When he found his mother lying on the floor not moving, 5-year-old Max’s destiny was changed in an instant.
Max* phoned 000 and suddenly the house was filled with emergency workers – police, paramedics, social services. He watched his mother, who had overdosed, be taken away in an ambulance. Then he and his 15-year-old sister were placed in emergency care with separate families.
‘I was born addicted to drugs and had to be weaned off them. So, my mother must have been taking drugs before that night she overdosed,’ explains Max. ‘But I think things had got worse for her after my dad left when I was 3. She got into drugs in a big way.’
At the time Max’s birth mother overdosed, the family was living in Leichhardt in Sydney’s Inner West. For the next 3 years Max went to several foster families in different parts of Sydney. ‘Usually the new family was a long way from my school, so I had to keep changing schools,’ remembers Max. ‘Moving around so much really made me lose interest in school and it was hard to make friends.’
During this turbulent time, Max wondered why no family kept him for longer than a few months. Was there something wrong with him? Did he do something to upset them? ‘The longest time I was in one family was 11 months. Except for that 11 months, my sister who was 15 when we first went into care, was placed with different families,’ says Max.
When Max’s father had left, Max’s mother had not wanted to have contact with that side of the family. But as soon as Max’s paternal aunt Jane* discovered he was in care, she contacted Family and Community Services and was authorised to have Max placed with her in permanent kinship care.
In 2013, Jane transferred to Challenge Community Services as a foster carer. By then, Max’s sister had turned 18 and had returned to live with their birth mother.
‘At first, I stayed with my aunty on the Central Coast for a few weekends to see how it would work out,’ explains Max. ‘From the beginning I really liked being there. For the first time in my life, I felt truly loved and cared for. She’s who I call Mum now. I was never really into book learning, but once I moved permanently to the Central Coast, I made a tight group of friends at school. My cousins were grown up by then and had left home but they were often around. So suddenly I had this wonderful caring family who were really focused on me and my future.’
Max’s journey has been no easy road. ‘Looking back, I realise what happened wasn’t my fault. But because I kept going from one family to another, it felt to me like they were giving up on me. I just wanted to be The One, to be noticed and loved.’
At almost 18, Max is determined to make something of his life. Despite the extreme challenges he faced as a young child, he has grown into a confident young man looking forward to adulthood and independence.
He is now looking for work while he pursues his real passion of photography and filmmaking. ‘I’m a very visual person,’ he confirms. ‘I would love to work professionally in filmmaking or photography but it’s very competitive. I’m putting together a portfolio and have a YouTube channel. Qualifications are also important and I would really like to study photography at TAFE one day.’
In NSW there are 20,000 children in need of out-of-home care. Under new government guidelines introduced in October 2017, the priority for children who are unable to return to their birth family within 2 years will be to find them a stable home through adoption or a permanent foster care arrangement.
If you are interested in caring for a child in need and making a difference to their life, contact Challenge Community Services today on 1800 084 954 or email firstname.lastname@example.org
*Models used in photograph and names changed to protect privacy.