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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FAMILY AND HUMAN SERVICES
Impact of illicit drug use on families
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FAMILY AND HUMAN SERVICES
Impact of illicit drug use on families
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STANDING COMMITTEE ON FAMILY AND HUMAN SERVICES
(House of Representatives-Wednesday, 7 March 2007)
PEARSON, Dr Gregory Nicholas
LYNCH, Ms Laura Joyce
NEWMAN, Mrs Maree Joan
LUBACH, Mrs Maree
BURNETT, Mrs Joanna
FEASEY, Ms Glenda
BLATCH, Mr Charles William
KONINGEN, Ms Sue
ALCORN, Ms Mary
Helene, Private capacity
Colin, Private capacity
- Mr QUICK
Content WindowSTANDING COMMITTEE ON FAMILY AND HUMAN SERVICES - 07/03/2007 - Impact of illicit drug use on families
CHAIR —We will now hear from our community statement people; everybody else will stay at the table. We might start with Danni.
Danielle —I have a daughter who is 36, who is currently enrolled in the Goldbridge program. When I first found out that my daughter Penny was on drugs, I did not believe the person who was telling me and I said, ‘There’s no way; how dare you say that about my daughter.’ That was about nine years ago and I have since been led to believe that it was going on a long time before that. But, as parents, we completely trusted her and had seen no evidence to believe anything else.
When my eldest grandchild, who is now 11 years of age, was born, we had paid off our house, had closed off part of it for my youngest daughter who had got married and my husband said, ‘Now we’ll help Penny.’ So we bought her, her partner and the little one a house. We said, ‘If you pay $150 a week, once it accrues to a deposit, then the house will be yours; you can just take it over.’ Two years into this, I started hearing that my daughter was on drugs. She rang me to tell me that her partner had been selling drugs, and I said, ‘I hope he goes to jail.’ I believe that all people who sell drugs should go to jail. Anyway, I was starting to get a gut feeling that what I was being told was true. I went around there a couple of times to find that there were people everywhere, bottles of alcohol and children running riot, and I was very concerned.
My little granddaughter was two at that time. I rang the then department of family services and voiced by concerns. They went out there and, on the day they went, my daughter was playing with cups of tea with her little girl, and she said, ‘That mother of mine—she’s just an idiot; don’t take any notice of her.’ This occurred a few more times and, by the time the little one was four and in preschool, I was very concerned. I was going to the police, I was ringing different places and I was being told, ‘There’s nothing you can do.’
Anyway, I worked in early childhood and someone told me about a gentleman who was in juvenile aid, so I went to see him. He said, ‘Danni, I’m sorry; there’s nothing we can do until your little grandchild starts school. But, once she starts school, they will notice that she’s not coming a lot and then we can get involved.’ This was in her preschool year. I went and saw her preschool teacher. My granddaughter attended very spasmodically and the teacher had noticed that she was quite a withdrawn little girl, but she said, ‘I can’t prove anything other than to say she’s quite withdrawn.’
So my granddaughter started school. I phoned the school a month into her school year and said, ‘I’m a grandparent and I would really like to come and see you; I have concerns about my granddaughter.’ The deputy principal said, ‘What’s your granddaughter’s name?’ and I told her. She said, ‘Very interesting. We also have very deep concerns about your granddaughter. Please come over.’ So I went over to the school, and I said that I was very concerned that my little granddaughter was not being adequately cared for, and she said, ‘Yes, I would agree with that.’
Later that day, I had not long been home when my husband said, ‘The school is on the phone.’ So I went to the phone and she said: ‘I didn’t think I would be speaking to you this soon, but I’ve just had a phone call from a hotel nearby. A gentleman has informed me that he knows your daughter and that she’s at the hotel boasting of being on drugs and is very, very drunk. Would you like to come and get your granddaughter from school?’ So I went and got my granddaughter from school and I said, ‘Would you please ring the department of family services’—that is what it was called then—’and let them know that this has happening, because they’re not listening to me.’ So she phoned them—and there were a couple of other occasions when my daughter was turning up to the school drunk and they were not happy about the child going. Eventually, I went over to the department and said, ‘You really need to do something.’
We had had an occasion where the child had been left at home on her own, even though her mother denied it. There was another occasion where my daughter rang me through the night and said that someone had written in blood on her wall. She was ringing me from the phone box down the street. I said, ‘Where is Janae?’ and she said, ‘She’s home in bed.’ So you can imagine how I am feeling as a grandparent knowing that this little girl has been left home while her mother is off her head riding down on a pushbike to ring from a phone box to say that someone had written in blood on her wall. Quite a few other things happened too and the school was very supportive. The department stepped in and the child was given to me for a period of three days while they assessed things.
So Janae came to live with us. Three months into this, there was a meeting at the department. So I went to the department. My daughter was sitting there and saying, ‘I don’t want that m-m-m having my daughter.’ I said, ‘You know your daughter is safe with me; you know that she is happy with me and all we want is for you to get better.’ She said: ‘I don’t have an effing problem. You’re my only problem.’ She was in total denial that she was on drugs and she said, ‘I’m just a social drinker.’
Anyway, one thing led to another. About three weeks later, I was called over for a meeting at the department. My little granddaughter was sitting there with tears coursing down her cheeks. When they phoned me, the girl said to me, ‘You’re to come over to the department to say goodbye to your granddaughter.’ I said, ‘I beg your pardon, what do you mean?’ She said, ‘This is closure.’ I said, ‘What are the charges?’ She said, ‘Your undermining of the department and your daughter does not want her daughter to reside with you.’
That little girl had tears coursing down her cheeks. I took in her blanket. She hid under her blanket. My younger daughter had said that she would take her. My younger daughter at the time had two little girls who were not well and she was taking her out of Christian duty, because she knew that her time was very taken up with the two little girls. She was waiting to hear if the youngest one had cystic fibrosis. She did not; she had coeliac disease. But she still had a lot on her plate. But my daughter in this meeting was just out—’I just don’t want her having anything to do with my child.’
This little girl would not even have known my other daughter, had I not taken her to see her little cousins; she would not have even known them, because my other two children had nothing to do with Penny because of her behaviour—and their lifestyles are very different. So this poor little girl was removed from the only comfort zone that she knew. That was her safe retreat, our home, and she was removed.
We have been assessed by two psychologists, one with the department and one independent of the department, and both had come out and said what a wonderful environment the little girl was in and they saw no reason to change the status quo. But my daughter was listened to. Within a few months the little girl was returned to her mother and I said to the department, ‘You are making a big mistake. Things are still not good there,’ and I was not listened to again. In the meantime, my little granddaughter, at six years of age, wrote this note: ‘My life is so hard to handle. I just can’t take it any more. Things have to change.’ I took that note to the department and said, ‘Act on it today or I’m going to the newspapers.’
The consensus of the people at the department was that a six-year-old would not write that note but, thank God, a new manager had come. I took him other writings of hers and he said, ‘Blind Freddy can see that this is the child’s writing.’ That little girl was so distressed and so frightened—and so frightened of her mother, who kept telling her that her grandmother was this evil witch—that that is how she was feeling. This new manager, thank God, took a different stance and he said, ‘I’m going to have you assessed again.’ So we were assessed again and once again we came up trumps. So the little girl was returned to me.
Within a few months, once again, my daughter was in another relationship with another fellow and pregnant with the youngest one, who now resides with me as well, and I knew that things were not good there. There was violence and there was drug taking. I was not listened to. Anyway, it came to the attention—I think I rang town, and several things happened and I got the older girl again. So this was twice within a short period of time. Then she was returned to her mother. I did have a good worker from that office at that time who said to me, ‘Danni, I really know what you’re saying, but I’ve been told to back off; the case is closed.’
So this little girl has been through absolute hell and no-one was listening. It was all about the mother. I really hope things are changing now. We put in a submission to the CMC and spoke there and I would like to think that things are changing. But the horror that some of these children go through, and not only my own grandchildren, because of their parents is just so unfair and so unnecessary. This little girl should not have gone through what she has been through—no way.
Mrs Newman —Danni, you could have got help from the commission for children. You could have taken the department to a tribunal.
Danielle —I rang the children’s commission and they were told by the department that things were fine, Maree. They found out later, and the office that I am now dealing with also found out later, that everything I said was nothing but the truth. But my daughter was 10 times smarter than those workers she was dealing with. She is a very smart cookie and they really believed her. Of course, it is much easier to give the child back, isn’t it—much easier?
Mrs Newman —They do this.
Danielle —That is right.
Mrs Newman —We lose children.
Danielle —And I would love to say that she should have been returned, but I knew in my heart that she should not have been returned. I knew that my daughter was not well.
Mrs Newman —You have to fight them.
Danielle —Exactly, but I did. I went everywhere.
Mrs Newman —You could have gone to the tribunal.
CHAIR —Let it go, Maree.
Danielle —We went everywhere. I was able to see the minister through Margaret Wenham of the Courier-Mail, because she knew the work that KinKare were doing. I rang her and said, ‘I need you to fast-track me to the minister.’ Within an hour his office was on the phone; within two hours my husband and I were in there meeting with him, and things rolled from there. But this is why KinKare is there—because what about the people who are too frightened to do anything? I said to the minister, ‘Be it on your head if anything happens to my grandchildren, knowing what I am telling you now, because I will shout it from every rooftop.’ I said, ‘If you weren’t going to see me, my next move’—and, believe me, I was ready for it—’was to wear a placard on my front and on my back and walk up and down George Street.’
Then another little one came, a baby was born, so I was ringing the department yet again. I documented everything. I have documentation this high. I rang and this girl one day said, ‘Oh, so what’s your latest worry, Danielle?’ I said: ‘Where would you like me to start? But, before you do, give me your name because I am going to ring up and put in a complaint about you.’ At under two years of age, the little one, following her sister, had crossed a main road because her mother was spaced out on a bed. Then things started to move and two years ago on Christmas Eve I got both of the children and they have been residing with me ever since.
My daughter is now in Goldbridge. I would love to say that she is there for the right reasons, but I am afraid that I have not seen any sign of any remorse and I was asking Charlie earlier if that is normal or not. I would love to think she is there for the right reasons. The 11-year-old has decided that she does not want to go and live with her mother again, because she has been through too much and I just hope my daughter is able to see that. With the little girl who is five in April, if I think my daughter is ready down the track for that, of course, I would be very happy—but, my God, she would have to prove it over and over again. But there are so many do-gooders out there and so many of those social workers who say, ‘Oh, but it’s so important for the child to be reunited with the parent.’ Garbage—garbage, garbage. If that parent is not doing the right thing, why should these children be reunited with them?
I used to work three mornings a week. The other two mornings I would drive down and walk my little granddaughter to school. One day she was walking along kicking the road and I said, ‘What’s wrong, darling?’ and she said, ‘Nanna, take me to the department.’ This is from that little girl. I said: ‘I’m sorry, I can’t. I can’t put you in my car. I would be breaking the law. I will take you to school and the school can ring the department.’ I took her to the school and the school rang me at one and asked whether the department had been in touch and I said, ‘Of course not.’ The teacher was absolutely blown away. She said, ‘But I have said what’s wrong.’ I said, ‘No, I don’t expect to hear from them for some time.’
Maree will say that we are hearing stories like this all the time from people—from children who are being reunited with parents before the parents are ready. I am sorry, but I do not know whether I will ever trust my daughter again. It is not what she has done to me; it is what she has done to these children. My daughter said to me recently, ‘I know I have a disease,’ and I said: ‘Of course you have a disease, but you have a disease of your own choice. It is very different from having a disease that has been visited upon you through no choice of your own.’ I am sorry, but I don’t have a lot of sympathy for these drug addicts and these alcoholics. Maybe I am wrong, but we tried when we first heard it and I said to her, ‘All we want to do is help you,’ and all we copped was abuse.
CHAIR —Thank you, Danni. Perhaps we can now hear from Helene.
Helene —Thank you for listening to me. I am here today because I think what we are dealing with is a very complex issue. I do not think there are any simple answers. I think there are some simple things that we can do which would help us all deal with the matter better. I think we need, certainly, changes in the policies that we have at the moment. I think some of our programs need changing radically and I certainly think there is a need for a lot more resources for this issue, which is growing in both demand and complexity for the organisations and the health departments that are trying to deal with it on a daily basis.
I know we need—and this is from personal experience; I have a child who is affected by many of these issues—a lot more early intervention and assessment programs. I think there is a tendency, probably through frustration through the demand of the client throughput, of medicos et cetera to diagnose in a very sloppy way and to do it very quickly as a means of both pacifying the patient and the parents and to get everyone out of the door and on their way. I do not think we can continue to do that.
I think some of these issues that, say, children—and I am talking about adult children—can be presenting with can take sometimes up to six months or more to actually diagnose properly. My experience has been that there will be an initial diagnosis. Then, as in the case of my child, who is at Mirikai, as the organisation gets to know the child more, as he presents more to the clinicians there, diagnosis actually changes over time along with the medication and then ultimately, hopefully, you get some stability.
I think there is a need for more integrated services. There are some really good organisations on the coast doing different types of work, but I do not think the government systems allow for proper integration of those services. I think we need, for example, acute provision services and we need long-term services. Then, because of the complexity of these kids that tend to come and go through the system, we need a capacity for them to go out and to come back and be topped up, and they will do that many times.
I think we need step-up, step-down facilities, where they can perhaps go through an acute service, come back; they feel better and so they will go to a step-down facility before they then proceed to whatever part of life they are up to. I think we also need to allow for multi-entries into these facilities. Three, four or even five times might not be enough. As a parent I know my child would have needed hundreds of entries, but it is an iterative process. It is two steps forward, one step back. Sometimes it is one step forward and three steps back, but you learn to go with it.
We need transitional facilities where they can continually build on the skills that they develop. Many of these skills that we recognise that these children need—they do not see the value of for themselves. It is only as they look back that they will say, ‘I really did need that there.’ We need halfway houses. In the case of Mirikai, they have good halfway houses where you will get more stable clients, for want of a better word, working with the not so stable, so there is that good peer support. It is a cheap way of providing services to these kids and it means they are supported by people who really understand them, and I think that is important. I do not think all of the programs we put in place need to be high dollar value programs; I think we can do it in many simple ways.
We need multifaceted programs. Some of the things that people spoke about here today are living skills, financial skills, social skills. These children are lacking very much in many of those skills. Financially, as an example, it is a nightmare. As they reach adulthood, you sort of breathe a sigh of relief and think, ‘Oh God, they won’t get caught wherever they should not be now because they are an adult.’ What that unfortunately allows them to do is to start taking out things like financial contracts. There are predators out there, particularly mobile telephone companies, if I could identify that group, and also computer companies, who target these kids.
In my case, I have a very bright child. He loves that type of thing. He is just a sitting duck for these financial companies who do not do the right checking as to whether they are employed or not. Suddenly you will find they have a three-year contract for about $4,000 or $5,000. Your choice as a parent is that you either pay it out or you leave them to accrue a very bad credit rating. I guess everyone makes the choice that they need to at the time.
I think on the coast and perhaps through the state, there is a need for greater collaboration and communication between the service providers to share the resources. Also, for sure, we need more research. The US, I know, has done a lot of good research. I do not think we take the research from other countries and apply it to our own situation. There are many things that we could learn.
There are a couple of other things I want to raise. One of the issues I have had a problem with is the Privacy Act. Again, as the child becomes an adult, they go into the system and I as a parent cannot get any information out of the system. So I am really cut off and isolated. I do not think that helps either the child or the parent address the issue.
Ongoing love is very hard with many of these kids. You really do love them but at times it really breaks your heart to stick with them. It also breaks the hearts of many members of your family but you have to keep on going. So I think therefore the families need support, education and also advocacy. I guess they are the main things that I wanted to address.
To sum up, some of the things I have addressed here are mental health, the drug issue, the suicide issue, homelessness—and I am sure many people here would have experienced that—Cash Converters—if I could name them; I think they really need serious looking at—and the hire-purchase contracts. Hopefully they are some practical things that can be considered. Again, thank you for listening to me today.
CHAIR —Thank you very much. Now we will hear from Colin.
Colin —I would like to elaborate on what the last speaker said. My story, which started 20 years ago, up to the present day is basically the same—the same starting and the same ending. It was just the lack of somewhere to go for help. I will go back.
My daughter is 34. My eldest grandson, who lives with me, is just on 16. His brother is 14. I have had one for 11 years and one for nine years, so they have basically lived with me all their lives. My daughter started taking drugs—we were unaware of it—20-odd years ago in Sydney. Being squareheads—that is what they call us, squareheads—we had no idea of what she was doing until there was a knock on the door from the police one day, when she was only about 14½. They brought her home from a blue-light disco. We had a talk to the policeman on that day. As I said, she was 14½. He said, ‘I think your daughter is on drugs; can you do something about it?’ I did not believe him—not a 14-year-old kid. He said: ‘Yes, there’s a few of them. We’re taking a few of these kids home.’
Anyway, we let that go for a time. I said, ‘It couldn’t be.’ About three months later, there was further trouble with her. So we decided to book into a counsellor, and there were some people in Maroubra in Sydney. By the way, the police had made a report on her at the police club regarding this blue-light disco situation. They took her name and everything. It was known, and they did say in the report that they felt she was taking drugs. At that stage, she was getting in trouble at school all the time and, when we went to the counsellor, the counsellor said, ‘What do you want to do about it?’ I said, ‘What do we do for help?’ This was 20 years ago. He said, ‘Unless she really wants to participate in something’—and at that stage he had interviewed her himself and, of course, she denied everything. I said, ‘But she’s only 14; she has to do what we say. Surely we can put a plan in place to go to somebody and talk about her problems,’ which, at the time were quite apparent from the school and also the police, and he said, ‘No, there is not. There is nothing in place.’
So we started to put something in place with private psychologists—I think they were at the time; I am going back 20 years—or a psychiatrist. Prior to this she had heard about it and so she took off. She was not quite 15; she was about 14 and nine months. She left home. So away she went and we could not find her for weeks. She had joined the street gangs, and they were all on drugs and everything. Apparently, at that stage, at that age, she had applied for and obtained a living away from home allowance or something from, I think, the federal government.
CHAIR —Yes, it was.
Colin —I said, ‘This is unbelievable.’ I ended up going around with the police and finding her. He said, ‘She’s living at so-and-so; you can’t bring her home.’ I said, ‘What’s going on?’ I had to go and see a solicitor. Things went on and on. Things led to other things and we just could not get any help.
At the time Bob Carr was my member of parliament, and I went and saw him about it. He said, ‘Unless she wants to do something, Col, we can’t do anything.’ I was up against a brick wall. All through that stage I was right up against a brick wall. Then she got tied up with other people. At the age of 15 and about nine months she got arrested and was taken to the Children’s Court. I think the magistrate was Margaret Holgate—is it Margaret?
Colin —Barbara Holgate. She was there and I had a good talk with her after she had sentenced her to, I think, a couple of months in Yasmar in Sydney. I said, ‘We’ve got a problem here, but it’s a drug problem. She’s drugged up all the time.’ By that time her hair was bright purple and she used to wear these pants. But we could not get any help.
She went to Yasmar, and that surely should have been a sign to someone that this girl needed rehabilitating, or some help, somewhere along the line, because at that stage she was not even 16. She did a few months in there and came out worse. Then she ran off with a fellow who was in there and received this allowance again. Things went on. She lived with this fellow in a commune for two years. At that stage, my wife and I did not know what to do. I got a transfer in my business to Brisbane and lived on the Gold Coast.
A couple of years later my daughter, at the age of 17½, landed on my doorstep heavily pregnant. By the time she had the baby she was 18, and I tried to get her and the baby into places like Mirikai and other places, but she was unwilling to go. They said, ‘If she is not willing to go, we cannot take her,’ which was fair enough. This led then to her leaving my place. As soon as the babies were born, she left there and off she went with these de factos and that. Violence erupted down the track. The first chap killed himself at the age of 21, one committed suicide, then she had a couple of other de factos. They both got sentenced for attempted murder. She drove the car and he tried to kill the other chap, so she is still in jail.
I will get to the point of where the frustration is. She was sentenced to eight years, 6.7 of them non-parole. The de facto who was with her got 12 years and he has to do 10 years. This was seven years ago, by the way. She is over the 6.7 years and is due to come out. She needed to be assessed. She was assessed prior to going in—prior to this court case, actually, so it was brought up in the court case—as severely drug dependent and bipolar. She was sentenced and went to jail. I had a good meeting with the department and I asked them what could be done for her. They said: ‘For the bipolar, nothing. We are not treating that. For the other, she has to do a certificate in substance use.’ I said, ‘What does that do?’ He said, ‘Well, she gets a certificate.’ I said, ‘Oh, that’s nice.’ That was the assistance I got from the Department of Corrective Services. She went and did the course and got a certificate of substance abuse but no treatment for the bipolar.
We will speed time up. Last year she got sent to Numinbah and she is nearly due to come out. Of course, there are no drugs in the jail! Two months prior to coming out she was caught with heroin—taking heroin, that is; they call it ‘dirty urine’ in jail. She was then sent back to Brisbane Women’s Correctional Centre. In between times I asked the parole service: ‘Why isn’t this girl being sent to rehab? Why isn’t she being sent to something? What are you going to do with her? What is the plan here? What is your plan of attack? In November she will get out. She will walk out the gate.’ He said, ‘Basically, yes.’ I said: ‘She has applied for parole again but she has only until this November before she’s done the full eight years. What is in place?’ He said: ‘Nothing. She comes out.’ I said, ‘Where are you going to place her?’ He said, ‘Can you look after her?’ I said: ‘Well, you had better see the department of families. I have her two grandsons with me.’ He said, ‘All right, we will.’ They asked the Department of Child Safety, which said: ‘What? You’re kidding! She’s not going back to them.’ So that ended that. I said, ‘What will she do now?’ He said: ‘I don’t know. You’d better make application through the Salvation Army or someone.’ They refused her. The Salvation Army apparently said that anyone on a charge of attempted murder—a sexual case or murder—is not allowed into—what is it called?
CHAIR —A halfway house?
Colin —Fairhaven, at Southport. They will not allow them in there. So I said: ‘What are we going to do? What is in place for people like my daughter?’ She is, by the way, typical of the majority of cases in the prison system.
Mrs Newman —Yes, nearly 85 per cent of them.
Colin —I said, ‘What’s in place for these people?’ They said: ‘Nothing. They get out the door. We’ll open the door.’
Ms Alcorn —It is a real problem.
Colin —’We’ll let her out in November.’ I said, ‘Okay.’ In between times the application for parole went in and she made application for the three children—there is another one in foster care. The eldest one is smart enough. He is just on 16 now. He said he wants nothing to do with her. He has barred her because of all the bashings from the de factos which happened years ago. He remembers. He has a good memory. So she dropped him out of it, but she wants the other two. At the moment we are proceeding through the court. We go to a hearing next week and she goes to court in early to mid-April for access to these children from November. She probably will not get it, but what I am getting at is: what is being offered? What happens to these people once they walk out of the prison? That gate is going to open in November and she is going to walk out of Numinbah and get a bus—unless I pick her up. What is next? She will go back again. Of course she will. There is just nothing in place.
Ms Alcorn —That is a universal problem. It costs $80,000 when they go back. They have no friends, so they go and find the ones they got in prison, they get together and go back in, and that is another $80,000 a year. If they could go to therapeutic communities on the way out—if there were special ones set up for them—and residentials, and we could do some work with them, it would cost $30,000 a year. At least they might have a chance.
Mrs Newman —Are you saying it should be mandatory?
Ms Alcorn —If they are drug affected.
Mrs Newman —It should be mandatory that they go to residential—
Ms Alcorn —When you are in prison, you cannot cook and you are not taught anything. Prison up here is about buying some Nikes, with the money that you put in to help them, and watching telly. It is not about work or rehabilitation.
Colin —There is no rehabilitation.
Ms Alcorn —They need life skills when they have been in—
CHAIR —The way they treat women up here is pretty dreadful—having taken evidence from sisters inside. Colin, has your daughter shown any indication that she wants to change?
Colin —My daughter is very good at improvising answers to questions. She could go to any counsellor and talk them around that she is sane, because she is so clever. Knowing her back in the early days, I am certain that she was bipolar before she had the drugs. I will guarantee it, because I knew her as a 12-year-old. There was something different about her. One day she was so happy and the next day she was so down on life. She used to make signs: ‘life sucks’ and drawing the devil. She was doing that from 12 years of age. We were just a normal family. We have a younger daughter who is terrific; she never showed any signs of this stuff. This was just completely contrary to what we brought her up to be and what the thinking was. That was happening from years 11, 12 and 13—those drawings that you see with arrows, skulls and the devil. Every number was 666 and all that sort of stuff at that time. Then she started drawing eight-balls. She used to go to a Catholic school and the nuns would not know, of course. She would draw eight-balls, which is heroin.
CHAIR —Is it?
Colin —They draw eight-balls—that is, amongst the druggies. She was doing that in those days.
CHAIR —She must have known that—learnt it somewhere.
Colin —She was showing these things beforehand. The next day she would want to play sport. She would go to tennis. I took her to tennis lessons. Also, she was in Terry Buck’s class—he has since died. He was one of the leading swimming coaches and she was in his squad. He had the Australian squad and she was in the squad under him at that stage. She was doing terrifically at Heffron Park. The next minute—
CHAIR —So what you are saying is that, perhaps if you had been able to detect that at that stage and had the right medication, it might have been a different story.
Colin —Of course.
Ms Alcorn —For all of us.
Mrs ELSON —There is another group around now, too, which preys on children from the age of 12 up. It is called ‘Emos’, which is short for emotionals. They do exactly the same thing as you just described. On the internet you can see the rubbish that they put on there, telling the young kids at the most impressionable age how bad this world is, how life is not worth living and that drugs are the only way out. That is being fed to all children.
Colin —I would like to sum up, if you do not mind. My eldest grandson is almost 16. He has been under pressure. We were talking before about what we should do—what sort of a program there should be for these children. I disagree in a way. To my grandson, the Grim Reaper has been his mother. He has been lucky in that way. His mother has been the Grim Reaper, in effect. He does not have anything to do with her and he calls her stupid after he has had a conversation with her. I said, ‘That’s what it does to you, Mate. She’s been on good drugs for 20-odd years.’ He understands all that.
But, in saying that, two years ago he went to Palm Beach Currumbin, which is an area up here full of one-parent families. He went to the school there and all his friends are in that area. It is well known here what sort of an area it is. Taxis will not go there and the police are having all sorts of trouble there. I said to him, ‘Mate, what are they doing with the drugs there? You’re at the age where they’re up to—’, and he said, ‘Everyone’s got pot; everyone.’ I said, ‘What are you doing?’ He said, ‘Well, have a look at my mother. What do you want me to do? What do you think I’m going to do?’ I said, ‘Someone—one of your friends, one of your good mates, one of the better footballers in the side—is going to offer it to you and you’re going to think it’s the thing to do, because he’s the top footballer in the side or whatever.’ And he said, ‘Oh, no. Nah.’ I said, ‘But you’re going to be offered it and it’s going to be very difficult for you to knock back getting into it.’ And I said, ‘With your genetics, from your mother, probably you’re going to have a hard time getting off it if you get on it, because she is addicted. She is addicted and I have had addiction go through the family.’ And he said, ‘I’ve got a problem, then, because they’re all on it.’ When he sees his mates when he goes there, a lot of them are in trouble.
The year before, I took him out of there and sent him to a Catholic college in Yeppoon called St Brendan’s College. Now he is completely different. He had come down and he was going to start an apprenticeship. But he came to me the other night and said, ‘Is there any chance of going back to St Brendan’s?’ I said, ‘Why is that, mate?’ And he said, ‘Well, they’re much better people up there.’ He said, ‘The pressure from going and seeing my mates down in Palm Beach—I’d rather have two years away. Can I finish my schooling up there?’
Mr QUICK —Very good.
CHAIR —You have said yes?
Colin —Oh, did I what! I didn’t disagree with that! But I think that if there’s going to be a program for these children—I have spoken to him about it and he is at the age where I can talk about it with him: 15, 16; that is the time to start with them and I would have liked to have started then with my daughter—instead of putting the fear into them, there should be a good sports star or a music star—someone like a Darren Lockyer or a Webcke or a Michael Voss; someone like that—who can say, ‘Listen, this is the message.’ And they will listen to people like that because they are their heroes.
CHAIR —But they had one of those hero type females on television the other day—
Colin —I know—
CHAIR —saying, ‘Drugs are great.’
Colin —And the biggest footballer, Wendell Sailor, got caught—look at that. So what do you do? But I think you can counteract it by having role models like them talking to young kids of 16. Well, it may not work. I don’t know.
CHAIR —First you have to find one!
Colin —You have to find one, yes. Thanks very much for listening.
CHAIR —Colin, thank you very much. It was a very human story. But it sounds like your grandsons are doing all right?
Colin —They are going to be okay.
CHAIR —They are doing all right?
Colin —Yes, so far. The worst of it will come, though, in the next few months. When she gets out, we are going to have to fight everyone again, although the Department of Child Safety are sticking with us and not bending one way with her.
Mr CADMAN —There is a bit of a story there, though. It is very hard when parents hit the wall. There is not much choice about what you can do, is there?
Mrs Newman —I like what Bronwyn suggested—a recognised place that you can take the problem child to. We need that. And we do not need it to be a small organisation; we need the government to stand up and say, ‘Hey, we’re going to help the kids of Australia.’
Ms Alcorn —The families of Australia need it.
Mrs Newman —But it is the child that needs the treatment. You have to have somewhere to take that child to. What you said earlier I really agree with. We must have a recognised body to take the children to. The families need the help to take the kids, but it is a two-for-one deal.
CHAIR —Is there anyone else who wants to make a statement?
Ms Lynch —We spoke quite a bit about people going into rehab wanting it, and, sure, that is a big part of it. But I just want to say that I have seen a lot of people coming to rehab not so willingly who have had quite a significant turnaround during their time in rehab. So just so we are not too concrete about that: not everyone wants to be there, but even those who do not want to be there can get some positive benefit from it.
CHAIR —We have one other person who wants to come and make a statement, so we will invite him up. When we have done that, we will go on our inspection. Welcome.
Christopher —I heard over the radio this morning that this was taking place, so out of curiosity I came here. I am doing a seminar series down at Mirikai. From personal experience—do you want any of my history or shall I just go into what I was going to say?
CHAIR —Say what you would like to say and then you can tell us that.
Christopher —I used heroin for five years but never became physically addicted to it. I saw people go under and they did all their stuff. I thought I was really head-smart and never used more than two days in a row—this is just to give you some background as to where I am at. And then I became addicted to it because I used it for seven days once, against all my policies. I became addicted and it took seven years for me to realise that I had to stop. In those seven years—this is where it is important to this forum—I would get windows of opportunity to get out. I would feel like I could go to rehab or detox and everything like that but, when I would get on the phone to get in contact with HADS up in Brisbane, there would not be a place available. The feeling of ‘okay, I’ve had enough, I can get out’ would disappear. I would go back into it. It was a subjective view, feeling like I was back in the run of things—that was my employment—and that was what would happen. I have not used for 2½ years and I am running my own business and things like that. Life could not be better. It has been a hard journey. It really is hard.
CHAIR —Well done, Chris.
Christopher —There is so much more to it. I can empathise with a person who is in drug addiction. There are opportunities to get out and they are very fleeting. There needs to be a bit more money at the coalface or for support for someone to get away. As I said before, it is very important that, if someone goes into rehab and are not really willing, they get time away from it. It is not like you might detox in a week; it takes a long time, a couple of years in my case, before feeling normal.
CHAIR —Well done.
Ms Alcorn —You are to be commended. So you are doing a drug awareness course, are you?
Christopher —I am down at Mirikai.
CHAIR —We are going down there next.
Ms Alcorn —What are you doing down there?
Christopher —I am just doing it for curiosity’s sake.
Ms Alcorn —The drug awareness course on Monday nights?
Ms Alcorn —We run a drug awareness course.
Mr QUICK —What message would you give, for example, Colin’s daughter? If he went to a high school and said, ‘This is me; I’m Colin’, what should he say to kids in years 10, 11 or 12?
Ms Alcorn —It is too late in years 11 and 12.
Christopher —In a sense it is. The culture at present is to partake in drugs. But it is about giving them information even if, ‘Okay, it’s probably going to happen.’ I knew all that—I did. There was enough drug education out there. That is why I did not use for more than two days in a row. For me it was a depression issue and I can relate to that. I have got dyslexia and I feel a bit inferior to others. It was beautiful and I used because it was great to feel good. Where other people naturally have resilience or self-esteem, it was so much easier for me to buy it in a packet in a sense. I knew that, but it was all balanced out.
What would I say? I would give them the facts straight up: if you do it too much there are consequences. The addiction thing is the phenomenal aspect to it. As soon as you go over that threshold, it is like you are in the back seat; you are on a treadmill.
Ms Alcorn —Not in the driver’s seat.
Christopher —You can have all the agency you want and you can be saying, ‘I don’t want to do this,’ but you will just end up doing it. It is a really disturbing period of someone’s existence. That is all I can really say. I would give them some awareness. ‘Don’t do it in the first place’ is definitely the go. I would say: ‘Look for some other way of getting a high.’ There are natural highs and everything like that. ‘If you do step into that realm, there are counsellors and everything. This is what to expect. Here is a great motivator.’
Mrs ELSON —Can I ask a question of you, because you did say something that was very interesting before. I read a report recently where they were warning parents that, if you have a child that has dyslexia or has difficulty in learning at school, that is when you should be getting help for your child—
Mrs ELSON —because studies have shown that there is a very high percentage of those children who end up using drugs. Were you very vivacious at school and hiding that? Were you a popular person at school? They were saying that, in the majority of cases, the kids show a facade. They become popular, but underneath they are hurting because they have not had help for their learning problem and that leads to taking drugs, just like you said, to make them feel better. Have you got friends who had problems learning at school have and took drugs?
Christopher —Yes, it is quite common.
Mrs ELSON —That may be where we have to start looking—in the classroom, at the very early ages, at children with learning problems.
Christopher —Yes, definitely.
CHAIR —We are very grateful that you were listening to the radio this morning and came along. Is that where you heard about it?
CHAIR —I am so pleased you did. Congratulations on running your own business and making it in your life.
Christopher —Thank you. It is a great pleasure to be somewhere where I want to be. I had all these goals and ambitions and you cannot do that while you are a drug addict. You can do some things, but in the end you are just wasting your life.
Mrs ELSON —Have you been tempted since and said no?
Christopher —I have been in situations where I could say that the opportunity has arisen where I could have. But I have really changed.
CHAIR —You are over it.
Christopher —That is it; it is over. It took so long—seven years of bashing myself and saying why can’t I just go back to being like, say, an alcoholic having a social drink, until I got to the realisation: no, it is all over. It has to change, period.
CHAIR —So you were your own motivator.
Christopher —Yes. I have had a lot of help. I talked to a lot of people and everything like that, but it really came down to me.
CHAIR —Once you had made the decision, people helped you. But the point you were making to us was that you felt there was a moment while you were using where, if you could have connected with someone straight away, you could have got on that path earlier.
Christopher —Yes, definitely. There are windows of opportunity.
CHAIR —I would like to thank everyone very much for taking part in the roundtable today. It has been so illuminating. We have heard so many different ways of expressing what has happened to you and to those you love. Different solutions have emerged, and everybody said that what we need is more resources, which is pretty self-evident, but we have to make sure they are applicable for outcomes, don’t we? I declare this meeting closed. Thank you very much, everybody.
Resolved (on motion by Mr Quick):
That this committee authorises publication, including publication on the parliamentary database, of the transcript of the evidence given before it at public hearing this day.
Committee adjourned at 2.33 pm