Life As a (Gay) Advocate Foster Carer. A Whistleblower Against Corruption & Homophobia In Victoria’s State System – Part 3

G’day
Welcome to the third instalment as to my experiences as a (Gay) Foster Carer in the Victorian system. Time now to extrapolate the previous two blogs.
July 16th 2014, I had wound up my Mothers estate and moved to Bendigo. It meant I was to transfer to Anglicare St Lukes. Incompetence in paid senior staff at Berry Street was to continue in the same system in Central Victorian Foster Care. As you will see below, I have reaffirmed to Berry Street CEO Sandie DeWolf
This is a copy of a letter I emailed today to Berry St CEO Sandie DeWolf response to her misunderstanding Id go silently away from continuing to raise awareness to corruption & homophobia as a gay Foster Carer:

Dear Sandie

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.

Dear Andrew,

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.

Yours sincerely,

Sandie de Wolf AM

Chief Executive Officer |  Berry Street

1 Salisbury Street, Richmond VIC 3121  |  t: 9429 9266

f: 9429 5160  | m: 0417 120 945 | e: sdewolf@berrystreet.org.au |  w: http://www.berrystreet.org.au

Berry Street believes all children should have a good childhood

Connect With Us

Facebook – https://www.facebook.com/berrystreet1877

Twitter – https://twitter.com/berrystreet

Become a Foster Carer and give a child hope for the future.

http://www.berrystreet.org.au/FosterKinshipCare

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……..

Advertisements

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out / Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out / Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out / Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out / Change )

Connecting to %s