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How Maggie, an African refugee, navigates the system of out of home care and comes out shining!


Maggie came to Australia as a refugee from Africa in 2005 at 8 years of age, and found herself in long term foster care as a teenager from 10 to 16 years of age (excluding her 11th year where she spent a year in residential care so that she could live with her two siblings). At 16 she struggles with understanding why she is in this situation and her emotions and anger are hard to manage. She ends up in residential care again. Soon after she joins Lighthouse Foundation where she lives until she is able to rejoin her biological family. All these moves, changes and experiences, not to mention cultural differences to manage, are just layers of trauma, yet Maggie manages to rise above it all, maintaining connections at school, with family, with her foster family, maintaining her studies and is now completing further study so that she will have a nursing career. Listen to what advice she has to offer about being in care. If you are a young person in care, her advice about communicating and trusting those around you are important. If you are a carer, whether foster care, permanent care, kinship care or adoption, Maggie offers insights about how it feels and how you might help the young people in your life.

00:00 - Start 01:20 - Maggie's journey 03:55 - What's it like going into a strangers home to live? 05:15 - What things helped to settle into out of home care? 06:15 - How did you end up in residential care and what was it like? 08:09 - Was it hard to control anger and other triggers that might result in blow ups? 10:00 - Its important that the child's voice is heard. What about school? 10:58 - What about psychological support at the Lighthouse Foundation? 11:45 - What about the Create Foundation programs? 12:12 - Advice for other teenagers in care or their carers 13:20 - Learning to be a stronger person and a better communicator 14:34 - Advice when going into a family with children already there 16:48 - What Maggie is doing now - working, studying and more


This is Liz Powell, representing PCA Families in one of our recordings designed to capture lived experience and best practice evidence based learning that assist kinship, permanent and adoptive parents/carers in supporting young people. We are a child safe organisation.

Being able to learn from peers and connect with those who may help us is particularly important. Today we are discussing the child’s experience of care: what helped and what didn’t?.

Before we do I would like to acknowledge the traditional custodians of the land on which we meet. We pay respect to Elders past and present and express our intention to move together to a place of justice and partnership.

Today I’m joined by Maggie.  Maggie is in her 20s, is a student studying nursing, and has spent the past few years working in aged care.  Maggie spent most of her later primary and secondary school years navigating the system, including time in long term care with a family and time spent in residential care and with the Lighthouse Foundation.  Maggie has always maintained connection with her biological family, including 6 siblings and her parents. Her family originated from Burundi, Africa and came to Australia in 2005.

01:20 Thanks Maggie for joining us. Can you tell us a little bit more about your journey to Australia from Africa all those years ago and how you ended up in the “system”?

 We came to Australia in 2005 at 8 years of age. I don’t remember much about back home. I was with my family 1-2 years before I was put into the system. I was at school and when returning home there were some social workers in the home because some neighbours had contacted them to notify there were noise issues as a result of drinking, along with some violence, more on my Dads side. Because there were underage children in the home by law we couldn’t stay there as it was unsafe. So all the children were taken, including one sister over 18 years old. Department of Human Services provided us with motel accommodation for 3 days, then a Court hearing identified that the 3 youngest children needed to be removed and placed in care. From there we were put in the system.

Thanks Maggie. 

03:55 It sounds like you had quite a lot of change to manage over the 10 years or so where you were in care. No doubt each of those changes in living arrangements were somewhat traumatic.   Do you remember what it felt like to be entering a stranger’s home all those years ago as a 9 year old?  What happened and how did you settle in?

It was very scary because I’ve always just wanted to remain with my biological family. We had to get sued to cultural differences. Our English wasn’t so great so it was frustrating to try to express ourselves. Also confusing because everything was still new and I was still learning about Australia and then I’m not with my Mum and Dad. Very strange and a couple of days at first in foster care I was with my brother and sister so that was helpful because I could still connect with my siblings. Having my siblings with me definitely helped.

05:15 What was explained to you and what helped you settle in to each living arrangement. Was there anything that was particularly unhelpful or that you would have changed?

The first foster parents we had they did really try to make sure we were still connected to our roots so they would take us to African drumming and dancing to connect us culturally. That really helped me. Also being really understanding and caring really helped in the first few days.

06:15 How did you end up in residential care?

In residential care it was a really difficult time. Before we lived with Sonia we lived in residential care but our social worker realised that wasn’t beneficial because we were living with other children that had additional challenges and were difficult to live with. So we moved into Sonia’s home. But as a teenager I was very difficult to live with so that’s how I ended up back in residential care again 5 years later.

I wasn’t really happy at that moment and dealing with a lot and I didn’t know how to communicate or express what I was going through. As a teenager I was really quite angry and also living with young children in Sonia’s family she was wanting to ensure there was a positive influence on her kids growing up. So I felt bad, like I was too much. I spoke to youth worker and said I’m not happy here so they took me back to residential care because they couldn’t find another home for me. So that’s how I went from a stable foster home back to residential living.

08:09 You have touched on something that is very common where children in your situation now would be experiencing like blow ups at home and anger. Did you find that was difficult to control?

It’s not because I was exposed to it back home. I really felt like I wasn’t being understood by DHHS, youth worker and in the foster home. So I took my anger and frustration out on them, instead of communicating. As a teenager I was very upset and hurt. I also didn’t understand a lot of things happening around me. It was more that personally I didn’t know how to sit down with my foster parents and say actually this is what I’m feeling. I did do it from time to time but I was very disconnected and would just isolate myself quite a bit. That’s what led to me being back in residential care – not knowing how to communicate my feelings and emotions and ask for help. I just never asked for help.

10:00 I’m wondering about the child’s voice. How was that at school Did you have problems at school at all? Did you feel like people understood you at school and in the school system?

In High School I developed strong friendships while in foster care and some of those close friendships and they were there for me when I needed. They had my back. Im still in contact with one of them today. They were very helpful in maintaining my emotions.

10:58 It’s very easy to internalise emotions. Were you offered psychological support?

At Lighthouse Foundation I got offered fortnightly psychology sessions as part of the rules under the company.  Being myself, I also rejected that a couple of times, and missed sessions, but it did help in the long run. It was quite good.

11:45 Once again in the teenage years that happens. Did you work with groups like Create Foundation, who work to support young people in care? What was that experience like? What did you do with them?

Create Foundation I went to a few of their programs. Art and dance and social programs that I was a part of and they were good.

12:12 What would you say to other teenagers in your situation now? What would you say would be helpful for them or their carers to make sure they are giving them as much as they can?

Learn to communicate and know that there is someone there for you even though your parents aren’t there for you physicaly, knowing that you have that support from another family that love and care for you, don’t isolate yourself, be open to receiving their help.

13:20 You have highlighted sometimes you didn’t want help, which is totally understandable, that this is the teenage way.  What about now. Do things trigger for you?

Now I have learnt to communicate because of work and in my personal life. Growing up I learnt a lot about communication growing up in foster care. Moving around quite a lot in my youth I have learnt to be a stronger person. I learnt quite a bit from my foster parents and also those that looked after me during the residential years. Not just communication but a lot of other skills I took away from being in the system or being looked after by someone else, whether foster care, residential care or the Lighthouse Foundation.

14:34 Sounds like there were so many changes for you during that time. Was there anything else with all those frequent changes. Is there anything you can say about going into families with other children there to understand whats going on for you?

One of the families I was with their kids were quite young (2 and 4 years old). They were at the age they don’t really understand things so they just took us in as their older sisters.

I think just explaining to the children that they are here for this reason and there will be days where they will be grumpy and are having a bad day. Not sharing everything about their history. Not saying they are bad or their family is bad. Show them that even though they are foster kids we are still going to love and care for them like you are part of the family. So the foster children don’t feel like we are intruding. We are just living with them rather than intruding on their space where they don’t know why we are there.

16: Sounds like you have done some great work and life is doing really well for you now. What’s happening for you now?

I’m doing quite well thankyou. I’m studying  Bachelor of Nursing and working as a disability worker. I was working in aged care for three years but thought I would change after Covid.   

Thankyou Maggie for sharing those insights.  I am sure they will be very valuable for other people going forward.

To anyone making the time to listen to this recording, thankyou for giving up your valuable time for the benefit of the young people in your life. 

If you are a permanent care or parent needing help or support please contact PCA Families at or call us on 03 9020 1833. 

Please subscribe, follow or leave a review, or share an idea for a future topic! Until next time have an amazing week.