Foster carer reveals shocking truth of child abuse
A police officer knocks at a woman's door just before midnight, a group of children huddled together in waiting, who have just fled the abusive constraints of their home to take refuge with a complete stranger.
Some children have been sexually abused, others starved, but all have been traumatised by years of neglect at the hands of their parents or family.
This is the harsh reality for children in foster care at Townsville, but it's a life Paula Clayton-Beatts has vowed to help repair in her role as one of the only foster carers for teenagers in the region.
Ms Clayton-Beatts, 65, currently cares for four children who have been in her life for about one year.
She has provided a safe home of about 20 children in her four years on the job, saying each child was different.
"Some come for a few days, some a few months, some come and they don't leave," she said.
Ms Clayton-Beatts is a full-time carer with Churches of Christ, saying she hit a crossroads after arriving home from a road trip in her motorhome volunteering at music festivals.
Nothing filled her cup, so she decided to pursue a teenage dream of helping displaced children.
Since then, she has gained the crucial trust of many children who had no reason to let their guards down.
"They don't trust adults because we've let them down, when they come into care they don't trust us because we are total strangers and they withdraw," she said.
She has nurtured children with unimaginable trauma, including a child who was raped by their father and triggered each time he called, and a child who was so malnourished they could only eat three grapes in a single sitting.
"They've been stabbed, beaten, neglected, literally kicked around the house, locked in the cupboards, you name it, it happens to them," she said.
"The hardest thing is when you're just sitting around the table happily chatting and all of a sudden a child remembers something of their trauma.
"They start to repeat all these things their parents have said and done to them.
"They are all sitting there sparking up this conversation … and I'm at the table almost breathless in the enormity of what's happening. I just have to stand steady."
THE SAD TRUTH
- In Queensland there are more than 10,000 children and young people who, for a variety of reasons are unable to live at home due to safety concerns.
- This number continues to rise in line with increasing pressures on families including unemployment, homelessness, domestic and family violence, mental health and drug and alcohol misuse.
- Over the past five years there has been an increase of 13.2 per cent in total intakes received by the Department of Child Safety, Youth and Women.
- One in three children have entered foster care because of parental drug abuse.
- In 2018-19, 20 per cent of child abuse notifications in Australia that were subject to investigations were made by school personnel.
Ms Clayton-Beatts said people needed to understand these children did not have a "normal" upbringing and do not understand right from wrong.
"Some of the kids are used to looking out and standing guard while mum and dad shoplift, watching them shoot up or smoke, not being able to cook- that's their norm," she said.
"If they've been doing that for 10 years that's just what they know. People can't actually say 'you're naughty' because that's how they've been raised."
Ms Clayton-Beatts said it was even harder to break down their barriers.
"They act out and run away," she said.
"They get scared and they revert back to what they know because they know how to operate in an unsafe environment."
While foster care was challenging, Ms Clayton-Beatts said the rewards outweighed the tough days.
"The most rewarding part is when a child who is terrified chooses to trust you," she said.
"That is the most precious of gifts, you can't solve their problems but I can help them unpack and give them the skills to look at their own life and make their own decisions."
Ms Clayton-Beatts said the pain of eventually saying goodbye was worth it knowing she had made an impact on their lives.
"It's always hard to give them up, but they aren't our children to keep … but we don't die from the pain," she said.
"Everybody is living their own lives and think they can't do it … but if we all became a part of the village that raised the child and worked together across the cultures we could help this.
"Instead of fighting and hating and blaming, get up and do something about it."
If you have reason to suspect a child is experiencing, or is at risk of abuse, call North Queensland Regional Intake Service on 1300 706 147 or the Child Safety After Hours Service Centre on 1800 177 135.
If you have a reason to suspect a child is in immediate danger, call triple-0.