State care: three tales of survival

8:28 am on 25 September 2015

Three young adults who grew up in state care say after years of depression and abuse their lives are back on track - but it's no thanks to the system that raised them.

The campaign wants state care to be available to young people until they are 21-years-old.

State care has proved deeply traumatic for some. Photo: 123RF

An interim report released yesterday said Child, Youth and Family needed a complete overhaul to make sure social workers had more time to look after the children who needed their help the most.

'I was so traumatised by moving all the time'

It has been almost four years since Carmel West left state care, but she still finds it hard to trust and can not stay in one place.

She moved into her first foster home at two, and bounced from place to place for her entire childhood.

"I can't remember a lot just because I was so traumatised by moving all the time, and because I was so young, I blocked it off," she said.

"From what I can remember, I didn't feel loved. I felt like a foster child and not treated like their kid.

"I would only see my social worker once or twice a year, and when I needed something or needed someone's support or help, I didn't have it."

She said it felt like Child, Youth and Family wanted rid of her as soon as possible.

"At 17 they wanted me to leave school, they were telling me to move out and go flatting... I felt like it was all about money for them," she said.

"Because of me moving so much in my life, just in the last year I've moved to so many houses and that's just because I never had a proper, stable upbringing.

Now 21, Carmel lives in Auckland and is unemployed. She said it was hard to trust anyone, let alone an employer.

'You dream of going home'

Tupua Urlich, 19, went into state care when he was five, and has lived in so many homes, he can't say exactly how many.

"There's no real one stable home, you move about quite a bit and move schools as well," he said.

"Trying to adjust to an environment which is constantly changing around you affects you mentally, and it affects you socially."

He eventually returned home to live with his biological mum when he was 15, but reality didn't match up with his dreams, and he soon became homeless.

"You dream of going home, but when you get back and it's not what you dreamed it would be, it throws you down a different path," he said.

"I couldn't form relationships or friendships, I became isolated and spent all my money on alcohol and drugs, and eventually self-harm and suicide attempts and other nasty things came into my life."

'I was so used to moving, I didn't unpack'

At 16, Sam Davis' father left home and she became angry and violent, and the state intervened.

She stayed in eight placements in a year. At one time, she and three other teenage girls shared a single bedroom.

But she said the hardest part was returning home and trying to repair her relationship with her biological mum.

"I felt like a stranger in the house, and as I was so used to moving I didn't unpack and after three weeks I moved out. I've moved around lots of different places since then as well," she said,

She is 19 now, and after going through counselling with her mum, is back home.

Despite being unemployed, Carmel has found a flat of her own, and Tupua works part-time as a youth advocate.

All three want the age of care raised to 21, and for Child, Youth and Family to continue offering some sort of help until 25.

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