children,” she said.

Matt Bach, the state’s Shadow Minister for Child Protection, said there should be an independent inquiry into Victoria’s system.

A woman sitting at her desk
Deb Tsorbaris says the federal government should improve services to prevent kids ending up in the system.(ABC News: Nicole Asher)

There are growing calls for a royal commission into child protection services, but experts are unconvinced a slow and expensive inquiry is the best way forward.

Deb Tsorbaris, CEO of the Victorian-based Centre for Excellence in Child and Family Welfare, said the first step should involve the Commonwealth bringing states and territories together to develop a better system.

She also said the federal government could improve other intervention services.

“Poverty is a huge precursor to families having contact with the child protection system,” she said. 

“We need some of our big levers — our Centrelink system, our National Disability Insurance Scheme, our health services — to work together to support our child protection and child welfare services.”

‘The stuff that’s happening is horrific’

Despite the trauma she still experiences from her time in foster care, Jenny finished high school and got a degree. She plans to go back to university. 

“I try very hard to not let any of it affect me and to not let it show,” she said.

“It’s stolen so many years from me.”

Having survived the system, she now wants people to know what it was like.

“I need people to see what’s happening,” she said. 



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