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Why its important to embrace culture, trauma support and relationships with carers in long term care

WHY ITS IMPORTANT TO EMBRACE CULTURE, TRAUMA SUPPORT AND RELATIONSHIPS WITH CARERS IN LONG TERM CARE

Tory is an African refugee who came to Australia at 5 years old. She resided in Springvale and Noble Park and at 7 years old she found herself in long term care, with her older sister (9yo). Tory is the youngest of six siblings and had had to adjust to being one of the oldest siblings in the carers home as there were two young children to befriend! Tory lived in care for 11 years and now sees these children as part of her extended sibling group. Eventually Tory moves out of care two days before her 18th birthday, with a gentle push from her carers, into independent living with Youth Foyers. After the designated two years (longer is not permitted) she moves in with her biological parents. Tory reflects on the supports offered to her, that she sometimes rejected and wishes she didn't, and the importance of having a strong open relationship with her carer. Tory's story is perhaps typical of a woman of African culture. Feelings and emotions are not always openly shared. Sometimes culturally there can be misunderstanding. Therapy was not Tory's thing. Nor were animals. Sadly for her there were 10 animals in her carers home! However, having a strong open relationship with her carer and her family was the thing that supported Tory through her challenges. She continues to enjoy a strong relationship with her carers and she relies on that ongoing care and support. Tory is now studying teaching, works part time and continues to be an important part of her carers family and lives.

00:00 - Start 01:22 - Journey from Africa to Australia at 5yo, to out of home care at 7yo 02:30 - Entering a strangers home at 7yo 04:02 - Maintaining cultural connection 06:35 - Choosing safety and separating from a sibling 08:40 - Learning to be without a sibling 09:30 - Trauma reactions from nightmares to withdrawal 11:45 - Things that didn't help 12:27 - The importance of your relationship with your carer 14:29 - Transitioning to Youth Foyer to live independently 15:21 - Advice for others in care

AN AFRICAN REFUGEE, TORY NYABENDA, IN LONG TERM CARE – CULTURE, TRAUMA AND RELATIONSHIPS - TRANSCRIPT

Victoria Nyabenda, an adult student studying teaching, previously a child in long term care, and Liz Powell, PCA Families Advisor

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 Tory.  Tory is in her 20s, is a student studying teaching, and works part time in retail. Tory is a brilliant dancer, who spent the last two years of high school in a specialist dance school, completing her VCE in between 12 hours of dance each day. No easy feat!  Tory spent most of her childhood in long term care in a family home, navigating the system. Tory also spent two years with Youth Foyer Broadmeadows, an integrated learning and accommodation centre for those who are continuing to study between 18 and 24yo.  Tory has a large family of 6 siblings and 2 parents, most of who live in Melbourne. Her family originated from Burundi, Africa and came to Australia in 2005.

01:22 Thanks Tory 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 by boat and plane.

We stayed in a refugee camp and then came on a boat.

When we arrived in 2005 we stayed in Springvale and were provided with everything we needed obviously as we were refugees.

We later moved to Noble Park.

How I ended up in care, we went to see family and my parents got drunk and left

my sister and I on a plane. We were in residential care for a few years before we were put in foster care.

I was about 7 when I moved in with a foster care family

We were in residential care for a few years before we were put in with Sonia’s family. 

  • Came as refugee from Africa
  • How came here and what happened when you arrived
  • How ended up in care – what happened ie found on the train and any other information you want to share

Thanks Tory. 

02:30 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 7 year old?  What happened and how did you settle in?

 At first it was confronting but I soon learnt that the house I was in was very inviting and Sonia really didn’t push my sister and I to do anything I didn’t want to and she was always communicating with us and like I knew I was safe and I knew I was in a safe environment. But also I don’t think it bothered me as much as it bothered my sister just because she is older and I was younger so I don’t think I really realised what was happening. I’m not the kind of person that gets overly angry or upset about things and I just let things go the way they are meant to go.

It was reassuring that she really cared for us and wanted to know more about us and our culture and our home life so that she could put that into her daily family routine as well. She was always finding activities and cultural things for us to attend so that we didn’t lose that heritage.

04:02 With the cultural connections, sometimes you rejected that a little bit. Was that something you didn’t want to connect with at the time?

Im very grateful for the things that we participated in but at some point I felt like I didn’t want to do those things as in the African community they can be judgemental. Especially being in a white home and then Im trying to participate in cultural things its just something they would expect me to know already. I know she wanted us to take Kirundi lessons because it got to the point that I couldn’t speak my original language. That was quite embarrassing. But I didn’t want my African family or community to say oh she has forgotten her language, she is not African. There are a lot of comments that get made. Looking back I feel like I should have just gone ahead and done the lessons because now I struggle to communicate with family and family friends because I didn’t speak it fluently growing up. From Sonia’s perspective she was just trying to help me but I just took it as shame and embarrassment as it was something I should have known. That was something we always went back and forth about. For my sister she can speak it fluently so there were no worries fro

06:03 You have highlighted what we hear a lot: feeling like you don’t fit in in either place. Caught in the middle. Its great to see how you have pulled that all together as you go into adulthood.

06:35 You have spoken about your sister a bit and I spoke to her previously and there was a time that she did leave the home and there were arguments and a bit of a blow up.

From what I’ve been told (forgotten/trauma) when she left I was ok with the decision that was made because I wanted it to happen as I cared for and still care for Sonia’s kids and I take them as my own siblings so when what happened that day I didn’t want them to be in danger. My sister expected me to be ok with her behaviour and I wasn’t. It was a shock as it all happened very fast that day. Now when we talk about it we all laugh about it as it was very teenage behaviour: it was unnecessary anger and frustration. We had never been separated before and they (DFFH) don’t generally separate sisters. My sister was upset that I didn’t want to leave with her. I was comfortable where I was staying. I liked where I was staying. I had got to the stage that I felt normal and part of the family. The looks and glares didn’t bother me anymore (as multi cultural family). I didn’t want to go into a home like residential care where there would be teenagers that I didn’t know and didn’t know their behaviour, histories and what they were into. That always scared me in residential care because I didn’t know what the other teenagers were like and I would be in fear of the other teenagers in residential care and what they were like and what their reasons were. That was always a fear for me. My sister transitioned into other care very easily. That day was crazy.

08:40 It was probably strange for you to be on your own in the home without her for the first time. It was probably strange for you to be on your own in care.

Being the younger sister I was always very quiet and reserved and always let her take the lead in conversations and what not. After she left I stepped out of my bubble and was talking and talking and Sonia said she could never get me to shutup. I think I was always hiding behind my sister and getting her to do the talking for me. I think that was a good thing as I learnt to stand up for myself and say what I wanted to say without being shy or having fear of getting rejected or turned down. 

09:30 We talk about trauma reactions that can happen for children and the fright, flight or freeze response that can happen. For your sister that was probably the fight with the anger and for your that was likely the flight where you withdrew a little. Does that resonate for you as something you were experiencing in your situation?

Yes as much as trauma I went through stages where I was going through nightmares for a few years. They stopped when I was about 13-14 years old. Just the process of coming here and living in Africa and being quiet and reserved. I’m still quiet and reserved and don’t like to put myself out there.  I think that’s a choice now that I make to be quiet and withdraw.

There are triggers. Especially in big groups of people I tend to stick to myself and just talk to people I know. I don’t start conversations. In terms of being in a new environment it takes me a while to get comfortable with the place and put myself out there. A few people I work with now comment on how quiet I was at first and how much I do love to talk to them now. Until I know someone and know I am in a safe environment I will be really quiet and stick to myself.

11:45 What sort of things didn’t help you living in care?

A lot of care meetings that were a bit too much. I felt like there was one every month. It was annoying and it was hard for Sonia’s family and her schedule as well and fitting everything in. It was a bit excessive.

12:27 And what about psychologists or counselling and any other type of support. Were you given any other support?

Yes I saw many counsellors and didn’t like going and didn’t see the point. I don’t like talking to people about my problems. It took a while to find the person I trusted. It helps but I don’t like talking to strangers and Im more comfortable talking to Sonia and I can just talk to her about anything. Back then I didn’t talk to anyone and I didn’t like to talk to Sonia or even my friends. I just liked to deal with things by myself. If I can’t figure it out I will talk to Sonia or somebody else. Sonia is very open and she wanted me to be open as well so she thought seeing a counsellor would help. But I just didn’t see the point.

Perhaps alternative therapies like animal or art therapy would have helped too.

14:29 What was the experience of leaving the family home and going to Youth Foyer like?  I understand they require you to have regular meetings with youth workers and social workers/psychologists. What was that like?  What was helpful in that transition and what was not helpful?

It was great as I love being independent and doing my own thing. Living at home I just struggled to follow rules, not major rules, just simple rules like coming home on time. I just didn’t see the point once I had communicated. But there are rules for a reason. So I had new freedom but it also taught me about finance and being organised. It was a good experience for me learning how to manage things as they come up.

15:21 What would you say to someone else navigating their way through the care system now to help them manage their journey?

Have that relationship with your carer and build that strong foundation with them. Do talk with them. It helps them understand what you are going through and how they can help you. If you shut them out they won’t know what’s going on. Take part in activities and those activities with cultural benefits. It will help you in your future. Also be grateful as you don’t realise what its like living in that home until you get out of it. And they have extended the age to 21 for support and I think that’s a great idea. 18 is still a bit young.  I moved out at 17. Take everything that’s given to you and don’t take it for granted. You don’t realise how much the carer does for you until they are not there. So take that opportunity to learn from them as there will be a time where you are by yourself and they aren’t there.

17:11 Is there anything else you would like to comment on or share today?

Thanks Tory for your wonderful insights. 

I learnt some great insights from you about the things that worked and didn’t work. Thankyou.

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.