Communities and Justice

Amber's story, caseworker

Amber sits with Harry in the park.
Amber sits with Harry in the park.

I have learned a lot from Harry. He taught me that people are always changing, particularly young people. No one has just one feeling, behaviour or identity and then that is it. Harry showed me how important it is for caseworkers to meet young people where they are at. It is our job to be present, listen and act in their best interest.

Getting to know Harry

Working with Harry has reminded me to be in the moment, walk alongside the young person and think outside the box. When I met Harry, the first thing I noticed was how he set up our meeting with kindness. He opened the door for me, asked if I was okay sitting where I was and if I wanted a drink of water. I was really struck by how respectful he was. I made sure I finished our meeting by responding to his kindness with gratitude. I said, ‘Thank you for allowing me to spend some time with you. I know how hard it is meeting strangers.’ He responded with, ‘Thank you. I really respect that because you are a stranger.’ From that day, I made sure Harry knew I was there by acknowledging his feelings, being transparent, asking for his views and taking action. 

It took a bit of time to understand Harry’s life so far. In working to understand Harry, I knew that he had experienced and heard many negative things about himself prior to coming into care. I noticed that he had started to see himself that way. We spent time together, alongside his care agency, to help him understand his strengths. We reminded him that ‘you are NOT your behaviour’ and that ‘change can and does happen’. Harry now understands how his own inner feelings give him a narrative for what he believes about himself. 

I did my best to make sure Harry knew I genuinely cared by giving him my time and not judging anything he was telling me.

I wanted to make sure Harry knew I was there and that the time we spent together during home visits and meetings was purposeful. I let him know that this was a moment in time. I was there to advocate for him and help him find his forever connections. I was not there because I had to be; I was there because I wanted to try to help make the things happen that he needed and deserved.

I had also learned that Harry was having a hard time at school with some awful bullying. My heart went out to him. He was already dealing with so much in not being able to stay with his family. We talked a lot about what was going on and decided a fresh start in a new school was the way to go. Since moving schools, Harry has settled in so well and made some wonderful friends.

Even though Harry had settled in school, we still needed to find him a permanent home. I attempted to get Harry back to his mum and stepdad with intensive support wrapped around them. Unfortunately, returning home at the time continued to be unsafe for Harry. So I asked him what he wanted to do. Harry said the only thing he wanted to do was remain in his current location so he could stay close to family, friends and community. He had started a job after school as well so continuing to live in the same area was extremely important. 

Finding a home for Harry

Harry wanted to live with a family more than anything so I began looking for a home. Harry told me he would consider a foster family. I then put in a referral to find a foster family for Harry in his area. I spoke with his current care agency about potential carers, looked for community carers, and considered residential care and semi-independent living options for Harry. I listened to his needs, fought hard to advocate on his behalf, and made sure Harry knew what was happening with finding his forever home. I understood his anxiety around not knowing where he would be living and began to plan for the change that was going to happen.

Harry had developed a strong connection to one of the workers who looked after him. I contacted her and was pleasantly surprised when I found out that she had also been thinking about where Harry could live. She had told her mother about Harry, and her mother had expressed interest in becoming Harry’s foster carer. I was so happy and worked hard and fast to see if this could actually turn into Harry’s permanent home. I had to contain my excitement though and be mindful not to set up expectations for Harry that might not work out. We decided to take some time to make sure this was the right move for him.

 Amber smiling at the camera
I spent three months helping Harry get to know his prospective carer before we decided that Harry would live with them. We wanted it to be right.

After more than a year of being unsettled, Harry moved into his new home. He told me that moving in with his new family gave him the sense of belonging that he had been looking for. Not only a physical place to call home, but also a true sense of acceptance, emotional safety, understanding and equality.

With my manager’s guidance and complete dedication, I was able to wrap a strong support network around Harry. I was committed to making sure Harry had the right people around him to feel connected, safe and valued – just as he deserves. But first I had to listen to Harry. He was willing to put his trust in me and allow me to support him. He told me what he needed. I was then able to link Harry with a mentoring service and a psychologist. Importantly, I also worked with his new school about how they could continue to make Harry feel safe and have a sense of acceptance and belonging. I got into the habit of checking in frequently with Harry to understand if I was meeting his needs. I know that young people go through a lot of big changes, and I think it is important that caseworkers adjust and are flexible to go with them on their individual journeys.

Reconnecting with family

One thing Harry has always been clear with me about is his need to be connected to his family. His dad lives in England and Harry had not seen him for more than 10 years. It was obvious to me that I had to re-establish this relationship and give Harry the opportunity to meet his dad. Harry got to do just that when his dad came to Australia recently. I have also organised for Harry to visit England next year so that he can spend time with the rest of his family, whom he has now become closer to via technology. 

Working with Harry has allowed me to see him find acceptance and safety at home and school, and within himself. I have seen him connect on a deeper level with peers and turn to them as a source of strength. He has come to recognise that he has the power to not only change his own life, but also empower others to do the same. Recently I suggested that Harry apply to become a member of the DCJ youth consultants’ group that helps our department to listen and learn from young people in out of home care. I believe Harry will be amazing in this role as I know he has the ability to influence our agency and how we work with other young people. After supporting Harry through the application process, he is now a member of this group. I am so proud of him for wanting to help other young people in care.

Seeing all these things fall into place and watching Harry grow in confidence and connection has been wonderful. He is wise beyond his years and I am truly grateful to know him.

Harry and Amber in a park laughing
Harry and Amber in a park laughing.
Last updated:

17 Apr 2023