A teenager living in a shared residential foster care home in Canberra was exposed to drug use and threatened by his housemates, including one incident where another boy broke into his room with a knife.
Oliver's* "desperate and broken" mother said the system was failing her son. She described the pain of watching him live in a residential care home as she was unable to manage his violent outbursts and manic episodes, which occur due to his mental health conditions.
The mother has pleaded with the company, Premier Youthworks, and called on local and federal representatives to help resolve the complex situation.
Oliver, who his mother said was scared and suicidal, is living temporarily with a relative interstate. His mother fears that will be short-lived due to his manic behaviour, but he's too scared to return to Canberra after being threatened by his former housemate. His mother and the Community Services Director-General have shared parental responsibility for the boy until he turns 18.
The mother also holds concerns that her son went without food multiple times in a residential care home, including going to school without lunch and without money to purchase it.
Premier Youthworks strongly refutes this claim. A company spokeswoman said all houses and clients had access to food at all times, and processes were in place to restock and replenish as required and when needed.
The spokeswoman said any illegal items were removed immediately by staff.
"The children and young people who come into the care of Premier Youthworks often have a history of trauma, abuse and neglect, along with very complex needs, which can result in risk taking behaviours," she said.
The children and young people who come into the care of Premier Youthworks often have a history of trauma, abuse and neglect, along with very complex needs, which can result in risk taking behaviours.Premier Youthworks spokeswoman
"All states in Australia have clients in residential care placed with other young people; managing the dynamics of these environments can be quite challenging (including a number of sibling placements) however all efforts are made to effectively match young people together."
Premier Youthworks has announced it will cease to operate in the ACT as of August 14 due to funding concerns. ACT Minister for Children, Youth and Families Rachel Stephen-Smith said the announcement would allow the directorate to take a closer look at where children were placed.
"Premier's decision is an opportunity for us to look really closely at those individual children and young people and make sure that they're in the best spot they can be," Ms Stephen-Smith said.
"We do see an opportunity there to build in some more innovative approaches to how we deliver residential care."
She said it was a challenge in a small jurisdiction to be treating individuals with specific high needs, compared to a bigger city where the responses could be systematic, but she was confident in the oversight mechanisms currently in place.
Oliver and his mother raised their concerns about a year ago with the minister and five federal MPs including then Social Services Minister Dan Tehan and Member for Fenner Andrew Leigh.
From the ACT minister in response, she was told that the situation was complex and all agencies would continue to deliver support and care for her son to "ensure he had the best chance to reach his full potential".
The mother said by this time she was exhausted.
"I did have a follow up call from Child and Youth Protection Services and they took down my concerns but nothing changed. He still remained living with an ice addict."
Prior to that they had raised concerns multiple times with the case managers and the company, but nothing was done.
The situation at the house got so bad Oliver refused to leave his room, and instead of using the bathroom would urinate into a bottle.
His mother isn't sure what to do next.
In her complaint letters, she said she was a desperate and broken woman.
"I write to you with the hopes that you will read this letter and be outraged to the point it causes you to take action," she wrote.
"I want to make very clear that my son has a loving family. Family that did everything they could to keep him out of care despite the challenges that were faced and a health system that I can only describe as completely inadequate when it comes to youth mental health."
She said she couldn't continue to have her violent son living in the same house as her other child.
"As a mother, choosing between my two children is probably the most devastating and heartbreaking decision I've ever had to make. No words can describe the level of pain and anguish of what felt like sacrificing one child for the sake of my other," she wrote.
She acknowledged that staff would have their hands full with her son's periods of manic behaviour.
"I write this letter not to condemn individuals but rather to condemn a system and the organisation (Premier Youthworks) that are failing my son.
"The current state of [Oliver's] living conditions are nothing short of neglect."
She said on the night before she wrote the letter last year, her son sent her a message that read: "I love you too but people won't hear me until I'm really gone. Hopefully that would make them hear me so other kids don't have to suffer like I did. They would have to investigate... They would have enough evidence to say when a child suffered, they did nothing about it, they didn't listen. Well at least they will now. You tell me to wait, I've been waiting almost 2 years to get help and I've never been worse.... I feel hopeless. There is no life left in me anymore".
*Names have been changed or withheld to protect the identity of the child.
- Lifeline: 13 11 14, Kids Helpline: 1800 55 1800