19 year-old Violet* tells her story
“Mum was always high, agoraphobic, bipolar and just couldn’t get along with people at all. She went into manic episodes and was so highly medicated that sometimes she would disappear and we wouldn’t see her for days. And she was the only person we had around us. As the eldest child I was my mum’s and my brother’s carer. I did all the grocery shopping and the cooking from the age of 6 and got looked after my brother and got him to school from the age of 8. When my brother turned 13 he stopped going to school and completely bombed out of everything that he was involved with. I’d started self-harming at the age of 12 and it had become really bad by this time: I was wearing long sleeves, long pants and that ended up being one of the decision makers for FACs when they decided that home was not a safe place to be. They showed up with police and literally the next day we were living in refuges throughout Sydney.
A month later we had a meeting with mum, setting rules if we were to go back home so that we could have a proper schedule and be safe. She thought they were ridiculous rules and blew up, so it was decided we would remain in care. We were staying at refuges and then one day we ended got a phone call that said we had a Foster Care placement with a Veritas House family. We had lived most of our lives on the Coast or in Sydney, so to arrive at a property with chickens and alpacas was a shock. The ultimate goal was to reconnect with our dad who we’d had no contact with and who lived in a town nearby so we could have some visitation with him.
Our contacts with dad unfortunately started to go downhill because of his girlfriend. FACs had been contacting him more, seeing whether overnights could be a thing, and dad had painted up bedrooms for us; we had our own radios and TVs – it was great! It was the first time we had experienced anything like that with Dad. But then it was decided we were not
safe in the house with his girlfriend, so my brother went back to live with mum, as they always got along and I was moved to a new, really nice Foster Carer placement. Looking back at it now, it was the best opportunity for me and I would jump straight into it now. But I had so many different expectations for myself at that time: I have my whole life had this plan that as soon as I was 16 I would be independent; not have carers willing to do everything for me when I had always looked after myself. So I ultimately self-sabotaged the placement. I was moved to a new Foster Care placement with a really committed, great carer and ended up getting a job. But I started to get in with the wrong crowds, and dropped out of school. I just wanted to make my own life and didn’t want to be stuck with a family anymore. I was just fighting against everything because I was feeling so depressed that my dad hadn’t stepped up and I’d been rejected.
My boyfriend and I started living together. This ended up being really bad because it was an abusive relationship: I was hurt physically and emotionally, got kicked out of the flat and he eventually got locked up. I ended up pretty depressed and spent some time at a mental health service, but even though this was a really dark time, it was also a chance to separate myself from the situation, which helped me calm down and think about it, and gave me another bit of strength. I just had a moment where I stood back and was like ‘how have I ended up here, pushing away all of the support I had to turn around and have that type of relationship?’ But that was also one of the events in my life that made me want to stand up for myself, and be better. I decided I wanted to get rid of all the people that I didn’t want around me and got back in touch with Veritas, and reached out for as much help as I could.
I ended up coming into the refuge as my tenancy was ending with a share house which had been horrible: they were just partying, and I had somehow managed to keep my job through everything so was trying to work. The Veritas refuge was really comfortable compared to the ones I’d stayed at in Sydney. The people living there were not as aggressive and on drugs like in Sydney and in Sydney you weren’t even allowed to leave the refuge. At Veritas the staff would bring you to the office every single day so you have the opportunity to chill somewhere new or actually go out and walk around town and they will take you home at the end of the day.
My case worker helped me get my Centrelink back up and after a couple of months in the refuge I moved into Veritas’ transitional youth housing flat that had just been renovated. It was very comfortable and right from the start it felt like home. It was a step above anything else I would ever have expected to live in – I expected it to be a dodgy house! It was the final step in me finally becoming independent. Before that I was always letting other people into my life who were probably the wrong people and who caused me to get kicked out of places. The hours I could work, money, groceries were all things I had been unsure of before, because they weren’t under my control. It was really nice to have my own place of solitude and having a nice place made me more confident. I started stepping up at work and working more hours than I could before because day-to-day living was just something I was unsure of before I moved into the flat.
I stayed in the flat for 3 months and during that time my Veritas case worker helped me get into the private rental property that I am in now. She helped me access Aftercare supports and Rentstart to help pay my bond; and now I have my own fridge, washer, TV, nice furniture. It’s great, I didn’t think I would ever be in that position. I am working more hours now so I can save more money and I am thinking I would be happy to stand up again and get a bit more help getting manager’s experience. I am also studying and I really want to one day be in a role where I can take care of people as a Nurse, Paramedic or maybe even working in mental health. I have been caring for people my whole life and it has been one of the things that has helped me get through living with my mum.
I wish I could stand up and help people the way my Veritas case workers do. I have had some amazing people touch my life and if I didn’t have them around I would have been so lost. I wouldn’t have actually been able to grow up if I didn’t have those influences in my life. There have been so many people that I look up to: I just want to be as strong, independent and successful as they are. And that’s why my advice to anyone who is trying to escape a horrible relationship or needs help in any way: definitely reach out. It doesn’t matter what type of situation you are in, there is always someone around willing to help. Trust the people that are older than you: they may sound dumb to you, but they have so many more years of experience and you’ve really got to trust that some adults know what they are talking about.”
*Name changed and generic image used to protect privacy
To find out how you can help Veritas assist people like Violet in the Orange community, visit our Veritas Orange Transitional Youth Housing Appeal page.
18 year-old Crystal-Alice* tells her story
“My brother was a very violent person and used to throw stuff around. I don’t know why he started being violent – I think he got on the wrong path with the wrong friends. I lived at home with two of my brothers, my sister, my mum and dad; but it was only me who experienced the domestic violence because it was always me who was trying to stop the fights; it was me who always confronted my brother; it was always me saying “you’ve got to stop, you’ve got to stop,” and he’d say “I don’t have to stop, I’m not doing anything wrong,” and I’d end up in the firing line.
I had been going to headspace and they referred me to CAMHS, so I was with CAMHS staff the first time I came into Veritas House. My case worker spent time with me, getting to know me and writing down my story so that she could get an idea of how she could help me. She helped me discuss my situation, as I was pretty nervous the first time and I didn’t want to talk much. I was in Year 10 at that time, but I didn’t want to go to school because I was bullied a lot and didn’t want to be there; and I used to get suspended and in fights a lot. I was still living at home and was hoping to get help to get some money for myself through Centrelink or a job.
Then when I finally couldn’t take it at home any more, I moved into the Veritas refuge, where I stayed for six months. The first time I went there I was really nervous, because I didn’t know who was there and I didn’t know what the workers would be like. But then I met the workers and they were all respectful, and were fun to be around. You’d have one worker who would always be keen for a game of basketball; another who would always be there for a talk; one would take us for drives; and another would cook us dinner. I grew to love it: I felt safe there and I felt welcome. I also made some new friends in the house and I still talk to some of the people.
When I was living at home I would regularly do the washing-up or cook food for my brother and sister because my parents would have to look after my brother a lot to make sure he didn’t hurt us; so I didn’t need as much help being independent as some of the other people living in the refuge. But Veritas staff still helped me complete a Living Skills booklet which covered basic stuff like cleaning, cooking, making your bed and that was really helpful.
When I turned 18, my case worker helped me get Centrelink and a lease on a property and she’s been supportive the whole way through. Veritas donated me a bed and a washing machine; helped me get a fridge and a TV; and we used the Veritas Ute to transport things. I moved into a one-bedroom unit which is pretty peaceful, which I like. I can do what I want, and there’s no-one to tell me what to do.
Two years ago I moved schools and went to Skillset which is the best school that anyone could ever go to. You call the teachers by their first name and they are respectful and know what they’re doing; you wear casual clothes; there’s less students so less arguments and fights; and everyone there was going through similar things at home, so we all shared something in common. I have just finished my HSC and now I am trying to get a job. Eventually I want to go to TAFE or University to help youth, because I have my experience and would like to help young people who are going through stuff and help them in the same way I was helped at Veritas.
One of my friends who was coach-surfing is currently at Veritas, and I know it can be hard for some people to get help because they are afraid of being judged or of what their parents will think and they don’t want to disappoint them. But sometimes you just have to put yourself first. I would tell people who are having a hard time to just be yourself; never be afraid to say what’s on your mind or what problems you’re having; and you’ll never get help unless you ask for it, so go for it.”