Surprised? Im not !
Further to my three previous blogs:
Recently I formalised complaints as to these blogs to Minister Jenny Mikkos, Minister Jacintha Allen, as well as the Chief Executive Officer of Berry Street & Regional Directors of both Berry Street & Anglicare St Lukes.
Im pleased to note Minister Mikkos has chosen t make two recent media interviews where she indivates a preparedness to clean up the Foster Care Sector. Minister Mikkos – This simply cannot happen without the Foster Care sector being back under State Government control until such time as some of the old school and dead wood is summararily dismissed.
As I have clearly proven, both Berry Street & Anglicare’s positions are untenable. Berry Street CEO Sandie De Wolf PHONED ME ON “………….with an attempt to intimidate me to back away from the issues I’ve raised, asking also that I refrain from open verbal attack calling to account those staff to which have clearly corrupted both their roles and that of their employer in this vital human care sector. The conversation with Ms De Wolf AO (her self considered to be the ‘darling’ of the Foster Care sector) was heated, although as she persisted in the misguided adventure of protecting her corrupt staff completely bedazzles herself refusing to accept responsibility though at the same time openly admitting she has no idea her Regional Director Steve Johnson, had shamelessly signed his name to a fraudulently written letter by the following:
Johnson asserts I had been deregistered as a foster carer – WRONG ! & that I “failed to work as part of a team – also WRONG. If challenging Berry Street to provide appropriate referrals to Pediatric advice for drug addicted foster kids upsets your bed count each day and as a result, my determination to ,are sure these kids are adequately provided for (at my expense), I’ll gladly wear the wrath of an organisation seeking to dispense with me as a carers by any false means they can, because neglect on their level isn’t a good look how is it ? Better to blame the foster carers after all eh? An easier target & protects the millions of dollars in public money paid each year to CEO de Wolf’s Berry Street agency. It also protects by default a building of mostly genuine paid Case Managers, who themselves must wear the wrath of dirty, under handed & corrupt staff higher up the chain, like for example Suzanne Pickard, as self proclaimed ‘Vetran’ of this sector. Problem is Pickard’s position is insulated by a long standing habit of protecting the ‘old guard’ of her dear mate, Sandie De Wolf, both after all sit glued to their seats on the board of Berry Street. Then there is the now former Manager of Home Based Care Matt Chandler “now no longer wi this organisation”. Might it be because he was accused of assaulting a foster child on Berry Streets Grampians regions grounds in 2014? I’ll sure as hell never know because of course they refuse to say.
strange thing is, the LETTER DATED…….Matt Chandlers name appears as a participant on the select panel for current and former foster carers as one of those who penned his name to my removal as a foster carer. Same man also who took great acception to me seeking authority for (and got from DHS Ballarat Case Manager Irene Padric) and as request by Centrelink Child Psychiatrist – AOD Counselling through “Stepping Out”. You see Matt reckoned it would label the child if I took him for routine counselling and support for drug addiction. What would Chandler have me do when said child comes home daily substance abused. Sit and whistle Dixie and pretend this wasn’t hapoening? I take my role as a volunteer Foster Carer and therefore duty of care very seriously indeed. And yes, I attended several sessions with the young charge all the while Chandler complaining this Counsellor “wasn’t working as part of the team” Problem is Chandler hasn’t even read his own clients file notes. Hard he done this he would have seen that Berry Streets own AOD staffer recommended his counselling be upgraded to the level of the stepping out program. Never mind he remained hell bent on ridding the thorn in his side – ME.
It never appears to be within the level of possibility that Carers are the backbone of the Foster Care system to the paid staff, and that given they appear hopelessly overloaded – Carers are ever willing and able to pick up the slack. Indeed, some paid staff have privately admitted to me on several occasions they’re glad I picked up and ran with the White flag on behalf of Berry Street to an AOD counsellor as they weren’t going to get an “authority in time”. In time for what I wondered? Put simply while the incompetence of paid agency staff is clearly evidenced here & at the highest agency levels, kids are seriously neglected by none other than the system that is supposed to protect vulnerable kids – child protection itself.
I recall an incident in which Matt Chandler former Manager of Home Based Care at Berry Street’s Grampians Region, was accused of assault by another of the kids I’d been asked to foster. Yes this kid had a history, they all do. The allegations were serious & I had been barely briefed by staff (off the record of course) as to what occurred. This Manager was not I was advised in anyway suspended with or with or without pay. I’m not sure of the end result as to whether or not these allegations were considered founded or unfounded, accept that I’m aware a physical altercation most certainly did occur. Chandler says it was required of him to restrain said child on this particular occasion. No matter what though Chandler most certainly should have been suspended with pay and away from the Berry St Office where this incident occured.
Conversely when allegation is made against an unpaid Foster Carer by A Foster child, without question, the Carer is suspended from providing more care. The support provided by the system in this regard is scant to say the least, lip service at best. The documented statements made by paid staff in a Carers file in evidentially indicate ALL support if provided to the Carer. I can tell you for a fact it is not. Allow me to expand upon this example.
One of kids in my care returned to placement after being questioned by Police earlier on the same say for stealing a car in the early hours and taking it for a spin. After 6 hours in Police Custody, said child was released back into the care of Berry St staff. He was in turn then told to return by train to my home. When he returned to placement it was clear the was going to be an incident. It wasn’t a matter of if but when. It wasn’t that this child was angry with me, he was angry with the system. Blame is a big thing for these kids and usually it’s the Carers who cop verbal and physical abuse (often daily as in my case). But we care, so we battle on and survive as best we can. Well as predicted this kid was agro and turned his bedroom in my house upside down. When I attempted to engage the child in an attempt to calm him (sometimes this helps sometimes it escalates the behaviour). He assaulted me and damaged by property and stormed from my home. Out the front exclaimed some hate speech directed to me and punched the nearest light pole. I was then to discover he made an allegation it was me who had assaulted him (not that was otherwise the case) and that the injury he sustained by hitting a street pole was self harm arisen from his own anger.
In the meantime of course, I was suspended from caring and waited several months whilst being interviewed twice. Once by Chandler himself with another staffer & the second time by 4 additional staff. The allegations were eventually dismissed a said child admitted his injuries were indeed self inflicted.
When Foster Kids make these allegations, the allegation stays on the carers file no matter what. It’s then added by person or persons unknown in the agency (Berry Street in this case), that the allegations were either supported or unsupported. Of course it was a false allegation and therefore unsupported.
So, Carers are in effect, suspended, (paid staff at least in the aforementioned) are able to continue in their role. Double standards to say the least. But you see Chandler already had me in his sights. Paid lip service to the investigation in terms of it’s timing and at the same time dragged his feet and dragged this out for as long as he possibly could. The Department, evidently encouraged his behaviour. For Chandler of course, he was a hero in his own lunch box. It allowed him to scapegoat the Carer, by looking good to his masters DHS & at the same time send a warning shot across my bow about Caring through Berry Street whilst on his street as it were. It was payback if you like (read through my previous blogs).
Carers are provided support its said through the Carers Association. A State Government body headquartered in Melbourne. For all the good this office does other than paying lip service to “process” (their words not mine), it may well not be there at all. Carers are also provided with “Counselling” though no referral was ever offered in my case other than scant “if you want it there is go get it”, no back grounding or written referral was ever made. In other words in all said and done, Carers are on their own.
Caring for troubled youth is challenging to say the leat keeps me active, keeps me feeling alive and needed in terms of caring for a fellow human being, I wouldn’t have it any other way.
I could walk away from caring for the difficulty in working with beaurocrats. I will not. If all carers walked away without speaking out & fighting stupidity on the part of staff, it would be the agencies and the Govenment of the day first to speak out themselves for the desperate need for Carers.
Any wonder hundreds of Carers are leaving the Foster Carer system for many of the same reasons I’ve written about. Why would they bother ? Simply because like I, they’re passionate about advocating for young (often homeless) people. But advocate too hard and agency staff are exposed for what many of them are hopelessly overloaded at best, at worse blatantly I’m incompetent.
In good health,
Lovely I assume you intended your email to be, ‘cherry picking’ may well be your way of ‘damage control’. It doesn’t intimidate me in the slightest. You didn’t mention in your email your evident surprise in our verbal conversation your comment “I wasn’t aware we’d said that” referring to Grampians Regional Director Steve Johnson’s signed letter which was written & authorised also by Steve Phillis of St Lukes Bendigo but on Berry Street Grampians letterhead. Phillis had used exactly the same words days before in a telephone call from him to me.The intent of this letter was to remove two active, vocal advocates for the care of Adolescents in Foster Care. Voices usually stonewalled by paid Case Managers keen to tow the Government / agency line.
Those exact words appear on Berry St letterhead signed by Johnson himself. You’d forgive me for assuming one had aided and abetted another in the provision of this email wouldn’t you ? The last two lines of the letter (which I’ll publish) says we “…didn’t work as part of a team & had been deregistered….” As you know, Carers aren’t deregistered in a geographical relocation – rather transferred. Surely even you’d subscribe to that efficiency ?
But then despite your denials you too were aware of Johnson’s letter as I emailed you a copy of the same letter on the day I received it from Phillis at St Lukes. Did both Phillis (St Lukes Manager Home Based Care) & Johnson conspired to create a statement that both Manager & Regional Director knew to be false with the intent to push us out of being State Accredited Foster Carer’s.
It appears to me DHS Senior Belinda Smith was aware of the examples of professional competences in both agencies and some of the staff involved as to the insufficient grading & assessment of teenagers when considering reimbursements to Foster Carers. The fact I had vehemently complained about two of the lads in my care were both incorrectly graded & therefore were missing out on access to crucial care needed. Of course, the system denies this as it says the State will pick up the tab on an as needs basis. Problem is, it doesn’t ! then Foster Carers are left pleading for more funding on a day to day basis. Our homes are often damaged, items stolen, extra costs incurred across the board. Never mind that the cost to the state is well into six figures per child per year sometimes 2-3 times over. A figure hotly disputed dependant upon the Government in power at the time.
That wasn’t going to suit either agency because they knew they’d screwed up the assessments of at least two teenagers in my care as per the complaints I’d raised with senior staff at Berry St, St Lukes & Senior Case Managers of DHS at both Ballarat & Bendigo regions.
On review of the audio of our conversation, in your call to me last Wednesday after the close of business, it appeared you were confused as to whether or not you were actually aware what your Grampians Region Ballarat Office were up to.
As to direct email to your staff, you neglected to mention I did extend the courtesy of a CC to you. My email to Suzanne Pickard recently was focussed to the fact she had deliberately misquoted a phone call she and I had last year as to a review of the Case Management of child I shall call MrB. Pickard accused me of speaking disparagingly of said child when it was infact Pickard who initiated those words. I did not, not ever speak ill of any foster child in my care, not ever ! How dare your staff state to the contrary. As you’d acknowledged in your letter of thanks for the standard of care I have provided to Berry St kids, the hard work I put into care (well over and above many of your own staff in the Ballarat Office). How dare my conversation be misquoted & deliberately recorded with the clear intent to cause harm to my professional reputation)
It’s long overdue to extend public awareness to these matters raised regarding incompetence in the system. You must repair the damage individuals of your staff in the west have created with the intent to cause harm to my & our reputation as Carer’s I’m thankful Steve Johnson’s ‘cherry picking’ does extend a tiny apology, if it’s really worthy of acknowledging. I say this because Johnson (on behalf of you as CEO) chose not to answer questions as to the competencies of some of your staff & their treatment of us. Homophobia disguised by almost any other means.
I understand at least one foster child (as he’d quoted your staff) had been made aware by those staff that my friend Mykael & I are homosexuals. What does that have to do with us providing care to Foster Kids? What rhyme or reason would staff say that? Do I tell a foster care child that said foster case manager is heterosexual ? Most certainly NOT ! Why? Because it doesn’t matter – who cares? Point is we were unnecessarily outed.
As to terminating your call to me, I confirm I did so merely because you were prattling on about the nonsense from several of the same staff I’ve mentioned, that you just appeared to have no idea what the hell they’d done to us as Foster Carer’s. Is it any wonder Foster Carer’s are leaving the system faster than Suzanne Pickard can recruit them? Is it any wonder two young children were unnecessarily traumatised by your staff when they thought better of two gay males caring for them? I suppose that would be conveniently for other reasons.
I commend my blog to you. …………..
On 6 Feb 2015, at 1:44 pm, Sandie De Wolf <SDeWolf@berrystreet.org.au> wrote:
Email received from Sandie DeWolf to me this afternoon.
I wanted to follow up my phone call to you on Wednesday, 4 February, about your email to a Berry Street staff member. I acknowledged that you do not think your issues have been resolved to your satisfaction and your right to continue whatever you think you need to do. I also said that you could continue to contact Regional Director, Steve Johnson, or myself. But I said that your email to the staff member was not appropriate and asked you to not do this again. You then terminated the call abruptly.
Sandie de Wolf AM
Chief Executive Officer | Berry Street
1 Salisbury Street, Richmond VIC 3121 | t: 9429 9266
Berry Street believes all children should have a good childhood
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Become a Foster Carer and give a child hope for the future.
Of course DeWolf will favour her own staff, thats what she’s paid to do. DeWolf is also paid to ensure Foster Carers are provided the tools & funding required in order to provide a Volunteer in home based care service to young people. Let us not forget each and every Foster Carer saves the state hundreds of thousands of dollars potentially, per child per year. Yet try to obtain by request a meagre clothing allowance of $150 per child per year & see how far you get. Then there is the cost of repair and replace damaged and or stolen items caused by Foster kids from time to time. It took Berry Street about 5 months to refund monies owed to me due to these matters. Berry Street initially offered me a supermarket voucher to the value of $100. The damage and thefts closer to $2000, yet DeWolf thinks she can’t recall previous communications as to this matter, though many months later she did – Im happy to provide emails to establish same.
You see, I mention this because the phone calls I had received from the Manager of Home Based Care for Anglicare St Lukes Bendigo to my mobile stated “We’re don’t think you are willing to work as part of a team, you can’t ask for more funding, DHS has graded these kids as……” and so he went on. I paraphrase the balance by indicating Phillis’ intent was to threaten & intimidate me to quitting as a Foster Carer. It didn’t work. I was accused by St Lukes Case Manager Amanda Knight via another staff member Brian Burns that I was “seeking an income in order to take a holiday…..” Her ludicrous most condescending view was arrogant in its extreme because Knight knew the costs involved in maintaining high needs Foster kids as she sees the checks and balances. Knight was one of the ‘three amigos’ in Anglicare St Lukes Bendigo who in what they thought their moment of a brain-snap argued that even though St Lukes are contracted by the state to Manage these cases accordingly, stingy staff will try to persuade kids all they can have is $150 per year to purchase clothing. In the end as in most cases, I bought and paid for Foster Kids clothing myself without seeking reimbursement. I knew I would be chastised for requesting otherwise, and, quite frankly hell would freeze over before the 3 amigos would admit publicly they were shameful of what they said they were expected to maintain. The $400 odd per week maximum reimbursement for one child with major disabilities was expected to have his needs met by this meagre ‘budget’ St Lukes as is Berry Street top heavy with some areas in staff. Why they have a two story building, hugely filled with staff and several other offices also with more said staff is just beyond me. They spend more money in staffing than they contribute to chronically under funded in home based foster care. They know it, the foster carers suffer it, the state acknowledges it, yet agencies like St Lukes & Berry Street play with words and scapegoat their foster carers who challenge the official line. As to myself of course I was about to go into battle with the “Acting Regional Director Darren Youngs” St Lukes. I expected it, id become well versed to advocating for young people and in by far most cases successfully so. Up against the State, Commonwealth, agencies, it doesn’t matter to me so long as the best outcome and appropriate funding for the young person is realised & their needs, safety, security are met. I accounted for every solitary cent funding these kids, always, yes ALWAYS in the red. It didn’t bother the State and certainly not the Anglicare or Berry Street. After all, there are hundreds of staff to pay for.
I will detail the experiences of some of the kids fostered through Anglicare St Lukes. The agency can and will deny at will, I expect it. After all Id become accustomed to it, including threats.
Case # 1 in Bendigo involved a young male no stranger to the attention of media, not through fault of his own, but by circumstance as to the appalling level of care both provided and NOT provided to him, namely his protection. Protection the state & St Lukes failed at miserably.
ANGLICARE ST LUKES BENDIGO
On or about July 2014, my friend Mykael and I were asked to attend a meeting at St Lukes Head Office in Central Bendigo. It was to have a teleconference based phone call with a young male at that stage incarcerated at Parkville, Youth Detention Centre close to Melbourne Victoria. A young man nervous to speak to strangers (understandable) slowly blossomed when he was introduced to us as we were “willing” (said officialdom – Amanda Knight) to Foster this young fellow. We’d been briefed by the staff to be told he had been horrifically raped over a period of some 18 hours by at 2 perpetrators in an Anglicare St Lukes group home. One elder stateswoman who’d worked in the system for some 20-30 years was in tears she said to be told we’d like to have the opportunity to care for this very fragile teenager.
In the coming days he was to join us at our home. Initially difficult to get a few words from him, a smile here and there was enough as was his occasional eating. Small steps may as well have meant a mile equivalent in terms of the reward positive feeling we Foster Carers get when these smiles are sighted. It’s a buzz, privately often brings a tear to the eye when the most heavily traumatised Foster Child Ive ever cared for – smiles !
It wasn’t long before he absconded & fairly frequently though for short times. It was expected given his heart breaking background in sufferance as a sexually abused teenager. Whilst he was out and about, frequently substance effected though did return home eventually. One one of those ‘trips’ he returned home in the company of one other young person. He was a really happy young person, our Foster decided he was so proud to have a come he said he loved & felt comfortable, safe & protected – he wanted to show his friend where he lived. It wasn’t long before we realised they were both scamming to (have who we later became aware, was also a foster kid currently living with another Carer elsewhere) the opportunity to take up residence in the fourth bedroom here. Quoth this pocket rocket “Well you may as bloody well, fuck…the room is spare, what better kid to have than me….besides me and him are mates anyway – right?” as he nudged our current wonder kid MrJ.
A little while later our pocket rocket did eventually come to stay with us a few days per week over several weeks. It provided balance for Mr J, at least for a short time.
As a few weeks passed, MrJ’s absconding became more frequent and for longer times. Eventually St Lukes decided they needed to ask us to provide care for another high needs case, I shall detail this in a moment.
Our conclusion with MrJ was sad as is usually the case when foster kids move on. This occurs usually by the wishes of the state via the agency. Fostering in particular my chosen area and type of care – high needs adolescents, is challenging though I wouldn’t have it any other way. In SMS’s whilst MrJ had absconded he messaged us and said he didn’t want to come home. He indicated this was because “you’s are gays”. I’d given him no indication I was gay, and in any case, what for. Mykael and I are mates and of course reside in separate bedrooms.
I met with MrJ several weeks later whilst down the street in the company of Case Manager Fleur Coutanche. He was in the company of two other lads unknown to me. He walked over to me quickly as I had exited a pharmacy nearby. He appeared to want to say something. He extended his hand in silence to shake mine, he looked me in the eye as he did so and we both smiled & nodded, as to his absconding nothing needed said, it was the way MrJ apologised. If a smile accompanied that, I thanked my lucky stars. He then said out of the blue…”wanna know why I didn’t come home?….staff told me ages ago you’s are gays…..”. Wasn’t anything more I could say, except when he then told me where St Lukes had rehoused him – Back in a group house ! Had the department not learnt anything from the abuse he suffered earlier? Evidently not !. I had been told by other Foster Kids who’d come to stay with us that MrJ was “not in a good place right now….” As I became aware St Lukes staff have loose lips when it suits them, especially when it was payback time. Payback probably because we were “doing too much….”. No such thing when Foster Caring – if you have your heart and soul into it. – Both Mykael and I did.
There were two other kids we cared for with Anglicare St Lukes. Both with disabilities, both starved of appropriate state funding and reimbursement rates to care for these two kids. We did provide care for them anyway whilst proving (as requested by Belinda Smith, Senior at DHS Child Protection). The argumentative gutless coward Manager of Home Based Care – Steve Phillis proved the single biggest bigot in achieving the best for our foster kids. Regional Director St Lukes Darren Youngs held the hand ofSteve Phillis whilst squeezing every single personal cent from Foster Carers pockets to ‘chip-in’ from their own pockets to pay for the care of the young people – highly inappropriate.
Case # 2 The next foster was a kid with Aspergers & Autism. I’ll call him MrM, he’d been ‘shopped around’ the system I’d discovered as he’d spent times staying elsewhere he told us but “…..they couldn’t handle me….”. Often a discussion he’d volunteer in the coming weeks as feelings of isolation, betrayal by his parents (he felt they didn’t want him), challenges by the state. He’d often ask us for money, but due to the constraints placed upon funding his care here in Bendigo – that just wasn’t possible.
His damage to my property was mainly ignored by the St Lukes, though once Brian Burns (advocate for Carer’s St Lukes) turned up to my home with a camera. I don’t recall why an insurance claim wasn’t lodged but we continued on advocating for him in the coming weeks as best we could. We attended several meetings at his Case Management appointments. Emotions were high from MrM while staff at DHS and St Lukes had frequently been complained about by MrM. As quickly as this was dismissed by St Lukes, Id been accused of “putting MrM up to it…..” a complete fabrication by Phillis as a means of attack upon me because we’d clearly established the States failings in the care of MrM. So much of the agenda of items MrM felt needed attending to by St Lukes he felt were not. He felt they never listened to him, never prepared to help him and mainly applied either a ‘No comprehend or no money for that one mate” as a standard response from both DHS and St Lukes in meeting his needs – moreover his perception of them. Eventually MrM went onto live back in a group home setting.
At the same time the most recent Foster we had was another traumatised kid I’ll call MrJ. His need for AOD Counselling, Grief & Loss Counselling, Paediatric support was often contentious because as usual the Department & St Lukes was ever pleased to penny pinch & of course both did.
MrJ had been invited to a family wedding. As with most Foster kids, his personal possessions including clothing was meagre at best. They were though his treasures and possessions were beautiful and I praised him each and everyday he got out of bed, showered and dressed appropriately. Id purchased after shaves and whatever he felt he needed to look and smell appropriate for the day. It boosted his confidence tremendously. I quizzed the department and St Lukes Case Manager Roxanne Lyon as to who would fund a closing allowance for him.
One morning, we went to Lowes Menswear. One of the few places I could afford to fund suitable attire for a wedding. MrJ wasn’t home the night before. We had managed to reach him by phone the next morning and eventually he agreed to meet me at the Menswear store. When he arrived he was high on dope and stated he’d “had a few things”. We muddled our way through with the shop assistant onside and on verse. Id worded her up on the circumstance in short brief. It worked a treat because the shop assistant could relate to our Foster due to her own grandson.
We made sure MrJ tried on lots because he clearly loved 3 people making so much fuss over him. He said later “I feel a million bucks”. That was what it was all about. At the same time, and unbeknown to him, I was teaching him how to shop for himself, how to extend appropriate respectful courtesies to adults, even the excitement & feel of brand new strides. We found a suit, he picked his own colour, a pristine white satin shirt, with an aqua tie. I could vaguely remember how to tie a tie. I tied it on my head, pulled back over and did a double take on him. You get the idea, eventually got it all to look good, then to the shoe department. He was stoked he was getting all these new goodies let alone shoes. He didn’t expect that either. He picked his own black leather shoes, slip-ons. He didn’t know, but we knew there were issues with laces. No matter, slip-ons worked better, anyway – who cares. This foster did indeed look “a million bucks”. ACCEPT, we all looked to the floor at the same time when he’d taken his new shoes off initially so he could raise them to eye level for closer inspection and his seal of approval. Back to the floor, we looked down, looked up, junior was fully outfitted in his new pin stripped suit. His strides were too long. Tears welled in his eyes as the shop assistant grabbed a needle and thread, kneeled politely to the floor and pinned up MrJ’s new strides. He went to the change room, took them off and gave them back to the shop assistant. His tears basically meant he thought he wasn’t going to be able to keep his new strides. But then the shop assistant began to ‘blind-sew’ a new hem. In 20 minutes, a cross check was had refitting and when the shop assistant presented MrJ with a brand spanking new suit bag, he got to duly hang up his full new suit, shirt, tie and shine black leather shoes.
MrJ had a date at a family wedding. His smile was wider than any young face could manage. He held that suit so tight. We were about to pay and leave the store. I deliberately ‘forgot’….but wait….one more thing. “Can fella, how do you plan to hold up your new threads, back we went for him to pick a matching black leather belt with the shiniest silver buckle he could find. “sterling silver” he thought – yes mate it is, look after it. “Don’t worry he said, I intend to”
Privately I knew neither DHS or St Lukes would spring near $400. Long story short I claimed a reimbursement anyway, knowing $150 would have to cut it as it was all I was likely to receive. In any case. Of course DHS and St Lukes then had a demarcation as to “whose budget this would come from”. Frankly I didn’t particularly care in this case, the memories we would retain from the smiles we had that day from a kid so badly hurting having recently witnessed the death of his best friend in a well published accident some time prior.
We drove MrJ to his family wedding, quite a distance from Bendigo in the coming days ahead. A country wedding, nearby farming and dusty environment. MrJ called us early in the evening on the same day, he was ready to be collected to come home. When we arrived to collect him – he came home happy, excited, fully kitted out in his new suit without a single speck of dust, fluff. Exclaimed he said “look Drew…told you mate, I told ya” gesturing to his smart outfit checking to see if his lapels were “all good”, of course they were. Even if they weren’t, they were all good.
You see, we foster carers reckon if a smile is the one thing we can achieve for traumatised kids even for a moment – we’ve done well. A breath of shine to my hand, tapped on my heart was thanks enough.
Days afterward & after continued arguments with the Department and St Lukes as to better case management & appropriate funding in advocating for our foster kids, I received a call. It was from Jacintha Condillac (Jac). We were told both kids had been found independent living in group share house locally & that we had one hour to pack their belongings as “someone would be coming to collect them”.The kids were at school and training colleague respectively. They got their calls to be told they would not be returning to their current placement. MrJ & MrM later told us they were told little, but the little they were told they apparently were none too pleased about. Though it was the beginning of the closest thing to independence they’d ever known.
For us – the attack from St Lukes & Berry Street had culminated in this. The ultimate emotional payback that grips at the heart of Carers. A matter of hours at best before the Fosters were gone.
Then began the grand finale from both organisations, the payback for being “trouble makers” in advocating for Foster Kids at every level.
Darren Youngs Acting Director St Lukes then emailed me to say he was seeking to remove our accreditation (using a fictitious jointly created letter on Berry St letterhead – simply a FRAUD). They were to present this to the St Lukes panel who bought the fraud and deaccredited us from St Lukes.
Unfortunately for St Lukes & Berry Street in the coming months an investigation by Berry St exposed this fraud. I will continue to expand upon the investigation completed at my request as mentioned in a previous blog by Anita Pell, Senior Staffer at Berry Street.
More to follow……..
BERRY STREET FOSTER CARE
Foster Caring through 2014, I was asked to provide care for two young males. I received a call after hours in my car from Senior Case Managers Andrew McCausland & Suzanne Pickard. I was already frustrated with the unprofessional conduct of Pickard – a supposed veteran of the Child Protection area. I couldn’t be more disappointed with her underhandedness behind the scenes of smiles to my face, knife in my back. It seemed doing her job for her as an unpaid, volunteer Foster Carer was none to pleasing to precious Pickard. As to McCausland, he was a little more difficult to read. Ive worked in Mental Health before and learnt to study the behaviour of adults – even the cunning ones. You know, smile to your face…knife in your back !
I remember the weekend because my eldest brother & neice were also coming to stay for the same weekend. The arrangement was booked some time earlier as I was Executor to my late mothers estate & we had to discuss the arrangements I had made for the disbursements of her estate.
Pickard made the call to my car, my friend Mykael was witness to the call as of course it was hands free. Pickard was aghast I refused to agree with her request that in order for me to agree to accommodate these two young people – I would not (as Pickard insisted) alternately accommodate my siblings in a hotel to make way for the Foster kids emergency placement. I told Pickard that both my brother a Registered Psychiatric Nurse in South Australia and my Neice had both been regularly Police checked in accordance with the requirements of their jobs.
Other than occasional mutterings in the back ground, McCausland barely uttered a word. The placement needed to occur that night as DHS and Berry Street were needing to Foster a total of 6 siblings. Pickard indicated they would need to discuss the fact that my siblings would also be staying in my home that weekend. It was clear in the minds of all concerned that I did not need or seek the permission of either DHS or Berry Street to have family stay.
Approximately one hour later, a DHS Government van pulled up to my driveway where upon I spoke at length with two female Child Protection Officers . I reiterated the conversation I had with Pickard and McCausland earlier that evening. The CPO’s were quite happy with the conditions I had set upon agreeing to foster these to young lads. the kids then exited the vehicle and we did introductions all round. The kids were ecstatic to hear the barking of my Chihuahuas inside as they ‘love dogs’ and couldn’t get inside to my home quick enough. My Brother & Neice still hadn’t arrived from South Australia at that time. Darkness of the night had set in, it may even have been a bit cool that night, I can’t exactly remember that detail.
We collected the two kids meagre personal belongings as the CPO’s did have much time to collect to much of the personal effects of the children before they were taken into care by the state. We parted company with the CPO’s all smiles and inside we went to have introductions to the dogs. The kids eyes were like saucers, they couldn’t believe they had such a welcoming committee. It meant lots of playtime was before them. Hopefully I could distract them sufficiently enough to occupy their minds away from what was to be a rather unpleasant experience as to a family court matter booked before the Magistrates Court early the following week.
As is often the case, CPO’s called later to make sure the kids had settled in well and were travelling well with no major behavioural issues to work with. Other than the usual traumatised effects of being removed from their parents, the kids were doing remarkably well – though through the guise of brave little faces. They’re such courageous little fellows, I knew life was tough right now but I reassured them we’d get through it. Though I tried not to obviously change the subject that first night when the kids were clearly looking forward to returning home Monday or Tuesday the next week, as thats “….what Mum and Dad told us….”
The kids had fun decisions to make in the coming minutes, which of the two choices of vacant bedrooms they wanted to call their own for the next few nights. To hear two clearly traumatised kids laugh as they negotiated the terms of their agreement to take in turns so they could have access to the television adjacent to one of their bedrooms just incase they couldn’t sleep. It didn’t matter if they wanted to watch TV late. There was more for the kids to be concerned about than staying up a little later. As it turned out, they fell asleep watching the tele anyway.
The following morning, we knew we had to meet one of the CPO’s at Ballan. Half way between Bacchus Marsh & Ballarat. We’d arranged the night before the kids didn’t have access to their medication. At around 10am Saturday morning, off we drove on the freeway. As I was driving, the kids knew there was more deals to be done – ‘who bags the front sea next to Drew’. As it turned out I had previously set child lock on the back doors, we were thankful they chose to sit together in the back. We pretended we were chauffeurs so the kids could summon their driver to come and open their doors for them when we parked at Ballan to obtain the kids medications. This Chauffer bit they thought a huge joke, but laughter often quickly turned to sadness if just a little reminder of home travelled in and out of their thoughts that weekend.
We played one of those games called loom band I think it was where both boys made wrist bands and various other colourful little toys to play with. After all they didn’t have any toys to play with. That Saturday we bought these two sets of loom band, all colourful…some sparkly some not – but all fun. Kept them occupied for hours on end. It was hard to get a word in edge ways as they borrowed my iPad to check tutorials (under my supervision of course) as to how to navigate their way through difficult left, right,up,down turns. Buggered if I could follow it – but they had it down pat !
As the weekend was fast drawing to a close, we drove to the Ballarat Magistrates Court complex to meet with two state funded Solicitors. One for each lad. I had chatted with both Solicitors independently and together as their knowledge of some finer detail appeared scant. I was humbled to receive dual congratulatory thanks and admiration from both Solictors for jumping on the ground quickly in keeping the lads extremely busy all weekend. Trips to Werribee zoo and much more. We all met at Beechworth Bakery next to the Magistrates Court Complex. Much food was had. We could have had breaky at home, but we all decided some luxury was in order and ate out, and boy did they eat – groovy. Eating and drinking well is a good sign, again though through very brave little faces and minds.
It wasn’t long before they were summoned to the court room with their guardians – then the State Solicitors.Both female Counsel were lovely to speak to and mighty appreciative of my work with the lads in such a very short time.
By this time, my brother and niece had arrived & we all dined together at the bakery that morning. State Solicitors were chuffed we were all working well as one big ‘sudo-family’.
Seemingly like clock work, I had received a call from their Case Manager Camilla Berger at Berry Streets Ballarat Office in Redan. Berger asked me to bring the two boys into Berry Street Offices without delay after their court appearances so we could discuss their Care Management plans. Of course we obliged as due Volunteer Foster Carers. Immediately upon our arrival appeared two Case Managers, one of which was none other than McCausland himself. The same McCausland who was involved in the telephone hook up days before.
McCausland and Camilla Berger in effect ambushed me at the door in the reception area with the lads. Berger gestured to the boys to follow her before going in behind a locked secure door. I was never to see them again. Berger never returned with the lads. I did not know as a Foster Carer that it was planned the lads were to be removed from our care for no known reason whatsoever by both McCausland & Berger. We couldn’t forward plan to tell the boys they would be going into an office they’d never seen before or be taken away by a woman they’d never known. That same day I sent an SMS to Berger and stated ….”thanks for the ambush…..” Berger did not reply.
As the boys disappeared behind a locked door with Camilla Berger, McCausland made small talk as moments later he’d ask me to follow him to a very small office that travelled along the same corridor the boys had walked moments before. He closed the door behind us. I asked what the hell was going on. There were no witnesses, just he and I. I cannot prove what was said other than a statutory declaration as to his unprofessional, unethical conduct that day. I was chastised for “not advising Berry Street I had siblings staying for the weekend and they had been troubled by this found knowledge”. Clearly McCausland was lying, his conduct highly inappropriate as was his manner of entrapment of me in his office that morning. After he chastised me for approximately 20 minutes before he had opened the door and released me to the corridor to be walked from his office back to the main door and escorted from the building.I was again scapegoated for the incompetence behind the scenes. Even legal Counsel had some concerns.
This weekend morning was the last time I was to see McCausland & Berger again or any of his Berry Street colleagues at this time. The corruption and entrapment damn well astounded me. Months later it grinds me deeply as it does still hurt.
I raised formal complaint by email to Berry Street CEO and Matt Chandler Manager of Home Based Care as to the unprofessional conduct of McCausland & Berger that day. I will detail further unprofessional conduct by each of these Managers and their colleague Pickard later. As far as I’m concerned McCausland & Berger are as of those along with Pickard who must be dismissed.There is no room for entrapment, corruption. There can be no excuses, no room for negotiation. I did not deserve to be treated this way, I did not know I was to be deceived that day let alone by McCausland in particular. He knew by this time we were to transfer to Bendigo & both he and Pickard were “pissed off” they had to “train” my mate Mykael to be formally accredited a Carer even though he had been supporting me months earlier in caring for MrM, as detailed in my previous blog. Despite initial rumblings about Mykael’s Accreditation, I had been fully accredited months prior. It was convenient for Berry Street to be keen for me to Foster kids it seems were very difficult to accommodate and in many cases were a thorn in the side of both DHS & Berry Street in terms of finding suitable short to medium term stable care. The behaviour of Chandler, McCausland, Pickard & Berger was quickly collated in terms of noting their behaviour looking for reason & similarity. There was some I not dotted or a T not crossed and I suspect they’d been chastised by DHS for something they hadn’t done properly in this case. I suspect this was due to the minimum bed allocation for Child Protection Cases as required by DHS. Who knows, perhaps they didn’t want to commence placement with two homosexuals? You can though see a pattern developing. Though carefully crafted otherwise, given our standard of care was “exemplary” why would Berry Street staff take the action they did? Were they trying to hide a stuff up on their part? were they told to pull their heads in and tidy up this case? I don’t know. Although Berry Street evidently did because they apologised to me later, though without total, appropriate reasoning. Why did Berry Street staff further traumatise already traumatised kids?
16th July 2014 we were to leave Bacchus Marsh & move to Bendigo. My friend Mykael was already living in Bendigo & so as we were getting along well continued to live together as friends occupying separate bedrooms. It was a household working very well. We decided to challenge much of the old school methods, inappropriate treatment of Foster Carers. We could either walk away, or we could challenge the stereo typical methods of what are not isolated cases of appalling mis-management of Child Protection Case Managers and incompetence of and nepotism in staff between DHS & its agencies.
Theres much more to be documented I have yet to extrapolate further from both blogs surrounding the several cases of care I have provided.
I have advised Minister Jenny Mikkos & Minister Jacintha Allen MP this afternoon as well as sources in print & audio/vision media.
Part 3 to follow
THE VALUE IN SILENCE IS SILENCE Im a person who suffers with a number of disabilities. In the spirit of my integrity my disabilities are:
As a State Accredited Carer in Victoria I have begun to formally publish my experiences in the Care area, its hopeless failings of young people in its care & staff in agencies of DHS Victoria. As one of those Carers I hold my hand up as one of those who was intimidated into silence or have removed my accreditation as a carer. I was told I “wasn’t a team player…..” whilst I advocated for suicidal kids with multiple disabilities & AOD issues. Many of these kids were and remain severely traumatised by a penny pinching Department and the ‘professionals’ supposed to be Case Managing working with Volunteer Foster Carers I CHOOSE NOT TO BE SILENT I was lead to believe by advertising in all the warm and fuzzy paraphernalia given to me, that Berry Street Foster Care in the first instance actively sought Gay Carers. Unfortunately, I chose to believe the drivel peddled by its CEO Sandie De Wolf through their website to this end. Sandie De Wolf is ultimately responsible for the professional incompetence of her staff in the Grampians Region’s Ballarat Office. Following a few months providing foster care to its young people, I realised that in as much as blatant homophobia wasn’t immediately prominent, old school values from many of its staff is most certainly is. It’s clear more training & education of staff in this organisation need commence & infact be escalated as a matter of priority. Ironically, the training model to educate prospective Foster Carers is prepared by Anglicare and delivered by idiots many of which should have been pensioned off years ago. When I challenged both Berry St Ballarat & Anglicare St Lukes Bendigo, as to the outward presentation of its staff in the manner in which I was treated as a Carer, they immediately removed my accreditation & that of a friend as a Carers as pay back. Both organisations are challenged to face the discrimination levelled to me on the basis of #homophobia & #disability. I approach advocating for myself and others with utmost vigor & determination – I have to. I call it survival. At the same token. The fact foster care agency staff actively conspired to fraudulently cover up these discriminations over some time is no surprise to me. Infact, I expected it sooner or later. The as yet to be published whispering campaign began quite quickly. Again it was carefully disguised by other means, commonly occurs so that denials can be easily placed when victims complaints are lodged. As indeed they did in my case, accept, senior Berry Street staff and Management conspired to provide a letter with some text they new to be untrue in order to facilitate the cessation of my volunteering as a Carer with another DHS Foster Care agency. That agency is St Lukes Bendigo run by no other than the Anglican Church – Anglicare if if I must. I’ll have a life experience with the Anglican Church to talk about later.
- Last year I had been asked to care for a troubled teenager in Bacchus Marsh. Aged 16, I shall call him MrM. MrM is a great kid, but he had been in the system for quite a while I was told. The system was playing handball with MrM & he knew it. He initially resided in country NSW. Mum suffered bi-polar, twin younger siblings learned inappropriate behaviour from their older brother. MrM’s eldest brother was incarcerated interstate. Whilst I had the opportunity to do so much with him, much of my work was constantly belittled by way of Berry Street staff constantly pulling me back from what they knew I was capable – advocating. Of course the State Government beauocracy moves at a snails pace, its agency in this instance, Berry Street – even slower. The left-hand never knows its right.
- MrM needed AOD Counselling & fast. So after registering with Centrelink & his application for youth allowance, I was asked by a Centrelink Child Psychiatrist to get (as part of the Centrelink approval process for Youth Allowance) AOD Counselling. I raised this in emails with the then Berry St Grampians Manager of Home Based Care – Matt Chandler. I CC’d his Case Manager and his Berry St support officer. Matt chastised me in written response NOT to pursue AOD Counselling because they didn’t want a ‘label’ placed upon MrM. Chandler wanted to avoid external AOD support because he knew it would expose the failings of their own internal system. Infact it was Berry St’s own internal AOD ‘Counsellor’ who confessed to be privately she’d “gone as far as she could with her budget…MrM needed someone external to Berry St” I asked did it not seem to matter to Berry Street staff this kid has been using Ice, dope & alcohol. It didn’t matter MrM had participated in petty crimes against society – he was after all ‘just a kid…no labels here thanks….we’ll just pretend its not an issue’.
- It wasn’t until I raised these professional Berry Street incompetencies direct with DHS Case Manager Ballarat Irene Padaric that MrM had been given a small window of opportunity that the establishment in Ballarat was ‘prepared to listen’. Her approval of the Centrelink Psychiatrist who interviewed MrM to seek AOD Counselling & support was too complicated for Berry Street staff. So, I went it alone more or less as Berry St were certainly no support to me as a Carer. Berry Street – all talk an no action !
- Sleeves rolled up, I networked AOD Counsellors I was aware of having formally worked in State Government myself. Accept now Im a Volunteer giving back to the Community. I met privately with AOD Counsellor I shall call MsG. MsG was prepared to at least meet MrM. AT LAST I was getting somewhere, knowing the chastising I knew I was about to cop from the Berry Street 3 stooges !And yes I communicated this to the Berry St hierarchy and yes they responded in writing. Surprisingly 2 staff stupidly denied written communication regarding this ever existed. I still have ALL written communications between agencies & DHS – Unfortunately for them.
- On a number of occasions in 2014 MsG met with MrM. The last meeting before he absconded again, MrM was beginning to open up to MsG. As a witness to this flower opening up to a beautiful person as MsG is (and with more than 20 years experience in the AOD Sector) I began to see another window of opportunity opening here although we had but a few months to work with this kid. Yep, DHS and Berry Street was about to give up on this kid by ‘exiting him from the aged based system’. MrM was on his own.
- Chandler though thought he had a great idea, before MrM was to be exited from the DHS system, he arranged for a desperate call to be made to my mobile. Pleading for the temporary placement at my home, a house id inherited from my mother fairly recently prior – A child I shall call MrBM. Fairly scant at best was the information provided by Berry Street as to the history of of MrBM. The fact that Carers are entitled to a brief was commonly and in this case in particular conveniently absent by Berry Street, they blamed DHS. DHS blamed them – you know, that left and right hand again? As I was later to discover MrM & MrBM had past contact. Under the circumstances Berry St preferred not to place these two males together. They did though and it was at my expense and to my detriment, the placement was made. Assuredly for two days only. Unfortunately in those two days, the boys absconded together, taking some valued possessions from my home and stole a car from elsewhere. A free fall of events followed inc a lack of advise that in as much as Berry St knew these boys had been arrested by Police and had them in Custody, they chose not to tell me as the primary Carer. Never mind that I have a duty of care towards these two. I had joined some friends later that day and had a rare treat out. We ventured to Daylesford to look at antiques. During that afternoon I was repeatedly summoned by Case Manager at Berry Street to go home as the kids had been charged by Police but that had been released from Custody and able to come home. The aggression by one of the boys in particular when he returned home caused me to be physically assaulted, my property damaged and more property stolen later that day when again MrBM absconded, he said because he “hated Berry Street & DHS”. He never “wanted to be cohabitation with MrM…..” On other words it appeared to be a set-up by Berry St knowing full well (as they did acknowledge) they expected “fireworks between these two but had no where else to accommodate MrBM. I was interviewed twice by a total of 7 staff personally.
- As to the imminent exiting from the system of the original foster kid MrM, quickly MsG his AOD Counsellor and I networked sources interstate giving the heads up to them that MrM was about to arrive ‘home’. He had a number of responsibilities about to be forced upon him, in effect by the state and its agency. “No matter” the state said, “he’ll do well, you trained him well”. This young person had the world at his feet, yet didn’t know what to do with it. Still panicked and frightened, after another absconding he was put on public transport and shunted back to another state. after all, he was now their problem not Victoria’s. As a Foster Carer I had no chance to say goodbye, no chance to think even. No chance to say “well if you need this go there, oh and counselling services are ready for you when you go home……” SFA – Nothing Manager Chandler and one of his Senior Staff Suzanne Pickard thought it might be nice if I “sent MrM a text to say goodbye”. His care poorly managed by these two.
- For this I was given a written commendation by Sandie De Wolf for my contribution to his care & therefore his world. Thanks but no thanks to Ms De Wolf or to her incompetent follies of 3 stooges, this ‘award’ from Ms DeWolf is shallow comfort to what was to happen a few months later.
The foster care system has long been under funded, coupled with long established homophobic guidelines over the years, its commendable Premier Daniel Andrews is planning to make it possible for gay people to adopt children but makes no mention of gay carers. No mention either of suitable funding and reimbursement rates as to the latter. No validation of past wrongs suffered by carers in silence, no reimbursements for carers out of pocket in providing care to ‘wards of the state’. I estimate my out of pocket expenses to be well into the thousands. As I said earlier, I intend publishing the fraud orchestrated by Anglicare St Lukes, aided using a letter written by Steve Johnson – Director of Grampians Region for Berry St at the request of Anglicare. In other words there was a conspiracy to professionally unseat me as a carer. Johnson stated to Anglicare St Lukes (in a letter I have been provided a copy of) I had been “deregistered as a Carer as I did not work as part of a team….” As all of my communications to Berry Street were in writing by email and responded to some of the time by the recipient, Johnson therefore provided a false statement signed by him to Anglicare St Lukes to this effect hiding behind staff to his junior to hold the hand of Anglicare in allowing it to attack me as an Accredited Carer. Why? Simply because I was “agitating and advocating for higher funding” for kids in severe life crisis. I demanded and got a formal investigation to the behaviour of these organisations. A 2 hour interview in my home at Bendigo & again – at my request. I offered to have the meeting taped by me, Anita Pell declined sighting her scriber, a female staff member. This was completed by Anita Pell, a stalwart of the system of some decades. Johnson refused to provide me with a full and unredacted copy of the review by Pell instead ‘cherry-picking’ the criticism’s (I assume made by Pell’s ‘internal’ report) he chose to offer thinly guised apologies.Im more than happy to publish copies of all relevant documents inc letters & emails. In absence of anything else, I can only assume Regional Director Johnson and his CEO DeWolf agree their letter to St Lukes was wrong and in error and that therefore I have been wronged, character assassinated & still prevented by preparedness to give back to the community its care of me, by providing care Im able to provide to others as I remain intact Accredited – young folk. Yesterday I wrote an email directly to a Case Manager at Berry Street Suzanne Pickard who I believe blatantly pursued undermining my professional standard of Foster Care. She made a number of false statements in my Carers file, (signed by her alter-ego ‘the writer’) yet to be subsequently responded to, apologised for, even retracted. This does no favours for the integrity of her employer Berry Street. For these reasons and several others, I have called for the dismissal of both her & several other staff within both Berry Street & St Lukes. The Manager of Home Based Care Matt Chandler, Im advised has since “left the organisation”. After close of business tonight I received an unsolicited phone call from Berry Street CEO Sandie DeWolf, she demanded I do not email this staff member directly instead asked me to email the CEO herself directly. I would if I could be confidence in the competency of Ms DeWolf in handling these matters, clearly its beyond her capacity as CEO. She appeared to have scant recollection of the manner in which I have been harassed by her senior staff, including previous requests not to publish names of the underlings in both Berry Street & Anglicare St Lukes. So with all this, Ive met with my local MP Jacintha Allan, I’ve spoken directly to the Minister responsible Jenny Mikkos MP . Ive also met with ABC Radio and The Age. Incidentally the victimisation, harassment and discrimination escalated after I had lodged previous formal complaint to my local MP Jacintha Allan last year as to all of the above. Today I also met with one of Jacintha’s PA’s ‘Sue’. Sue now has additional factors Ive asked both her office and the Ministers Office to formally investigate. Today, both Berry Street & St Lukes deleted my tweets to them highlighting their collective joint conspiracies to cast statements they knew to be false as to my Volunteer Foster Care I will write in the next blog Case History as to the balance of these events and more relating to other Foster Care kids in my care. The State under previous Community Services Minister Mary Wooldridge MP re Foster Care was equally as deplorably managed by these agencies IMHO as well of course as DHS itself. Wooldridge declined to investigate the Foster Care system and its funding module. Her silence was as deafening as it was incompetent. Im glad her Liberal Government was dismissed by the people of Victoria. Again, I call upon the Minister Jenny Mikkos MP for Community Services to launch a statewide review of Foster Care. Facilitate formal apology to me, and set in train formal training modules required of all paid employees of state based DHS & its agencies with respect to Disability & Sexuality. Staff must be retrained in legislative requirements, common respect and courtesies of volunteer Foster Carers. They must right their wrongs including interfering my application for and approval of Public Housing. My approval has been received, but DHS and its agencies have sought to unhinge my needs on disability grounds for a suitable property also to continue to provide care for young people while Im humanly able. Berry St & St Lukes refuse to give me the names of the staff responsible. I will get those names and I will publish them when I receive them. I keep notes & back them up. Im a copious note keeper, I have to, to remember. Thank you for reading, and I commend it to you. Please share & comment.