“Harry suffers terrible nightmares. He talks about a man coming to hurt him, and he is trying to protect his mum. I cuddle and soothe him for hours to reassure him that he’s safe.”
“He’s a real bookworm,” Nola* says with a smile when she’s asked to describe Harry*.
“These days he loves nothing better than sitting in the garden, immersing himself into the fantasy world of his books.”
Harry’s favourite stories are the ones about a hero’s journey. Those that tell the tale of a boy who sets off on an adventure, is challenged by a villain, and eventually emerges victorious as good overcomes evil. The hero returns home transformed and is celebrated for their achievements.
Sadly in the story of Harry’s own life, he never saw himself as the hero. In his mind, he was always the villain.
It’s no surprise Harry felt this way. Time and again he was convinced by people he was supposed to trust that he was bad, hopeless, and unworthy of love or care.
For the first years of Harry’s life, violence and fear stalked the hallways of his home through the actions of an abusive stepfather.
Harry witnessed horrible acts of violence against his mother. His stepfather threatened that if Harry ever spoke a word of it to anyone, he would be next.
He was only 4 years old. Can you imagine how frightened he must have felt?
Growing up in an unsafe home puts a child in a permanent state of fight, flight, or freeze. If you’ve ever had a sudden burst of adrenaline run through your body, it’s just like that, only its 24 hours a day, 7 days a week. It doesn’t stop. It makes it impossible to fully relax, concentrate, or regulate your emotions because you are on edge all the time.
One day, Harry woke to find his mum and stepdad were gone. Someone from Child Protection took him to a house that he didn’t recognise, to live with a family he’d never met, who were foster carers from another agency.
They told Harry they were his foster carers, and they were going to look after him because his parents had to go away for a little while.
What they didn’t tell Harry at the time was that he couldn’t live with his parents because his mum was in hospital and his stepdad was in jail.
Harry began to have terrible nightmares. He desperately wanted to be with his mum as he missed her and wanted to protect her.
His frustration at not being able to live with his mum, compounded by years of emotional abuse and neglect, meant Harry’s behaviours became extremely challenging.
At times anxiety spilled into aggression towards his foster carers and other children in the household.
His fear would come out in destructive behaviour. One day, Harry pulled every single item out of the fridge in a temper, smashing and spreading everything all over the kitchen.
His behaviours were too challenging for many of his foster carers, and he was moved from one home to the next. He was also expelled from school as his behaviours were too disruptive to other children.
This was the point in Harry’s story where he felt most like the villain. But he wasn’t a villain. He was just a frightened little boy, who had only ever known a life of fear and pain.
It’s heart-breaking to think of how much this little boy must have been suffering. He was feeling so alone, rejected and so angry, and this was the only way he knew how to express those feelings.
When MacKillop became responsible for Harry’s care, we turned to our experienced foster carers Nola and Gary*. They have been providing a safe and loving home for children for more than 10 years.
Nola and Gary were Harry’s last resort—all other avenues had been exhausted. They already had three foster children in their care, but as Nola says: “there is always room at my table for another child in need”.
Nola remembers when Harry first came to their home.
“He just couldn’t control himself. He didn't know how to deal with his emotions, and he was desperately looking for help, love, and guidance … anything really. He was just reaching out.”
“Everybody in his life had given up on him. No one ever believed in him. And that’s got to be so negative for him. I can't imagine how that feels.
“Harry didn’t have the strategies to get through the day without smashing something, breaking something, yelling at somebody, stealing something, or throwing something at somebody.”
While the heroes in his books were fighting dragons and monsters, Harry was fighting his own emotions.
But now thanks to Nola and Gary he no longer has to do it alone.
Nola says, “the biggest challenge was getting Harry to understand that he is a good kid, who sometimes acts out because he’s experienced trauma. Now he’s learned that he’s not bad, he’s not worthless. He is special and he is loved.”
Nola and Gary were committed to showing Harry that this home was different. This time he wouldn’t be packed up and moved on again.
When Harry learned this, the walls he had put up to protect himself began to come down. The constant alarm bells stopped ringing in his ears. He could finally begin to live a life that wasn’t dominated by fear and unhappiness. He could focus on just being a child with the same needs as any other child.
Because of the support from his foster carers and the team, Harry can now see himself as the hero of his life story.
This is the difference that you make when you donate to MacKillop Family Services.
You help us find, train, and support carers like Nola and Gary. You help give children like Harry a loving family that will give him everything he needs to be his best.
We urgently need more foster carers to open their homes and their hearts to children who have experienced abuse and neglect. Right now, more foster carers are leaving the system than are joining and its reaching crisis levels.
Christmas is a special time. It’s a time of being with friends and loved ones. A time of sharing memories and creating new ones. And a time to celebrate family.
This Christmas, will you donate so that children who need care, love, and support get their own loving foster family?
*Names have been changed and stock images used to protect the privacy of our clients