Jake hasn’t been enrolled in a school at all for at least three years, and according to his current carer Raelene*, he’s never really been supported by liaison officers from either the Education or Communities departments.
“It’s systemic; they come and go, they don’t know him or his story,” she said about Department of Communities workers. “No one takes the time. The liaison officers are also trapped in the system.”
As of June 30, there were 5948 children in out-of-home care. Of those, 375 were in residential care.
Raelene has cared for Jake on and off for years and has recently become his ‘provisional’ carer once again to help secure consistent schooling.
“I fear we’re running out of time, I have maybe 2½ years to get him the schooling and support he needs before he becomes an adult and is no longer in the system,” she said.
“He has now been out of school for most of his life. I’m having enormous anxiety about waking up to him becoming another statistic because he can’t get an education.
“Being in the system has left him with massive and lifelong trauma that will need massive support and infrastructure to avoid criminality and jail like his peers and family.”
The majority of homes Jake has lived in have been residential care facilities in the Perth metropolitan area owned by the Department of Communities and managed by external providers, where Raelene said the couches “smelt like piss” and were soaked with urine.
“There were broken windows, graffiti everywhere … there were signs of trauma all over those buildings and I fought the company tooth and nail to fix it but they wouldn’t listen,” she said.
“This damage was the scars of these kids’ pain and they thought it was OK to keep it like that because ‘it would just get damaged again’. Broken glass all over the ground outside and even some in the house, I spent weeks and weeks cleaning and fixing it.”
As of June 30, there were 5948 children in out-of-home care in WA. Of those, 375 were living in residential care houses.
There are 14 residential group homes owned by Department of Communities in WA, and just 32 Education Services staff to ensure children in care attend school.
Raelene said the problem was that residential carers never stayed long. The last thing the kids could manage, while living like this, was an education.
“I spent nights outside the residential facility with the case managers and the residential workers with Jake crying and screaming,” Raelene said. “He will not go into resi due to the systemic child abuse issues in care.”
Raelene, a trauma therapist and former residential carer and teacher, said Jake’s story was not uncommon. Still, he wanted to go to TAFE and get a job.
“The DCP has failed him, their inability to address or provide a stable placement for him is a systemic issue,” she said.
Education Department schools deputy director general Stephen Baxter said many students came from extremely complex and troubled backgrounds.
“We know the circumstances of every student in Western Australia are different but we want them all to have the best possible opportunities to learn and succeed in life,” he said.
“We work closely with other state government agencies and service providers to together ensure these children and young people have every support to meet their needs so they can come to school every day to focus on learning and achieving their goals of employment, training or further education.”
Department of Communities community services deputy director general Rachael Green said in most cases, children who had experienced out-of-home care continued through school and were active, engaged members of their communities.
Ms Green said both departments worked together with student engagement teams, school psychologists and schools where there were concerns for a child’s safety and wellbeing due to them not attending school.
“Children in care sometimes disengage for various reasons,” she said.
*The names of the foster child and carer involved in this case have been changed for legal reasons.
Lauren is a casual journalist at WAtoday who reports on education and general news.