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The foster child is God's child

Daryl Brougham
Posted May 28, 2016

Daryl Brougham went into state care as an infant. Within the system that should have protected him, Daryl suffered every kind of abuse in over 30 different homes. Daryl has survived to become the first foster child in New Zealand to write a book about his experiences. And although he never had a family to call his own, today he calls himself a child of God.

It’s hard to know what is most remarkable about Daryl’s story: that he suffered such extreme abuse, so many times, yet it went unnoticed by authorities. Or that despite this abuse, Daryl became a social worker himself to advocate for children like him. Or, perhaps, that Daryl not only survived, but has written the first book of its kind in New Zealand, to help others understand what it means to be a foster child.

Daryl describes a singular moment that helped him understand his 18 years in foster care: ‘I remember a lady once said to me, “Daryl, I read the Bible and in there it says that the orphan child is God’s child”. A lightbulb switched on. I now know that everything I have been through was so that I could be the voice of the child in care. My path was to feel it, taste it and be it, in order to know what needed to be changed.’

Although, growing up, Daryl literally didn’t know what a family was, he always had a sense that there was someone he could cry out to—a father to the fatherless.

‘In foster care you lose everything: you lose trust, identity, belongingness, property. You’re left with nothing but a higher power to look after you. You don’t know what their face looks like, but you pray that you don’t get beaten, you hope and pray the next placement is better, you hope and pray that you won’t become a target.

‘But I have learnt that God does have a face, and that face is the orphan child.’

How did it go so wrong?

Daryl was born in 1979 and is affiliated to Tainui-Ngāti Maniapoto. He has written about his experiences in Through the Eyes of a Foster Child. 

His parents appear to have met while they were both institutionalised in a mental health facility. As an infant, Daryl was malnourished and suffered from severe urine burns after being kept in his nappy for days. Authorities were alerted, but nothing

was immediately done. It was not until his mother dumped him next to the rubbish bin that Daryl became a New Zealand state ward, in the care of Social Welfare (the predecessor to Child, Youth and Family).

What should have been a swift end to his already horrific abuse, became just the beginning. Daryl was hospitalised while he slowly recovered, and was finally placed into a home with another foster child—a girl that he would come to think of as his sister.

Alarmingly, several concerns about Daryl’s care were lodged from members of the public, but these went unheeded. In fact, Daryl and his foster sister were taken by the family to the United States where any accountability vanished. There, the two children were kept in a room by themselves, beaten, starved and sexually abused. It took three years before a neighbour, who became concerned, alerted the USA authorities.

Daryl recounts how he heard his foster parents’ panicked whispers, and for the first time, they promised the children they would be allowed out to play and swim in their pool. The excitement was unbearable for both children, and despite being undernourished, weak and fragile, that they jumped eagerly into the water.

Moments later, the pool’s ladder was whipped away and the foster parents disappeared, leaving the children fighting for air. Their lives were saved by their neighbour, who witnessed the children’s plight. At last, they were taken away from their abusers, and put on a plane back to New Zealand.

A glimmer of hope

After spending three months in hospital, recovering from years of sustained abuse, Daryl and his sister were taken in by a ‘loving couple’. Here, he discovered that he could be loved. His new home became a sanctuary. He cherished getting cuddles, having mealtimes, being able to get himself a drink whenever he was thirsty. Daryl and his sister showed good signs of thriving, gradually healing physically and emotionally.

But it did not last. The fledgling foundations of Daryl’s life crumbled when authorities decided that his sister could go back to her biological family. The foster parents could do nothing to prevent it, and Daryl came home from school one day to find his sister gone.

Despite this deep loss and trauma, the love between Daryl and his new parents did eventually flourish. After two years together, they decided to take steps to adopt Daryl. The law meant that they had to get permission from his biological parents. At that stage an aunt who had six of her own children decided she would take Daryl in. Again, his foster parents were powerless against the weight of the law. What should have been a happy ending, became a tragedy.

Heartbroken over losing the only family he knew, Daryl—in his six-year-old wisdom—decided he would fight the new placement. It worked, and as the social worker came to take Daryl away, his young heart soared with hope, believing he was going back to his family. Instead, Daryl was taken to a home for children in state care.

Years later, Daryl discovered his foster parents had tried for two years to get him back into their care, but their pleas were ignored. Instead, Daryl would go on to have more than 30 placements—80 placements if you count short-term stays. He experienced continued violence and abuse, had his only precious possessions taken from him, and never again got to experience the warm embrace of a family.

But it was that one, loving family that gave him the strength to go on: ‘They injected a hope and passion in me that there are good people out there, and I held on to that all the time I was in care. I thank the heavens that I was given that experience so I knew that love was possible.’

Living the change

Today Daryl is a registered, qualified social worker with ‘an absolute passion to change the system’. Through his book he has become a speaker and a voice for children and young people in care. His message to them is simple: ‘It’s not your fault.’

He’s also spreading the message about how foster care is experienced through the eyes of the child. The biggest impact, he says, is the sheer number of placements.

‘You don’t know why you’re in care to start with. But then with multiple placements come multiple impacts—new school, new carers; you lose belongings, you lose friends. With every new placement promises are broken, your trust starts to disappear. You don’t know your identity or where you belong,’ explains Daryl. ‘As a child you don’t define trust academically, you feel it, taste it and smell it.’

But multiple placements is the result of a unique child being put into a uniform system—and then into ‘systems within systems’. For example, when a child goes into care, they go through ‘transitional care’—a short term placement until they can either go back to their family or find a permanent home for life. Well, that’s the theory. But the reality can be quite different:

‘Johnny comes into transitional care. After a while, he goes back to his family. But that breaks down, so he goes back into transition. Then he goes into a “home for life”, thinking, “Yay, a permanent family”. But then Aunty Jo from a couple of years ago decides she’d like to give poor Johnny another go. But Aunty can’t deal with his behaviour. So he goes back into transitional care … and it goes on and on.

‘The adult lens is, “We need to get this right”. But the child’s lens is, “Please, can you just keep me where I’m happy?” ’

Through the child’s lens

Through his personal experiences, Daryl can answer some of the most disturbing questions around children in care. Like, how is it that children who have been abused can be allowed to be re-abused in state care?

Daryl’s answer is surprising: ‘I think every person who decides to be a foster parent has the right intentions. But they are not well-resourced, they don’t understand the impacts of care on the child. The child will test them and take them through many difficult things, they will scream and yell and start smashing things. The caregiver doesn’t understand and turns to discipline, and as frustration rises, that becomes abuse.’ The child is looking for is reassurance. But what they receive is discipline—their behaviour escalates, and so does the discipline.

Added to this, it is extremely difficult for isolated children to ask for help. ‘If you’re a social worker and you visit a child in their foster home, you’re going to maybe stop and say “Hi” to the child, and then walk past and sit down for a cup of coffee with the caregiver. From an adult’s lens this is perfectly acceptable. But the poor child is thinking, “I really wanted to tell you something but now you look like you’re friends with the caregiver and I don’t think I can say anything”.’

Tragically for Daryl, this is what happened in his placements. One foster parent became violent, but he appeared so friendly with the social worker—who only visited every two months—that Daryl felt he couldn’t say anything.

Experiencing huge loss and grief, Daryl got out of bed every night to look at his ‘treasure chest’—a box of his only belongings, which included precious pictures of the foster sister he had lost. One night, the father took away the treasure chest as punishment for being up during the night.

His chest was the most precious thing in Daryl’s world, but because he believed that the social worker and foster parents were friends, he stayed quiet. Not only did Daryl lose his treasures forever, but he was placed with the same terrifying foster parent twice.

‘The adult is thinking, “The child is not sleeping, so I’ll take his distractions away”. But from the child’s perspective, the fact that they’re not sleeping, that they’re getting up at night to look at photos, is saying that they’re missing someone, they’re feeling loss,’ explains Daryl.

A happy ending afterall

But Daryl has found happiness as an adult, saying that even his worst experiences have led him to his calling in life. ‘I came to the realisation that everything I went through was because I have been given the task of speaking up for other foster children,’ he says. ‘That is my destiny.’

And, with his partner Emily and his children, Daryl does indeed know the warm embrace of family. Daryl was finally able to get in touch with the foster sister he lost. He says that ‘she is not my sister biologically but she is spiritually. We’ve been through so many near-death experiences, it has spiritually connected us’.

CYF has officially apologised to Daryl and provided compensation. ‘Daryl’s care involved a litany of failings on the part of the Department of Social Welfare and the Children, Young Persons and their Families Service,’ says CYF general manager of operations, Kay Read. And adds that ‘a lot has changed since the experiences Daryl has recounted’.

The process for vetting potential caregivers, training them and reviewing their performance is now more robust. Children and young people also have regular opportunities to provide feedback on their care in a safe way.
‘Every child deserves to be in a place where they feel safe and are able to thrive. No child should ever have to endure abuse of any kind, especially at the hands of people tasked with caring for them,’ says Kay.

Daryl says his apology gave him the closure he needed, but the system is still broken. He claims that ‘92 per cent [of young people who have come through care] have no NCEA Level 2, 62 per cent end up on benefits and 26 per cent end up in jail’.

Although major reforms to state care have recently been announced, Daryl has a challenge for government: ‘They are going to increase resources but give it to the system that has failed us already.

‘Let’s admit that what we’ve done has not been working, and ask “how can we do this better?” Let’s learn from this, eh.’

by Ingrid Barratt (c) 'War Cry' magazine, 28 May 2016, pp5-7
You can read 'War Cry' at your nearest Salvation Army church or centre, or subscribe through Salvationist Resources.

What every foster child needs

These are the four main impacts of foster care on a child, according to Daryl Brougham.

Identity: If a foster child is moved around, their sense of identity is interrupted. Giving foster children time, allowing them to explore, have fun, and develop their interests, will build their identity.

Trust: Each time a child is moved, their defences become stronger and their trust is lost. Trust takes time, and foster children will test our trust. We need to stick by them through thick and thin, and nurture them through their behaviours.

Belonging: This is the human emotional need to be an accepted member of a group. Foster children need to be as much part of our family as our own children. They need to know they belong with us.

Property: When a child is moved, they may lose what few possessions they have. Carers can foster a sense of worth by valuing the child’s possessions, creating a box for them with keepsakes and photos, and just letting them know how much you value them.

Was this you?

If you have a story similar to Daryl’s, and feel that you were harmed by state care, the Ministry of Social Development encourages you to contact them.

Their Historic Claims advisors can explain how they may be able to help and the various options available for resolution. ‘Where we have got it wrong, we will apologise. Claimants may receive a financial payment if they came to harm because of a failure in our care,’ says Kay Read, operations manager for Child, Youth and Family. ‘We also look at what other help we can provide, such as counselling.’

p: 0508 FAMILY (0508 326 459), e: