JASMIN Guy is one of the lucky ones.
Had she not been placed into foster care with a Newcastle family who refused to give up on her when she was 16 and suicidal, she said she would not, and could not, be the woman she is now.
“They saw past my behaviour, and my past, and my problems, to my potential,” she said.
Now 25, Ms Guy works in childcare.
She is surrounded by a loving family and good friends. She is paying off her first home, and she recently returned from an idyllic holiday in Italy with her husband.
But her future was not always looking so positive.
When she was 14, Ms Guy was removed from her mother’s care and placed into a high needs refuge with two other children and a primary carer. She lived there for two years.
In light of recent reports of Hunter children living in crisis motel accommodation due to a foster carer shortage, Ms Guy wanted to share her story in the hope it might encourage people to take a chance on these kids.
“I was already known to DOCs [now Family and Community Services – FACS] before I knew of their involvement,” she said. “Mum left me at home a lot.”
Her dad was “distant,” and had problems of his own.
Ms Guy vividly remembers her mother telling her that she would have to stay home alone while she went to work overnight in Sydney.
Ms Guy was six.
“She left, and … I still remember the panic in my chest… I ran to my neighbour’s house – she called my mum and mum came back,” Ms Guy said.
She was exposed to drugs and sex from a very early age.
It meant she saw things, and heard things, that she was too young to completely comprehend.
“At times it scared me… I kind of had to work it out for myself what was going on,” Ms Guy said.
They were living in a refuge when Ms Guy began to suffer symptoms of post-traumatic stress. She started overdosing on over-the-counter medications.
“Suicide was the intention. And attention,” she said.
She was admitted to hospital, and later, a child and adolescent mental health unit. She liked it there.
“I had kids my age there. I had nurses looking after me. And I was away from my mum,” she said.
When she was released, she was returned to her mother, who proposed they celebrate her getting out of hospital with a boozy bender.
Ms Guy was 14.
“I overdosed again that night,” she said. “It was a cry for help.
“Your mum and dad are supposed to give you love and support, but I was only really getting it when I was in hospital.”
The night Ms Guy was removed from her mother’s care, she heard arguing in the hospital hallway.
“My mum came in and said: ‘You’ve done it now Jas, look what you’ve done. They’ve got you now. See you later’.”
She was more relieved than scared. But she missed her dog.
“He was my comfort, my best friend,” she said.
“I could trust my dog to love me no matter what.
“So I stole him from the yard and played with him in the school oval. More than once.”
While living in the high needs refuge, Ms Guy bonded with her carer.
They played a lot of poker.
But depression was never very far away.
“Every now and then I’d go down a big hole,” she said.
“Then I’d either run away, or overdose.”
At 16, Ms Guy was placed with several foster carers. Each time, she ran away.
“I didn’t want to be a burden,” she said. “I felt too broken and too un-fixable. I didn’t want to waste their time. I also didn’t want to fall in love with a family and be let down again.
“I only had two years left and I’d be 18, and I knew once you’re 18, you’re an adult, and you don’t need to be cared for anymore. I didn’t want to let my guard down.
“With my mum and dad now – I stayed a bit longer, because I didn’t know Newcastle. But eventually I did run away.
“They were the first family that really chased me. They told me they weren’t going to give up on me, but I couldn’t give up on them either.”
Ms Guy is grateful for their tenacity in the face of some big challenges.
Over time, they taught her how to cope with her stress and emotions. She stopped running away. She stopped trying to hurt herself. She started to trust again.
But, it did take time.
Ms Guy recently completed training to offer respite care for foster families.
“When you look at the world now, and you see a stabbing, or the terrible things happening in the news, I can’t help but feel that if the person committing the crime had a little bit more love as a child, the world would be a better place – for everyone,” she said.
They told me they weren’t going to give up on me, but I couldn’t give up on them either.
CatholicCare, a non-government organisations working with FACS to find care for kids, issued a public plea for more Hunter foster carers last week.
It inspired some families to begin the process of becoming carers, but more are still needed.
“We have over 30 households – singles, couples, families – registered to attend our information session in Raymond Terrace next week,” Hunter-Manning CatholicCare Social Services director Gary Christensen said. “The Newcastle community is known for rallying around those in need. Once again this has proven to be true in response to our recent appeal for foster carers.”
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