How the child protection system failed to keep Maggie safe

To remove or not to remove? Knowing when to take a child out of a toxic environment is a fraught question.

Maggie* was just 13 when authorities removed her from her family and took her to a motel room.

She left with a single plastic bag containing a change of clothes.

She was scared, lonely and unsure about what would happen next.

Separated from her mother, grandmother and siblings for the first time, hugging a soft pillow was the only thing that brought comfort.

Child protection authorities believed they were removing Maggie for her own good.

But over the next four years as a ward of the state, she spiralled into a world of alcohol, drugs and sexual abuse in a system that was meant to protect her.

'The days went forever'

Maggie, who is now 17, still cries when she recounts the day she was taken.

She said she knew she was living in a "broken home" at the time — her mum was addicted to drugs, her siblings had already been removed by child protection authorities.

However, when Maggie was eventually taken away, she didn't go to live with her siblings.

Instead, she was taken to stay in a motel room.

"The weekend, it felt like years, the days went forever, the nights went longer," she said.

I used to put the two single beds together and put pillows around me and cuddle up.

As a ward of the state, she never ended up in a permanent home with a loving foster family.

Instead, she was moved from motel to motel and eventually into one of Adelaide's biggest residential care facilities where she lived with eight other children.

She was reunited with her siblings briefly, but then separated again and moved to another residential care facility because workers told her she was too disruptive.

"You can tell it's a welfare home, the government cars … kids' rooms with security screens on it and a big security door to get let in," she said.

"It didn't even look like home, it was ugly.

"The first couple of months it was hectic.

"I was innocent, I was still sweet me."

'It was easier … under the influence'

Life in residential care taught Maggie to appear tough, but inside she said she felt helpless and her mental health was suffering.

Staff would change regularly, and she said she was never really sure who she could trust.

Maggie started being teased at school and soon dropped out. She was in Year 8.



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