A woman reached out to EG a few weeks ago, at her wits end and demanding a return phone call. I rang back as quickly as I could. For privacy reasons we'll call her Jane. (That's not her real name, but Jane is such a wonderful name I like to use it whenever I can.)
I wondered what I had done to upset her. Turns out she wasn't upset about anything to do with Everything Geraldton. Moreover, she didn't live anywhere near Geraldton. She lives in Rockingham. That would be Mark McGowan's electorate if I'm not mistaken.
She reached out to EG, as well as a number of other media outlets, in a desperate attempt to have her story told. She told me the other outlets had basically said "we don't like to deal with these sorts of things" and I guess I can understand why. But I decided to listen to Jane for some time as she related her troubles.
Here it is in a nutshell.
Jane has seven kids. She's come out of a violent relationship. She had a VRO for her and her children's protection, but as she put it, "I may as well wipe my arse with the VRO." She says her ex breached it at least 20 times.
Her ex husband committed a terrible crime recently and is about to go to jail. Jane says he got her onto meth a decade ago, and she says she's been off it for a bit over 100 days. Jane is also medicated for bipolar.
Oh yes. Seven kids, who have been brought up in a violent home, and are about to see their father locked away for a long time.
Most men I know head to the doctor for that special procedure after kid number three, because they know the limits of what they can cope with. But Jane has seven, ranging from 14 to 1.
And she's been trying to get some help.
Admittedly, she's already helped out by the government/taxpayer. She doesn't work, and receives the usual benefits a single mother receives.
But Jane has been trying to get some assistance with caring for the kids from agencies like DCP.
But because Jane copes she doesn't quite qualify.
You see, Jane was told the only way she could get some extra assistance was if her kids were in actual danger.
Jane had explained she was suicidal and barely coping at times. But it seems "barely coping" translates into "you're coping so you're not our problem."
Someone kindly advised Jane that all she needed to do was lie to DCP and tell them she had neglected her youngest child. Jane told them the lie they needed to hear, and was then able to get day care for the children.
It seems that if you're on the edge of coping, and can feel yourself slipping, there's not a lot of help available until you've actually slipped.
Jane doesn't want her kids to go into foster homes. But she tells me she doesn't feel like she's coping much of the time. She says she's trying to get some sort of in home care or assistance to help keep her from the edge, but because she isn't bad enough of a parent, she's struggling to get the assistance. In her words: "I'm not a bad enough mum for DCP to do anything, but don't feel like I can keep treading water for much longer."
But having recently watched Jane try and navigate the numerous organisations that are ostensibly there to help, I can see why she's frustrated.
Here's another example of the difficulty faced by Jane in looking for assistance.
Jane's nine year old daughter has been more difficult than usual lately. Perhaps that's an understatement. She actually tried to run onto the road in front of a car. The daughter confessed to a psych worker she wants to kill herself, and explained how she would carry it out. She also explained how she would hurt her siblings. Jane tells me that this daughter has a history of similar behaviour. After the recent episode of the nine year old running out the front of the home and heading for the road, only stopped by a friend who happened to be arriving who tackled the girl to the ground, Jane sought help.
As per her instructions from the support agencies, she called the Police. They said in a nutshell "What do you expect us to do? Call agency X or go to the emergency department of the hospital." Agency X also said "go to the hospital." The hospital admitted the daughter, but wanted her gone the next day with no other advice. After arguing and fighting Jane was able to take the daughter to another hospital in Perth. But they didn't want her either, because she wasn't displaying any problematic behaviour at that time. So home Jane went. But she didn't make it all the way home. Nine year old started threatening to open the car door and jump out on the freeway. So off to the nearest hospital, Fiona Stanley. And guess what. They don't want the daughter there any more either. Fair enough. They've got sick people to look after. So where do you take a suicidal nine year old who's threatening to hurt her siblings and herself? DCP will know.
Nope. DCP said, and I quote because I heard the conversation, "That's up to you to talk to the hospital about."
"But I can't take my daughter home because it's unsafe, and the hospital says I can't leave her there. What do I do?" Jane asks.
"That's up to you to talk to the hospital about," DCP says again.
I'm sure you're a better parent than Jane. I'm sure you'd never make the life choices that would lead a person to this point. Good for you.
But the fact of the matter is there are plenty of people like Jane living in our communities, and they struggle to navigate the complicated network of government departments and agencies. And some of these people don't fit our definitions of who qualifies for assistance.
They feel like they're being handballed each time they pick up the phone and ask for help.
I've done as much independent investigation as I can, viewed correspondence and court records, but as you can imagine DCP aren't too keen on speaking with the media about specific cases. I'm sure there's more than one side to the story, and I'm sure the individuals at all the different agencies are doing their best. Is Jane just someone who has failed to take responsibility for her own actions and needs to blame the "system" to make herself feel better, or is she someone who doesn't quite fit the description of a person who needs help, and hasn't said the magic words yet to get it? Is her case symptomatic of the disconnected age we live in where we can't even reach out to our neighbours or family and ask for help, and instead depend on the tax payer to fund an agency to solve our problems?
I don't know. But I keep meeting people who can't find the help they say they need, and they seem to be trying their best.