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Beating the odds -

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In a special report, the ABC News Online Investigation Unit hits the streets of western Sydney,
where young people struggle to break a vicious cycle of family breakdown.


TONY JONES, PRESENTER: Homes vandalised, children abused and families shattered. At its worst the
fringes of Australia's cities can give a terrible start to life.

Children in disadvantaged areas are at greater risk of falling into a vicious cycle of
unemployment, discrimination, poor housing, crime and family breakdown.

It's where child protection is most tested. But it is also where families are beating the odds.

The ABC News Online investigations team has spent time in western Sydney talking with a community
reeling from the recent disappearance of a six-year-old girl.

Karen Barlow, Eleanor Bell and Ed Giles prepared this special multi-media report.

MALE RESIDENT: Out here, we're out west Mounty County, that's us, you know. I've even got it on me

KAREN BARLOW, REPORTER: An hour out of the Sydney CBD Mt Druitt locals want to know whether it is a
thousand miles from care.

FEMALE 1: The violence and just everything.. the drinking.

FEMALE 2: yeah, it makes you feel uncomfortable.

KAREN BARLOW: Mt Druitt is one of the most disadvantaged areas in Australia and its children are at
a high risk of neglect, abuse and social exclusion.

The Housing Commission homes here, once the domain of working class retirees, are now primarily the
home of families under severe stress.

MALE RESIDENT: Another house destroyed.. look at it hey.. I know the builders.

KAREN BARLOW: And there's a mystery consuming the neighbourhood.

On the first of August, six-year-old Kiesha Abrahams was reported missing.

The little girl is still to be found.

Her plight has stirred locals. Some fear she fell through the cracks of the child protection

REBECCA GIBBONS, STUDENT: It was really around the corner and having to see that on the news from
where I am now and seeing that, it's just like I was a little girl that lived around there.

It's just like, she's missing and I was there. It's just that scary feeling of being in the wrong
place at the wrong time.

KAREN BARLOW: Mt Druitt people don't want to be singled out.

REBECCA GIBBONS: A place isn't bad. Bad people move into a place or bad experiences come out of a
place. There is good and bad in all areas.

There is missing people in Mt Druitt. There's missing people in every suburb like it is not a place
where you have to be scared.

It is a place where you make yourself scared.

KAREN BARLOW: People who work in the welfare system know that it lets children down.

A mother herself Caroline Edwards is a private care worker for the New South Wales Department of
Community Services or DOCS.

CAROLINE EDWARDS, CARE WORKER: I work with another boy that's come from sexual abuse. He was, like,
he was like, lived with an aunty.

He was, through DOCS, was put in aunty's care and aunty and uncle just treated him like a dog, put
him in a dog box,

KAREN BARLOW: That's a kennel, not a small room.

CAROLINE EDWARDS: Brought him.... Yeah he was just brought up like a dog, treated like a dog,
sexually abused he was, 'cause this aunty had kids of her own and he was the odd one out.

So he got treated bad, oh it was, it was just, it's bad

KAREN BARLOW: Those experiences emerged four months ago. From that horror there are now signs of

CAROLINE EDWARDS: You can see progress, you can that see he will come out on top. But if we don't
nip it in the bud now at 14, by the time he's 16, 17, 18 maybe, there's not catching up with him,
this boy will end up and either killing somebody.

These are the sort of things, when you work with these sort of kids, this, I mean I'm not a
psychiatrist or a psychologist, but these are the sort of things you can see in the kids that have
this sort of problem.

KAREN BARLOW: Even if the parents struggle, many in the community look after their own.

This is the school of the missing girl, Kiesha Abrahams.


KAREN BARLOW: The teachers pay for and run a breakfast club. Which often provides lunch as well.

They are trying to make a difference in their own community.

SUSAN WEBECK: Sometimes days we have to, yeah some days more. Yeah some days we run out and we have
to say 'it's all gone.'

KAREN BARLOW: Susan Webeck is not just the toast lady, she's a support teacher for emotionally
disturbed children.

SUSAN WEBECK: Some kids just want a cuddle, because they lack that and sadly with child protection
you're not allowed to that and sometimes that really fixes children.

KAREN BARLOW: She wants them to be accepted by society when they leave school.

SUSAN WEBECK: If they can, started off and they couldn't read and then they can read you a book, it
just tugs at your heart, it's just, that, that's what we're for and it's for these kids and we love
love em. (tears)

That's alright.

KAREN BARLOW: I'm fairly teary myself.

SUSAN WEBECK: They are they're beautiful.

KAREN BARLOW: Music therapy is also something special for the children. Many have never picked up
an instrument before.

SCHOOL CHILDREN AND TEACHER: ( playing drums) We will, we will rock you.

KAREN BARLOW: Community workers see heartbreaking cases where welfare goes on everything but the

Caroline Edwards supports any plan to extend welfare measure of the Northern Territory Intervention
and quarantine payments.

CAROLINE EDWARDS: A basics card where the necessities are paid, the rent, the gas, the power, the
children's clothing, the schooling, the food.

This is what the money is for. It is not for other things for the parent to enjoy. It is for the
child. So if they structured that in that way it probably would work.

KAREN BARLOW: Both side of politics are wary of tougher welfare proposals.

DAVID BURCHELL, UNIVERSITIY OF WESTERN SYDNEY: Questions of how to put back people whose family and
upbringing was really, really difficult and how to give them the skills of personal responsibility
and it's those simple things like personal budgeting and household budgeting. They're tricky

In the past neither, as it were, the ideological left or the ideological right have dealt with

The ideological left fears becoming patronising and going back to Victorian values if they go too
far into the space of personal responsibility and the right fears it's the nanny state.

KAREN BARLOW: Sometimes it's difficult to make ends meet. But protecting children is the priority
of most of the residents.

MALE RESIDENT: We're proud of this area andwhat annoys me is that they put shit on Mt Druitt. You
know they keep changing the names, but it's still the same place.